How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell…
It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
(James 3:5-6, 8-10, 13-18 ESV)
Words matter. Words have power. Words have the power for righteousness, peace, and building up if they are drawn from the spring of life from God. Words have the power to sabotage, damage, and create dissension if they are drawn from the heart connected to a well of hell. James uses vivid language to describe the heart conditions of people as demonstrated by their speech.
As the video below demonstrates (two different clips combined into one video, a Christmas tree fire and a16,000 acre fire), all it takes is one careless “spark” of speech to cause incredible damage.
Some people are attracted to the idea of a god of love without wrath. A loving god without justice. Unfortunately, some people who call themselves Christians promote these ideals. The god they desire enables them to live however they please and endorse any lifestyle they so please. R.C. Sproul wrote about the god of the people who reject a holy God – the God of the Bible who has both love and wrath – in his book The Holiness of God. In chapter nine, “God in the Hands of Angry Sinners” Sproul diagnoses the heart condition and product of a person who desires a god without wrath:
“Do we consider the wrath of God as a primitive or obscene concept? Is the very notion of Hell an insult to us? If so, it is clear that the god we worship is not a holy God. Indeed he is not God at all. If we despise the justice of God we are not Christians… If we hate the wrath of God it is because we hate God Himself. We may protest vehemently against these charges but the vehemence only confirms our hostility towards God… We may say emphatically… “God is altogether sweet to me. My god is a god of love.” But a loving god who has no wrath is no God. He is an idol of our own making as if we caved him out of stone.”
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.
Love Wins by Rob Bell has created a media firestorm, especially in orthodox Christian circles. Some may claim that it is simply because of close-minded conservative Christians just don’t like Bell. Some may not like Rob Bell, but that is not the reason for the reaction to his latest book. The response is to the distortion of Scripture to the point of endorsing the heresy of universalism, reducing the seriousness of sin, distorting the perception of God’s love, reducing the greatness and holiness of God, minimizing the accomplishment of Jesus on the cross, and making a mockery of God’s righteousness, wrath, and justice. In the end, the God portrayed by Bell does not paint a God with greater love than the biblical and orthodox view of God, rather is portrays a small God with less love, grace, and mercy than what the Bible describes.
There have been many writers and theologians who have tackled Bell’s book and misstep from orthodox theology into the realm of heresy. I highly recommend listening to God: Abounding in Love, Punishing the Guilty by D.A. Carson and a panel of pastors from the National Gospel Coalition Conference. They give a great overview of universalism, the contents of Love Wins, and a pastoral approach to being with people who hold to Bell’s view or have been confused by the book.
Another good site with links to many good articles, including Kevin DeYoung’s twenty page response – God Is Still Holy and What You Learned in Sunday School Is Still True: A Review of “Love Wins”, can be found on The Resurgence’s A Chronology of Rob Bell on Hell.
Good and evil. Love and suffering. Why not a world with only good and only love and no chance of evil or suffering? The Bible does offer the former, but it is a result from those who have chosen the path laid out by God for dealing with the latter. But the Bible also addresses the current situation of the world.
Ravi Zacharias discusses four possible worlds that scholars have theorized concerning regarding good and evil:
There are only four possible worlds that scholars have talked about. The first is that there be no created versus this world. Would it not have been better for God to have created no world than to have created this one where good and evil are possibilities? The second is to have created a world where only good would have been chosen, a kind of robotic world. The third option would have been a world where there was no such thing as good or evil, an amoral world. The fourth is this world that we live in, where good and evil exist along with the possibility of choosing either.
As soon as we introduce the question of what would have been better we again invoke an absolute point of reference, and that we can only introduce if God exists. In the final analysis, of the four worlds described ours is the only one where love was genuinely possible… We must recognize that love is the supreme ethic that we know of, and where love is possible, freedom and the possibility of suffering accompany it. In His character, God alone is the absolute expression of love that is never separated from holiness. God cannot be at the same time holy and unloving or loving and unholy. In turning our back upon Him, we lose the source of defining love, live with the pain of unholiness, and suffering remains an enigma – leaving our blemished characters in search of a moral law and our finite minds crying out for an answer. Which of us does not hurt when we see a pure love abused or despised? Our hearts reveal a hunger for a love that is pure, and in this world we have lost both definitions because we have denied their source.
When we come to Jesus Christ at the cross, where love, holiness, and suffering combine, we find both the answer to why we suffer and the strength to live in this mortal frame for him… As we come to the cross and from there live our lives for Him, we make the extraordinary discovery that the cross and the resurrection go together. Where love is possible, there pain is also possible. Where the resurrection is promised, there is also the promise of tears wiped away. Heaven is the confirmation of our choice, to love Him and to be with Him. That is the hope of everyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ, whom to know is life eternal. Hell is the confirmation of spurning God’s answer and hope and of living with the entailments of our ability to procreate but also to destroy without recovery (Cries of the Heart, pp. 216-217).
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” Ephesians 6:13-17
It can be easy to fall into a complacent peacetime army. Assuming that by appealing your enemies with nice gestures and compromises will keep you safe. Only to be caught unprepared when the enemy strikes. A brief look at the history of war has plenty of examples of this (remember many countries in Europe prior to WWII?).
Christians can also get lulled into a false sense of security and forget that we have an enemy, the Devil, that walks about seeking who to devour. Some feel safe by not mentioning that they are Christians to their friends and family. Others feel like they have obtained peace by compromising on the faith in areas such as the exclusivity of Christ for salvation, biblical sexual relationships, and the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. Unwittingly they are already retreating in their people-pleasing. Unconsciously they are robbing themselves and the people they claim to care about of the soul-saving truth of God. In the name of being nice and politically correct they are ceding ground and assisting the Devil in his attempts to destroy lives and take as many people to eternity in Hell with him as possible.
It is time for the people of God to strap on their armor, sharpen their swords, and prepare to take a stand for the truth and a stand of love for their friends, families, and co-workers. To stand like an arrayed army ready to fight for people’s salvation and Christian growth.
(It also looks like this section of Scripture may be the topic of the upcoming Mountain Top youth conference which is being held on the last weekend of July.)