Some Thoughts on the Death of Bin Laden

On Sunday, we all learned that U.S. special forces killed Osama Bin Laden as he was hiding out in a mansion in Pakistan. The reaction to the news across the U.S. has been remarkable. I cannot remember another instance in my lifetime when throngs of people gathered spontaneously in the streets of our major cities to celebrate, but that is indeed what happened.

How should we as Christians react to the news? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Romans 13:4, “[Governmnet] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” If ever there were a just use of force, this was it. The U.S. government carried out its God-ordained task and has acted as God’s minister bringing His wrath upon one who practiced evil. The U.S. government isn’t God’s only minister of the sword. But tonight was our night, and I am grateful that justice was served.

2. Hebrews 10:31, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Isaiah 33:14, “Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?” I shudder to think of what Bin Laden is facing right now. I do not question the justice of it, but I can hardly bear to contemplate the horror of it. If my thinking is defective now, it won’t always be. The day will come when God will command me to rejoice in His justice in the damnation of the wicked (Revelation 18:20). Until then, the horror should serve as a motivation to warn people to flee the wrath to come (1 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

3. I think Christians are right to contemplate how jubilation (like we see on TV right now) is consistent with Ezekiel 33:11, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.” It is no surprise that many Christians are asking, “If God is not delighting in the death of the wicked, then how can we?” But does this verse really teach that God never delights in the death of the wicked? If so, what are we to do with the myriad of biblical texts that say things like:

So the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it (Deuteronomy 28:63).

4 For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness;
No evil dwells with You.
5 The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes;
You hate all who do iniquity.
6 You destroy those who speak falsehood;
The LORD abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit (Psalm 5:4-6).

So is there a contradiction between these texts and Ezekiel 33:11? No, there is not. There is confusion on this point because Ezekiel 33:11 is easily misunderstood. The second part of the verse is key to understanding its meaning. The text is not trying to say that God never delights in the death of the wicked. Rather, the verse means that God prefers for sinners to repent rather than to perish. If they refuse to repent, however, God delights in His own justice enough to punish them appropriately (e.g., Psalm 1:5-6; 5:4-6; 68:2; Isaiah 13:1-22; Jeremiah 18:11). Sometimes that justice begins with the imperfect ministers that He has appointed to bear the sword (Romans 13:4). For this reason, we have to be willing to praise God for His justice one way or the other (Psalm 139:19-22; Proverbs 11:10; 28:28; Revelation 19:1-3).

So what do we make of the celebrations in the streets? Perhaps we could all learn a lesson or two about celebrating God’s justice from Lincoln’s second inaugural address. Lincoln at once recognized the justice of his cause but at the same time was humbled by his own side’s shortcomings. And after contemplating all the misery of the war, he offered a kind of grim affirmation of Scripture saying, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9).

Perhaps a recognition of this kind of Justice would be less likely to result in patriotic celebrations in the streets and more likely to produce a kind of somber, humble gratitude for the common grace of God. I am not righteous, but God is. Even though I shudder to think of the Lord’s righteous judgment, I am nevertheless grateful to Him for whatever measure of common grace justice He grants us on this side of glory. With tonight’s announcement, I think what He has given is a generous portion.

55 Responses to Some Thoughts on the Death of Bin Laden

  1. ardineh May 2, 2011 at 9:48 am #

    No one’s hands are clean in war – from beginning to end.

  2. Jason D. May 2, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    Well put, thank you!

  3. Patrick Mitchell May 2, 2011 at 10:52 am #

    I appreciate your comments and was curious what you’d do with Ezekiel 33. I don’t think it’s as easy as you’ve made it though, to say that simply because one doesn’t repent then God isn’t grieved by his/her death (I know you predicated with God’s justice, but I feel the summation is fair).
    I just hope we’ll approach with great caution putting God’s stamp of approval on this and, if necessary, leave room for saying, “I am not sure how God feels about this.”

  4. Ariane May 2, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    I don’t think we should rejoice, per se, just be glad that it’s over, and that Bin Laden won’t be killing people anymore.

  5. Jim Hamilton May 2, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    Denny,

    Amen.

    Jim

  6. Jonathan May 2, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    I’ve seemed to have missed the memo in which the US Government was appointed “God’s minister” in charge of “bringing His wrath upon one who practiced evil”.

