The Death of Bin Laden: How Should a Christian Respond?

Propelled by traditional news outlets and the nearly instantaneous speed of social media, the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death raced through the entire country and even the world. I watched the accounts on Sunday night knowing I’d not soon forget where I was when I heard that this man, hunted for many long years, finally met his earthly end. And like so many others, I was struck by the large, spontaneous celebrations that quickly grew in front of the White House, Times Square, and elsewhere (including, it turns out, our own University of Missouri).

Those celebrations were so obviously understandable on a certain level: the face of global terrorism, the man chiefly responsible for so much death, so many problems, had been brought down. And yet, they’re also a cause for thought: what should a distinctively Christian response be to such news?

The intervening days have brought about a handful of thoughtful responses from Christians thinking about the issue through a biblical lens. I thought I’d draw attention to and excerpt a few of those here, with the understanding that (1) you can hit the links for further elaboration in each case and (2) there are other valuable perspectives not included here. (Special thanks to Justin Taylor, who always seems to be on top of these types of things better than everyone else.)

1. Andy Naselli points to teaching that D. A. Carson offered long before Sunday’s events:

Therefore, in the present struggle, even while we must try to prevent the terrorists from doing more violence, we must eschew a vendetta mentality. Love demands that we do not demonize Osama bin Laden. He is a human being made in the image of God. He is an evil man, and he must be stopped, but he is a man, and we should take no pleasure in destroying him. Vengeance is the Lord’s alone. Do not offer the alternative, “Should we weep for Osama bin Laden or hold him to account for his genocide and prevent him from carrying out his violent intentions?” The right answer is yes.

2. John Piper reflects on the biblical complexity of God’s response:

God’s emotions are complex—like yours, only a million times more. Right now, your emotions about bin Laden are not simple, i.e. not single. There are several, and they intermingle. That is a good thing. You are God-like.

In response to Osama bin Laden’s death, quite a few tweets and blogs have cited the biblical truth that “God does not delight in the death of the wicked.” That is true. ? ?

It is also true that God does delight in the death of the wicked. There are things about every death that God approves in themselves and things about every death that God disapproves in themselves.
My suggestion is that the death and misery of the unrepentant is in and of itself not a pleasure to God. God is not a sadist. He is not malicious or bloodthirsty. The death and suffering considered for itself alone is not his delight.

Rather, when a rebellious, wicked, unbelieving person is judged, what God has pleasure in is the exaltation of truth and righteousness, and the vindication of his own honor and glory.

3. Joe Carter and Kevin DeYoung offer helpfully balancing points:

First Carter:

We have a tendency to want to think of our enemies as sub-human vermin, as being so distant from ourselves that they are almost a different species.
Yet our relief at his death must be tempered by a Christian view of humanity. We must never forget that the evil comes not from the actions of “subhuman vermin” but from the heart of a fallen, sacred yet degraded, human being. If we are to preserve our own humanity we must not forget that our enemy differs from us in degree, not in kind. Like us, they are human, all too human.

Now DeYoung:

It is one of the half-truths of our day that every sin is the same in God’s eyes. On the one hand, every sin renders us liable to God’s judgment (James 2:10). On the other hand, not every bit of iniquity is equally offensive. …The Law did not demand the same penalty for every infraction. Neither did Jesus (Matt. 10:15). We do not promote the glory of the gospel by pretending that no one is more righteous or more wicked than anybody else. Some sins so destroy the image of God that those who commit them deserve destruction.
In our every day lives in this squishy pomo world, we have a hard time with justice. As a nation we feel sorry for people better than we feel joy over justice. But sometimes we need to be reminded that we live in a moral universe where actions have consequences. And when deathly consequences are merited by despicable actions, we should be glad the world is working as God designed.

(DeYoung’s post also helpfully provides brief, biblically supported answers for whether Bin Laden deserved to die and if those who killed him had the authority to do so.)

4. Denny Burk on the celebrations:

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.

5. I’ll close with one final reminder: as Christians, let us remember the biblical injunction to love and pray for those, like radical Islamic terrorists, who qualify in some way as “enemies.” We should certainly be sobered by anyone outside of Christ having ultimately to face God’s just punishment. And we should remember, if our own lives aren’t evidence enough, that God has a track record of rather spectacular conversions.

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