Until 1989, I had never seen an evil man die. I was 16 that year, standing on the brink of adulthood; but on the day Nicolas Ceausescu died, I felt like a child.
Commentators and expats reveled in the announcement, and citizens all around me rejoiced, but my only experiences with death had been the funerals of loved ones. I knew how to be sad when a life was lost, but I didn’t know how to celebrate.
My generation had never known war. Vietnam ended when I was barely three, so other than what I had read in books, I had no frame of reference for human slaughter. Violent dictators were as real to me as wicked witches, so I had never yet prayed for a mass murderer to die so that the innocent might live.
As that bloody replay of Ceausescu’s execution poured again and again over airwaves, as I saw two lifeless bodies crumple on the street, my stomach felt ill. Death was so sparse. It was so real.
I knew that I was watching two souls begin a tumble into eternity, and what a horror it was to behold this sort of finality. As far as I knew, those bodies fell with the violations they had committed tied like lead weights around their ankles. Whatever the afterlife holds, the Ceausescus seemed to enter it with mass starvations, abused orphans, entitlement, and cruelty on their ledger.
In their hostility, I thought I saw a flicker of what hell might be.
I could trace the trajectory of comprehensive human defiance against God and see what an eternal unwillingness to admit the truth of ourselves might look like. Here was a “God-less-ness” so hardened that upon death, imago Dei would drain out of the body like water into sand. This vision made me shudder.
Whatever hell I saw wasn’t tidy and organized like Dante’s Inferno, but chaotic, empty, isolated, and hope-less as an endless night. If it is part of God’s nature to hold all things together, here was a firm divorce from such a union.
Years later, I felt this same emotion when I watched Hussein die, and I felt it again when I heard that Osama bin Laden was slain. Last week I felt the sensation for the fourth time when I heard that Fidel Castro had passed into eternity bearing all that he has done to the people of Cuba.
A great many good thinkers have claimed that even if we could not prove God, we can prove evil. Evil can be validated empirically. We know it exists because we dodge it. We bear it. We try to survive it.
In the lives of men who give themselves over to evil, we see this reality personified. Where goodness brings life and joy, evil brings death and fear. Where goodness brings freedom and trust, evil brings bondage and suspicion.
How odd it is then, to watch leftists celebrate an evil life. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Castro a “remarkable” and “larger than life leader who served his people.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Castro as a strong leader and voice for social justice. Even President Obama was delicate in his address of Castro’s passing.
I can understand why the death of an evil dictator would be sobering. But it is one thing to be sober and quite another to call darkness light.
For when a man like Fidel Castro dies, the blood of his victims cries out from the earth. The cries of his slaughtered and his tortured rise like a crimson mist in the morning.
I am not an expert on international strategy. Perhaps our leaders have good reason for speaking carefully about the deaths of evil men. They know secrets about national security and economy that I cannot comprehend. I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt. But somewhere between celebrating the death of a guilty soul and the eulogization of a man who has devastated thousands of lives lies the proper response to such a death.
We cannot honor Castro without insulting every victim to have groaned perished under his evil regime.
Surely such an occasion calls for more than the acknowledgement that history will judge him. American authority should condemn wickedness when it has stretched cruelty upon the world.