    It’s curious how other nations said the same thing when they described 9/11 and Katrina as “judgment and punishment” for all the sin and evil in the US.

    The truth is that your isolated misinterpretation of scripture does not justify your description of The U.S. government as “God’s minister of the sword” God has not appointed the US Government or any other government in any country as his “minister of wrath” For this country will be judged as well for their sins and wickedness.

  7. Oh-Jay Lackmon-Bay May 2, 2011 at 12:26 pm #

    ardineh

    The hands of the US are most certainly clean.

  8. Ferg breen May 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    Denny,
    I know you’re pro-life. In this situation does it mean that you’re only pro life for those you deem worthy of life? Or how does that work for you? It’s a fairly big statement to say this was God ordained.
    The only death worth celebrating is the death on Calvary that we celebrated last week.

    (oh and the comment saying that Americas hands are completely clean is perhaps slightly naive. 107,369 [certified, its close to a million in real terms] civilian deaths in Iraq alone and 750 billion dollars spent on the war. Worth it? I don’t think so. No nation in the worlds hands are completely clean the only clean kingdom is the kingdom of God where we are supposed to be citizens. This is not a day for fist pimping and chest beating like someone won the Superbowl. This whole war thing is devastating)

    Ferg

  9. Eric May 2, 2011 at 12:46 pm #

    The problem for me is that so much of this rejoicing is occurring in the name of America, not in the name of the Lord’s justice.

    Also, isn’t justice ultimately served and judgement handed down after death? Someone being killed in a firefight is less like sentencing (the part of a judicial process in which we typically perceive justice to reside) and more like bringing them before the court (of the Lord). Therefore, I would argue that our job as Christians is not to “serve justice” or rejoice in “justice being served” but to pray that these people would know the Lord before they are “brought before the court.”

    In the end, no doubt that the Lord loves justice and that justice is being served right now by the Almighty, but who are we to rejoice in someone’s death? In the end, death does nothing but seal a wicked man’s fate in hell. But Ezekiel 33:11 says that the Lord would much prefer that someone comes to know him before he days. Death of a non-believer should therefore an occasion for mourning, not rejoicing.

  10. Denny Burk May 2, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    Ferg, The pro-life position makes a distinction between innocent human life and that which is not innocent. That is why so many pro-lifers also support capital punishment.

  11. donsands May 2, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    “The pro-life position makes a distinction”

    Yep. You don’t kill babies. But you do kill terrorist bad guys.

    Great post.

  12. Denny Burk May 2, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    Jonathan (#6),

    Romans 13 explicitly defines “governing authorities” as:

    1. “established by God” (13:1)
    2. “a minister of God” (13:4 2x)
    3. “an avenger who brings wrath”(13:4)

    Moreover, the text says that “the sword” is given to governments in order to punish evil to to praise the good.

    Thanks,
    Denny

  13. Oh-Jay Lackmon-Bay May 2, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    Ferg breen

    America did NOT target civilians. Is it ia tragedy that they died? Yes. Is it America’s fault? Not in the slightest. If the bad guys (i.e. muslims) had laid down their arms and surrendered, we’d have no civilian deaths. Therefore, all civilian deaths of Iraq and Pakastan citizens are the responsiblity of the enemy not the US Military.

  14. Jonathan May 2, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them. Proverbs 24:17-18

  15. Keith May 2, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    To add to Denny’s 1:16pm comment, it should be noted that just because “governing authorities” are “established by God” doesn’t mean they always act in God’s will. Every government, including the US, has failed to “punish evil and praise the good” at some point. But that does not negate the fact that this attack was certainly justified by the context of Romans 13. We have to balance between the tendency to think that the US always acts as a nation ordained by God and the counter-fallacy that the US never acts as a nation ordained by God.

  16. Denny Burk May 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    Amen to Keith (#15).

  17. Set Free Indeed May 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    There is no rejoicing in my heart, and I don’t understand how anyone could rejoice that this sinner who is probably in hell right now is dead without repentance. If God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, and we are supposed to be Christlike, why are WE taking pleasure in it.

