Lots of posts on Facebook about the death of Osama bin Laden yesterday and today. Last night when the news broke, I don't think there was even one status update on my wall that didn't address the bin Laden situation. Most people expressed joy and elation when they heard that bin Laden had been killed. There was a lot of talk about how it had been a long time coming.
My own reaction was initially one of surprise. When I saw the flasher at the bottom of the TV screen (interrupting Celebrity Apprentice!) indicating that a special announcement from the president was coming up, I had no idea what it was. When I learned that bin Laden had been killed, I was initially really surprised. I didn't expect that to be the announcement.
My second reaction was one of gladness. I was glad that he was dead. I was glad that his reign of terror, so to speak, was over (although it will no doubt be carried on by countless thousands), and that lives will no doubt be spared as a result of his demise.
Some of my friends on Facebook posted scripture. I saw Proverbs 24.17-18 quoted a few times: "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him." My pastor quoted Matthew 26.52: "...all who take the sword will perish by the sword."
All this got me thinking about how a Christian should respond to the death of a wicked person, such as Osama bin Laden. Should we rejoice? Should we be sorrowful? Should we say, "It's about time"? I don't think it's as simple as Proverbs 24.17-18. We need more theology than just what those verses offer in order to formulate a right response to the death of a wicked man like Osama bin Laden.
Then I stumbled on these two excellent pieces, one by John Piper, and one by Justin Holcomb of Mars Hill, Seattle. Both pieces masterfully bring out excellent biblical points on how God views the death of the wicked and how Christians should view the death of the wicked. I highly recommend them.
So how should a Christian respond to the death of Osama bin Laden? Here's what I think:
1) We should praise God that we haven't suffered the same fate. I mean this both in the physical and spiritual senses. I am every bit just as evil as Osama bin Laden. My heart was just as rotten, I had the same potential for unspeakable evil, and I deserved the same fate. But by God's grace, I did not fall into such wickedness, and, also by God's grace, I have been forgiven of my sin. Christ took for me the punishment that Osama bin Laden is experiencing at this very moment. So let's praise God that he extends grace to those who will receive it, and that he extends mercy.
2) We should long for the salvation of those who do not believe. The thought of anyone entering the eternal torment of hell should scare us. I don't want anyone to go to hell - not even Osama bin Laden. God is not willing that any should perish, but that all come to repentance and faith, and that includes bin Laden. But all those who do not come to faith will be judged. That alone should fuel our preaching endeavors.
3) We should be glad that God's justice and righteousness have been served. In sovereignly ordaining the death and judgment of bin Laden, God exercises his justice and righteousness. He punishes evil where it is found. He shows no favoritism. He remains faithful and true to who he is. This is good news.
4) We should be glad that God has removed such evil from the world. The Bible is full of examples of how God removes (or kills) people who are exceedingly wicked from their position, or even their life. Such removal can allow peace and justice to flourish. Let's pray that's the case with bin Laden's death.
5) We should not be glad that bin Laden is in hell (see #2).
6) We should not feel that bin Laden is getting what he deserves without remembering why we have not gotten what we deserved (see #1). Such thinking would be, I believe, judgmental and sinful.
7) We should not think that God vindictively killed bin Laden (see #3). God works within his justice and righteousness, not out of spite or vindictiveness.