On Sunday night I was checking Facebook and email one last time before heading for bed. Both my profile and my in-box were lit up with messages saying that President Obama would address the nation at 10:30 p.m. Well . . . so much for an early bedtime.
I ended up watching the speech announcing Osama bin Laden’s death and writing an article about it for WORLD Magazine’s web-site. The story summarized reactions that almost immediately started coming in from around the world.
But the next day I said to myself: Yes, these are the reactions of our politicians and pundits, but what should be the appropriate Christian reaction? As it turns out, this is not so easy a question. The Bible has much to say on the subject, some of it difficult to reconcile. Consider this:
“The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong” (Romans 13:4, NLT).
The Psalms, too, have much to say about the punishment of evildoers. In the interest of brevity, here’s just one verse of many:
“At the time I have planned, I will bring justice against the wicked” (Psalm 75:2, NLT).
Governments are established by God. Punishing evil is their job, and we should take satisfaction in our own government’s role in seeing that justice was done. So, given this, there is certainly no reason not to take some righteous satisfaction in Osama bin Laden’s death and the role our government played in bringing about justice.
On the other hand, we must acknowledge that bin Laden, as violent and reviled as he was, was surely just a man like me. As distasteful as it is to contemplate, none of us is so different from him. Compared to a holy God, my righteousness and bin Laden’s alike are as “filthy rags." Further, Scripture is clear that we are to love not just our friends, but also to “love our enemies.” God, I’m sure, takes no pleasure in the death of someone who has rejected Him. In fact, he so much as says so here:
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11, NIV)
Clarence Darrow once said, “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” Darrow was winsome and witty—and completely opposed to Scripture. If God takes no pleasure in bin Laden’s death, should we? I’m guessing not.
So what should our response be? I certainly think we can and should celebrate the excellence, professionalism, and courage of the Navy SEALs who accomplished their mission. I think we should be grateful that an evildoer is now no longer able to do his evil in the world.
But I also think we should be careful not to gloat. We should guard against triumphalism and pride. As a young man, Osama bin Laden drove fast cars and played soccer. There was a time when he was not so different from you and me.
Somewhere along the way pride overtook his life. It became his undoing. He became his own final authority. We should not think that we are immune from these same corrosive effects of pride. If we do, we may come to a time in the future when we find ourselves—both as individuals and as a country—committing the same kinds of monstrous evil that became bin Laden’s undoing.
So can we celebrate that justice was done? Said more bluntly: Can we celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death? I think the answer to that question is yes. But let us remember his ignominious death with grateful and even humble hearts, mindful that but for God’s grace, so go we all.
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