    There are some who are defending the celebrations in the streets saying the bible IN PRO 17:24 only condemns a person INDIVIDUALLY for rejoicing in the death of an enemy… OOOK. So how much more would it tick off God if a nation engaged in a behavior he condemned COLLECTIVELY? Still SMH. #excuses

  18. Denny Burk May 2, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    To Keith’s point (#15):

    “We have to balance between the tendency to think that the US always acts as a nation ordained by God and the counter-fallacy that the US never acts as a nation ordained by God.”

    This is why Lincoln’s second inaugural is my favorite political speech of all time: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lincoln2.asp. He got the balance right.

  19. Jonathan May 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    And that was my point Keith (#15) in reference to my post (#6)

    Other nations can justify their actions under the same premise “governing authorities” are “established by God”. There for they can do as they please in the name of God.

    Do we then say that every governing authority around the world, in every country is established by God, therefore, every action they make is justified under Romans 13?

  20. Erik Van Alstine May 2, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

    Exodus 15 (Song of Moses and Miriam) deserves consideration here. The Israelites were “dancing in the streets,” unabashedly jubilant at the destruction of Egypt’s army. There’s a time and a season for everything. Now is a time for celebration.

  21. stephen May 2, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

    Too crazy to think about still at this point for me. Bin Laden fought the Russians with our support. Was God on our side in that?

    His death was deserved, absolutely. But, let’s not forget the tangled web we wove here.

    And in a side light – Maybe it’s just me, but, sorry, it’s just hard to trust the news sources at this point. The enemy ( satan ) plays to our passions like a symphony.

  22. donsands May 2, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    “Moreover, the text says that “the sword” is given to governments in order to punish evil to to praise the good.”

    Yep. The sword is for spreading peanut butter.

  23. Dr Mike May 2, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Denny:

    It is good to read a kindred spirit in this matter. God may not, at times, take pleasure in the death of the wicked but neither does he hesitate to eliminate them with whatever means he chooses whenever he chooses.

    I rejoice, not in the death of a man, but in the triumph of good over evil in this instance. For our struggle is truly with evil, not merely those who serve as evil’s pawns.

  24. RD May 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    I don’t always see eye to eye with Dr. Mohler on things, but his comments regarding how Christians should be responding to this news is, I think, spot on: http://www.albertmohler.com/2011/05/02/the-trial-that-still-must-come-the-death-of-osama-bin-ladin-and-the-limits-of-human-justice/

  25. Ross May 2, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    Denny… seems like you have neglected the universal, unconditional, unilateral covenant with NOAH (Gen. 9) – the establishment of government for the purpose of capitol punishment.

    How does that fit in your mind?

  26. Justin F May 2, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    As we hear of the death of Osama bin Laden, we reflect on the last ten years of the war within the Middle East. As we do we are reminded that every war is in fact a civil war. Every war pits brother against brother, and family against family. We attempt to resolve these family disputes with words and diplomacy, and yet time and again we fail to solve conflicts within these realms. And when the talking ends, we resort to the oldest form of negotiation: our leaders send our best and bravest out to face their best and bravest, to kill and to be killed. As they leave we tell them, “We are sorry, we just don’t know a better way. But we hope that the next bullet you need to fire, is the last bullet that you need to fire.”

    But maybe, there is a better way . . .

    Lk 23:33-34

  27. Matthew Cunningham May 2, 2011 at 5:24 pm #

    Dr. Burk,

    Thanks for your thoughtful post. One question, how is the U.S. Military, operating on the soil of the sovereign nation of Afghanistan, a ‘governing authority’? It seems that the governing authority would be the Afghan’s, not the U.S.

    Essentially my question is, how is the U.S. morally vindicated? Yes, the action was in essence good, but was it good for the U.S. Military to do it? It reminds me of the Lord using Babylon to punish Israel, it was in essence right for Israel to be punished but wrong for Babylon to do it (please don’t comment on the several problems with this analogy, I am simply using it as an example to highlight moral culpability).

    Thanks for your time.

  28. Alan May 2, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    Denny,

    “Perhaps a recognition of this kind of Justice would be less likely to result in patriotic celebrations in the streets and more likely to produce a kind of somber, humble gratitude for the common grace of God.”

