Not since the Munchkins of Oz encircled the stunned Dorothy singing “Ding, dong, the Wicked Witch is dead” have so many people been so ecstatic over the death of one person — that person being the former head of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic.
So hated for his alleged war crimes, that even people of faith seemed jubilant at the news heralding his death in his cell at the Hague.
Maybe you think that’s an unspeakable thought to be expressed in a spiritual column, but if you watch crime dramas, I’m sure the thought is a familiar one. It’s the part where the prime murder suspect justifies his belligerence to the investigating officers by describing the victim as “a horrible man. I’m glad he’s dead. I’d like to congratulate the guy who killed him, but I didn’t do it!”
And, of course, the reason it makes such good drama is it resonates with the kind of righteous hate we often hold toward someone who has wronged us. No, it’s not that we’d actually pull the trigger on that someone, but we wouldn’t be unhappy if Dorothy’s house happened to land on them either.
Horrible words from a chaplain? Maybe, but I confess I’ve had moments like that. And the feelings seemed righteous, until the thoughts materialize.
The first time it happened was when I was in second grade at Strawberry Point Elementary School in Mill Valley, Calif.
We had a bully in our class who had bullied most of us through two grades when he was suddenly killed in a crosswalk mishap. According to the newspaper accounts my father read to me, the boy was thrown 50 yards into the air and landed on his head.
It was weird, but few of us seemed particularly sad. In our second-grade hearts, we hated him. We prayed he would stop bullying us. It seemed to us that our prayers had been answered.
Had the boy been punished for how he had harassed us?
We thought so.
Our logic was a kind of “magical thinking” common to healthy children. But when adults begin to think events are magically connected to their thinking, it’s usually called schizophrenia.
And it’s amazing how that kind of thinking can seep into our theology. It’s the kind of thinking that says, “If I hate the person for what he’s done, surely my loving, just god will hate him as well.” This kind of thinking steers off the spiritual norm and veers into a kind of theological schizophrenia.
The antidote to this theological schizophrenia is twofold. First, the understanding that death will happen to us all — whether we’re hated or beloved, good or bad, rich or poor, spiritual or reprobate — which is the reason death is called the great equalizer and the reason Jesus pointed out that: “It’s appointed unto a man to die.”
And, for me at least, the second half of the antidote is the scriptural claim that “it is the will of God that none should perish, but all should have eternal life.”
Believing God wants our enemies to share in our eternal rewards isn’t an easy antidote to swallow. And sometimes I think I’m being tested on how well I live the advice I write.
This week, I got another letter from this bully lawyer threatening to sue over a minor traffic mishap I had 18 months ago. My insurance agent keeps telling me not to worry, but I confess, I keep having unchaplain-like hopes about the lawyer’s eternity.
Dear Lord: I could live without these tests. Some days, I just hate being a spiritual columnist.