Driving back from a wedding, my wife and I received a text that Osama bin Laden was killed. We turned on the radio and listened to the President’s speech with a sigh of relief that this wasn’t a rumor but fact. In the few hours since the release of the news, the internet and facebook have been covered with reactions of rejoicing and indignation at the rejoicing.
So what is an appropriate response?
On the one hand there is a grieving that another person entered into death without repenting and believing in Jesus. On the other hand, there is rejoicing that justice wins today and for eternity. Personally, having had family flying at the time of the murderous attacks on September 11 I must say that I have a strong sense of righteous joy at evil being punished and justice served upon a tyrant.
Knowing my strong feelings on the subject I wanted to take a step back and read what other Christians were thinking about the topic of how the Bible addresses the death of an evil man like Osama bin Laden. I found an excellent article on the Gospel Coalition website posted an excellent article on the topic by Christopher Morgan entitled Grieving, Rejoicing that Osama bin Laden is Dead.
Grieving, Rejoicing that Osama bin Laden Is Dead
Osama bin Laden is dead.
How do we as Christians respond?
As I watched the news reports, various passages came to mind–everything from Jesus’ teaching on loving and praying for enemies, to James’ forceful picture of a future slaughterhouse coming upon oppressors of God’s people. The more I reflect on it, the more I realize that my internal tension is similar to another one I have felt many times before–a tension related to the biblical doctrine of hell.
As strange as it seems, hell is depicted in the Bible both as tragedy and victory. Hell is tragic, as it is awful that people rebel against God and persistently spurn the Savior. God is “slow to anger,” “abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exod. 34:6-7), and does not take pleasure in the punishment of the wicked, just as he does not find pleasure in the existence of sin (Ezek. 18:23). Jesus likewise grieved and wept over human lostness, sin, and the impending judgment (Matt. 23:37; Luke 19:41; 23:34). The apostle Paul also shared this perspective, earnestly longing and praying for the conversion of his lost fellow-Jews, even to the point of being willing to undergo God’s wrath for them (Rom. 9:1-6; 10:1). That sinners go to hell is tragic and should break our hearts.
Yet hell is also portrayed as God’s triumph. Hell is linked to his righteous judgment and the day of Yahweh, even called “the day of God’s wrath” (Rom. 2:5). As such, hell answers (not raises) ultimate questions related to the justice of God. Through the coming wrath, judgment, and hell, God’s ultimate victory is displayed over evil, and his righteousness is vindicated. There is a “comfort” to hell (2 Thess. 1:5-11; James 5:1-6; Rev. 18-22), as its hard reality offers hope to and encourages perseverance in persecuted saints. God will judge everyone, and he will avenge his people; God will win in the end, and justice will prevail. And through his righteous judgment and ultimate victory, God will glorify himself, displaying his greatness and receiving the worship he is due (e.g., Rom. 9:22-23; Rev. 6:10, 11:15-18; 14:6-15:4; 16:5-7; 19:1-8).
Though the comparison is by no means perfect, and though it is on a much smaller scale, I tend to think that we can rightly grieve that Osama bin Laden opposed the true and living God and will be punished accordingly. But we also can rightly rejoice in the defeat and judgment upon people who are evil–and he was clearly evil and deserving of every punishment earth can give. The dancing in the streets may not merely be American nationalism, but an appropriate response to the partial display of human justice as we await the final and perfect display of divine justice in the coming age.
I would add to the excellent article that we must all remember that every human being has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All of us are under the righteous and warranted wrath of God (Romans 2:5, 8). So while we may be able to appropriately grieve and rejoice at there being one less terrorist in the world, we too should take heed to God’s Word and our own sinful conditions. God, in His love, has provided a way for us to not suffer His wrath for eternity through the sacrifice of His beloved Son so that all we need to do is receive Jesus by faith and be saved (John 3:16).
All indications show that bin Laden rejected Jesus and will suffer God’s righteous wrath for eternity. Let us not forget that we too need to receive Jesus by faith because “whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). For those who out of faith receive Jesus Christ as their Savior, they can truly rejoice in the person experience of God’s love and justice because they have entered into the reality of Romans 5:8-9: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”
(Updated addition at 4:21pm) Another great read about the biblical tension that people experience upon the death of a tyrant can be found on the Resurgence blog’s article Love Your Enemies.