    Well said. God uses unbelieving unclean peoples ‘like’ Babylon and Media-Persia to bring about justice. This is then a cause for humble rejoicing but ultimately IN GOD! It always amazes me the concentration of the words “hallelujah” in Rev. 19 following the destruction of Babylon. It seems odd that we would rejoice over the destruction of the wicked and yet it is not inappropriateI take it when done in glory to God.

    “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments . . . again they shouted: “Hallelujah! . . . The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures . . . cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!” . . . Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude . . . shouting: “Hallelujah . . . “

  29. Traci May 2, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

    I wish I had checked your blog this morning before I wrote about his death. I think I could’ve gained from some of your insight. I’ve been surprised at the conflicting emotions this has stirred.

  30. fights May 2, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

    I think when evil is banished from the earth and cannot commit more evil acts, that’s most definitely a time to rejoice.

  31. Darlene Dean May 2, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    God gave him 10 YEARS to change his heart!

  32. Rejoicing May 2, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    John Piper’s response:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/is-god-glad-osama-bin-ladens-dead

  33. Christiane May 2, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    Osama’s final thoughts had to be that ‘the Americans have come for me because of what I did to them ten years ago’.

    He will not order the deaths of any more innocent people. For that, if nothing more, we can be glad.
    As far as our country was able, in his case justice has been done.
    I hope the families of the 9/11 victims will have some closure from this event.

  34. kevin May 2, 2011 at 11:47 pm #

    Watch ”the confessions of an economic hitman”. As a Christian I cannot condone what happened to Bin Laden. America’s hands are smeared in the blood of dead or corrupted leaders worldwide for the sake of money and oil.

  35. Brett May 3, 2011 at 12:33 am #

    Praise the Lord Osama is killed. I rejoice and dance in the streets. I got what was coming to him. Let him turn or burn – he did not turn so…

  36. Oh-Jay Lackmon-Bay May 3, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    America’s hands are completely clean–white, pure as the driven snow. We are the good guys in the white hats, kevin. Deal with it.

  37. RD May 3, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    I also came across this blog entry at Dr. Richard Beck’s site:
    “What to say?

    Actually, I really don’t want to say anything. That’s why I haven’t posted about this until now. And I’m posting now simply to announce that I don’t have anything to say. Well, more precisely, I have a lot to say, but it’s all jumbled up inside of me. I have my psychological reactions, my theological reactions, my American reactions, my Christian reactions, my pacifist reactions, my just war reactions, my Yoderian reactions, my Niebuhrian reactions, and on and on and on…

    I have too much to say. I have nothing to say. And it has all been said before. Over and over.

    I’m opting for silence.”

    Dr. Mohler’s response and Dr. Beck’s response most accurately reflect my own thoughts. I think it’s time to ratchet back the exuberance and the glaring hot focus on the event and get silent for awhile.

  38. Paul May 3, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    “If the bad guys (i.e. muslims) had laid down their arms and surrendered, we’d have no civilian deaths. Therefore, all civilian deaths of Iraq and Pakastan citizens are the responsiblity of the enemy not the US Military.”

    The worst part is, I think you’re serious.

    No matter what, we invaded their countries. From a completely secular, nationalist standpoint (and Americans, as a whole are the most nationalistic citizens on the planet), we had to expect some people to be upset by this and fight back.

    As for Bin Laden’s death, we should be glad that a very bad man was stopped in his tracks. However, joyous partying in the streets does not serve God in the slightest. This is not an end to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Libya. This is not an end to the threat of terrorism. This is the death of one very vile and evil man.

  39. Grover Pillsbury May 3, 2011 at 9:28 pm #

    Some of the comments suggest that we should be cautious about God’s justice concerning bin Laden’s demise. I would remind our brethren that God alone controls when we die. He alone determines the exact time of our earthly end..

  40. Ivan May 4, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    In Romans 3:23 it says we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It is easy to look and Osama and compare him to us and say he is wicked but if we compare ourselves to God we are wicked!

    In Matthew 5:43-48 God calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

    God is absolutely a just God and he delights in justice but He does not delight in see His creation going to hell because if He did would we not all be headed there?

  41. Muff Potter May 5, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    So what excuses will politicians on both sides of the aisle now use to keep us embroiled in a Vietnam-style quagmire (Afghanistan)?

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