Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Facebook and Osama

Sunday night, I opened my Macbook and clicked to my Facebook profile. At the top of the news feed, a junior high student's status read: "OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD!!!!!" A quick glance at the rest of the feed revealed that others were posting similar phrases.

When 9/11 happened, I watched it unfold on TV. When Osama bin Laden was killed, I learned about it from a Facebook status. I imagine that this was many people's experience--social networking like Twitter and Facebook can spread a story much faster than CNN or the NY Times. The days where we learned of big events through the morning newspaper are long gone.

My news feed was quickly filled with statuses celebrating the death of bin Laden. Phrases like "f**k yeah, Go USA!" and "burn in hell, Osama" saturated my Facebook homepage, many from students and other Christians I knew. Grieved, I prayerfully posted this passage as my own status:

Over the next 48 hours, I received a myriad of comments, messages, "likes," and re-posts from many in the Facebook community. Many were positive and thoughtful responses; some were more reactionary in nature. The discussion that ensued in the comments from the status were enlightening and challenging, to say the least. Here are some lessons I'm learning from this experience:

The concept of "public" has been permanently changed by the internet. "Public" doesn't just mean sitting in a coffee shop where people can see you or overhear your conversation. In the online world, public means that anyone and everyone can see your status, your blog post, your reactionary comment, your faith and ideals and hopes and dreams. Of course, you don't have to share any of these online. But by removing yourself from the online conversation, you are, in essence, removing yourself from the public conversation. As a leader in the church, I have to be wise and discerning in everything--everything--I write, like, or link on the internet.

Social networking can be used to both build up and tear down. It was deeply encouraging to see teens comment and repost the passage of Scripture. I pray that this was a moment teaching them how to think over what to think, how to respond to world events and Facebook comments with grace and truth and humility and clarity of thought. It was also disturbing to see the kneejerk reactions on both ends of the spectrum--those who celebrated the death of a human being and those who self-righteously judged those doing the celebrating. We have to be increasingly cautious about our words online; as James 1 says, we need to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger (especially in the online community).

Everyone needs grace. Me. You. Osama bin Laden. We're all bearers of God's image, but we're all broken mirrors, reflecting His goodness in facets and shards. We are in constant need of the grace found in Christ, not just as a one-time act of justification, but as an ongoing journey of transformation. That means we're in process, and extending grace to another can only benefit both our journeys The person you disagree with on Facebook; the comment you made that now seems inappropriate; the status that gets your blood boiling; the de-friending or the leaving Facebook altogether-- all situations that are better with grace.

How are you responding to the news of bin Laden's death? What has been your experience with Facebook in this world event?


  1. In spite of some comments that were distasteful to say the least, I was pleasantly surprised to see a number of thoughtful posts and discussions as well on Facebook. It gave me hope that there are still Christians who get the subtleties of scripture and also that we always have to be checking our own reactions and motivations, even to news like this.

  2. Good insight, Joel. There is much wisdom in what you said.
    You know my family's history and that 2 of my sons are in the Army now, so this hits very close to my heart. These events do effect my family personally. I'm glad that Bin Laden won't be able to order attacks anymore and that his murderous tirade is over. I'm also sad to know that he will spend eternity in hell. As a Christian, I just have to trust that God is in control of it all and that His justice, mercy, and timing is all within His sovereign will. I also trust that God extends grace and mercy to all, but not everyone accepts the gift of His grace. Bin Laden will have to give an account for his actions when he stands before Almight God.

    Thanks for your post, very thought provoking.

  3. Joel, I love hearing your thoughts on pretty much everything, and I especially appreciated what you said in light of these events. Your comments about the desire for retribution vs. redemption and restoration gave me more to think about regarding Jesus' atonement. Penalty Substitution theory seems to assume that the goal of the atonement is to satisfy the demands of retribution. But the goal of the atonement actually seems to be redemption and restoration. The death of bin Laden gives us a chance to think through how our lofty considerations of God impact the immediate events of the day.

  4. Nice one Joel - really appreciate this.