Sunday night, President Obama announced that a U.S. operation had killed Osama bin Laden and he declared it “a good day for America.” Bin Laden has been the face of terrorism to America since he was declared the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks. Reactions to his death included joyful celebrations, somber remembrances of those who died on 9/11, expressions of gratitude for the sacrifices of US troops, a rush of political analysts discussing what this means, and a frenzy of media coverage.
Amid all the noise, a question is raised. As Christians, should we rejoice at the death of this man? The question is complex. Some are offended that it is asked at all. I shall attempt to deconstruct it using God’s Word.
My friend Danny Everett, a godly man, posted this Facebook status:
It is not right to rejoice over ANY person’s demise. Not an enemy, nor the worst of sinners. “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” -Jesus
Danny is quoting Jesus’ words in Luke 6:27-28. In that sermon, Jesus challenged the conventional wisdom of the world and called his followers to do things differently than others. Jesus commands his followers not to retaliate. The Gospel of Matthew (another account of the same sermon) quotes Jesus:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:38-39
What does this mean for Christians in regard to Osama bin Laden?
He was evil. I am too.
The obvious argument against Osama bin Laden is that he was evil. Even moral relativists (who claim that what is wrong for one person may be right for another) seem to agree that by anyone’s standards, bin Laden was evil. He orchestrated the deaths of thousands of civilians. Regardless of beliefs, no one complained about the use of the religious word evil.
What is the religious perspective on evil? Evil is the opposite of good. It is the absence of God. The Bible clearly states that evil is not reserved for terrorist mass-murders. All humans are sinful; we are not by nature good. We are not God. Therefore, we are evil.
God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. Psalm 53:2-3
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Mark 10:18
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:22-23
It may seem harsh, but the truth is that you and I are evil. God’s test of righteousness is pass or fail. If I am not perfect, I fail. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t committed the horrendous acts of Osama bin Laden, we are equally evil. For my sins, I deserve hell as much as bin Laden.
Grace, mercy and salvation.
So all people are evil. We are in the same boat as the man who was the face of terrorism. That’s the bad news. The good news is that God loves us anyway. Through faith, though I am still a sinner, I am a saint as well. If you thought it was hard to hear that you are as evil as bin Laden, how about this: Osama bin Laden was created in the image and likeness of God. It’s true. God created all of mankind as an imitation of Himself and he loves each and every one of us equally, even terrorists. He doesn’t love the sin and the evil in our lives, but He loves the beautiful children he created us to be. Jesus died to bring about salvation for all mankind. Christians aren’t saved because we are worthy. We aren’t righteous because we’re good people. Remember, no one is good but God. We don’t deserve forgiveness and love, but God gives it to us anyway. Jesus expresses God’s love for all people and His desire that no one should be separated from him.
For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of life. Psalm 56:13
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23-24
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:24-25
This (praying for all people) is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:3-4
God’s love is radical because it is unconditional. He loves us despite every evil thing we ever do. Grace is absolutely undeserved. If we cannot earn grace and mercy, we also cannot un-earn it. We can choose to reject God’s love. We can decide that we’d rather be in hell for eternity than love God back. In all likelihood, bin Laden chose that route. His life is a clear indication that he rejected God’s love. But God’s love for Osama bin Laden was real, and so it grieves God that His child rejected him and is now dead and in hell. If God is grieved about the loss of bin Laden’s soul, what right do Christians have to rejoice in his demise?
Vengeance, justice and government.
God is certainly the God of mercy and love. But He is also the God of justice. It’s not difficult to find evidence of God’s vengeance against evil in the Old Testament. Those books of the Bible are packed full of harsh, bloody justice. The Psalms are full of rejoicing in God’s victory through the death of Israel’s enemies. The Old Testament is God’s Word on equal standing with the New Testament. But in the New Testament, we see that things have changed. Jesus’ perfect, sinless life is credited to mankind as our own righteousness. Jesus absorbed God’s full vengeance and wrath for all of our sins. His death satisfies God’s requirement for justice. So we are not called to seek vengeance in the same manner as the people of the Old Testament were.
And yet justice is still needed in this life. God commands us to love even our enemies, yet He warns that wicked deeds will not go unpunished. Even though Jesus has completely defeated death and the devil, we still suffer the consequences of sin as long as this world lasts. God was clear about the punishment murderers should receive.
From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. Genesis 9:5-6
God granted earthly governments the authority to carry out this task of justice. It is a God-given duty of our government to punish evil.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Romans 13:1, 3-4
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 1 Peter 2:13-14
So it isn’t a bad thing that the U.S. killed Osama bin Laden. He was held accountable for the blood that he shed. God clearly called for governments to bring about this kind of justice.
The separation of church and state.
Some may conclude that the Bible contradicts itself. The Old Testament vengeance doesn’t seem to agree with the New Testament call to peace. Jesus’ command to love our enemies and turn the other cheek seems to contradict later New Testament mandates that the government “bears the sword” and “carries out God’s wrath on the evildoer.” But God knew exactly what He was doing when He inspired each of these passages to be written.
The separation of church and state is not a secular idea, but one established by the Bible. God clarifies that government matters are to be separate from spiritual matters. As Christian individuals, we are to forgive those who don’t deserve it, show mercy to those who hurt us, and demonstrate God’s unconditional love without expecting anything in return. The government, on the other hand, is an earthly authority with the God-given task to protect its citizens. So long as the government isn’t overstepping God’s authority and commanding us to sin, Christians are required to respect the authority of the government. So I can say with a clear conscience that it is right for the U.S. to put a murderer to death, and I can be satisfied that justice has been served in the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Danny’s Facebook post is right. We should not rejoice in the death of our enemy. God is grieved by the loss of a soul, and we should receive the news with sober contemplation. Marking the day as historic and taking time to remember those lost on 9/11 is appropriate. Singing “hey, hey, hey, goodbye” and celebrating in reverie at the death of this man is not. We should reflect with sorrow on the fact that evil has such a hold on our world, that men allow Satan to corrupt them so completely, and that our government has no choice but to shed blood in retaliation and in defense against wickedness. We must reverently admit that it is only by the amazing grace of God that we are not in bin Laden’s shoes. Our government has fulfilled its job: justice. Let us Christian individuals fulfill our job: love.
Our world is lost and broken. We delight in evil and thirst for the blood of our fellow men. We should acknowledge our sin humbly and rejoice with fresh amazement at God’s incredible love and mercy. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. Let’s spread the love around.