There is quite a debate underway online regarding how Christians should respond to the death of Osama bin Laden. Are we to rejoice over the justice in the death of one who is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands, most notably the three thousand souls lost on September 11, 2001? Or are we supposed to so major on the fact that “God is not pleased by the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33: 11 ) that we should stoically stand by and not “rejoice with those who rejoice,” even though we’ve been previously weeping with them (Romans 12:15)?
The book of Proverbs does read, “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness” (Proverbs 11:10). Furthermore, “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but a terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15). Methinks the instinct to worry about being too happy over Osama bin Laden’s death is a reflection of the influence of Anabaptist pacifism. It’s pervasive in Western Christianity nowadays. Try not to let it unduly influence you. For an example of what I mean, compare this blogger’s dilemma over how to react. Should he listen to the Anabaptist on the one shoulder, or the red-blooded American patriot chanting “U-S-A!” on the other? That he attributes his angst over the death of a mass-murdering terrorist to Anabaptism shows how this is the application of Anabaptist pacifism. For you Star Wars fans, remember Alderaan? They were a peaceful planet with no weapons, weren’t they? Look what happened to them.
While it is regrettable that Osama bin Laden never repented of his sins and trusted Christ for salvation from sin and the wrath of God—none of us are glad because he’s now suffering eternal conscious torment in hell. We’re relieved with the loved-ones of bin Laden’s and al Qaida’s victims that justice is served. There is no contradiction here.
At Underdog Theology, Warren Cruz takes the approach that our deceitfully depraved hearts may take us down the slippery slope of rejoicing in bin Laden’s eternal destiny though we intended to only rejoice in the temporal justice in his demise. Be that as it may, I’m inclined to take Luther’s approach (HT: Wikiquote):
If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sin be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death and the world. We commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13), are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign.
Letter 99, Paragraph 13. Erika Bullmann Flores, Tr. from:Dr. Martin Luther’s Saemmtliche Schriften Dr. Johann Georg Walch Ed. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, N.D.), Vol. 15, cols. 2585-2590
In other words, don’t let the fact that you may imperfectly rejoice in the justice of bin Laden’s death keep you from so rejoicing. Christ’s perfect righteousness covers the imperfect righteousness of those who trust him.
Update: For a tad more balanced and scholarly approach to making the same point, try Michael Horton writing for Christianity Today today in “The Death of Osama bin Laden: What Kind of Justice Has Been Done?” Here’s the second of Horton’s three implications of the so-called Reformation doctrine of the Two Kingdoms as it relates to the only event in today’s headlines:
Second, it means that we cannot rejoice in the death of the wicked any more than does God (Ezek. 18:23). We may take satisfaction that temporal justice has been served, but Christians should display a sober restraint. When Christ returns, bringing infinite justice in his wake, his saints will rejoice in the death of his enemies. For now, however, he calls us to pray for our enemies, even for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). This is the day of salvation, calling sinners to repent and believe the gospel. We may delight in the temporal justice shown to evildoers, but leave the final justice to God. (HT: Riddleblog).