Faithful Politics

Being faithful with our politics, not political with our faith.

When An Enemy Falls

Thousands across America took to the streets late Sunday night in celebration of the death of Osama bin Laden, alleged mastermind of the September 11th terrorist attacks on the U.S.  The celebrations brought forth a sense of unity reminiscent of the days following the dreadful attacks nearly ten years ago.  As Christians, unity in the name of justice is a heralded concept, yet the thought of celebrating the death of a man – who, no matter how despicable, bore the image of God – can elicit some conflicting emotions, and rightfully so.

Two main camps have become distinguished since the news broke: one that cheers the death of an evil man, citing that justice has been done; another that condemns such rejoicing on grounds that forgiveness and love should overcome.  Both categories are filled with a significant number of representatives, with each side providing biblical references for their respective viewpoint.  Many unbelievers have also chipped in Bible verses to support their positions.  All of that leads us to wonder, what is the correct response, especially as Christians?

In Scripture, there are many references to enemies and justice.  If we’re not careful, we can misconstrue those passages, take them out of context, or even pick and choose the words we cite.  Proverbs 11:10b says, “…when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.”  And Psalm 58:10a, contrasting God’s true justice with that of the world, says, “The righteous will be glad when they are avenged…”  These passages show that there is an argument for rejoicing in justice, even when justice results in the blood of our enemies.  However, this analysis lacks depth and risks being interpreted as cold-hearted.  Christians must be particularly mindful not only of the content of their message, but its reception as well.

On the flip side, others say that rejoicing is misplaced or wrong.  The most common verse being cited – by people ranging from high-schoolers to prominent teachers and political figures – is Proverbs 24:17: “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice…”  On one hand, it’s great that portions of Scripture have reached broad audiences, even being reposted by notable atheists.  On the other hand, the verse is cited drastically out of context, stopping short of a very important nuance and misportraying God’s word.

The second part of the above proverbs comes in the very next verse, and is the poetic pair clearly seen if we simply open the Bible and look.  Proverbs 24:18 continues, “…or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.”  This is where we can begin to see God’s plan for how Christians ought to respond to his justice being carried out in our world.  If we boast in another’s demise, God will turn to focus on correcting our hearts.

As Christians, we are to love and desire justice, full of faith that God designed the world to fit his purpose.  When an enemy attacks our lives, our beliefs, or our loved ones, we instinctively recoil from the injustice and sin.  But when our response comes in the form of hate toward the person, we have strayed from the biblical playbook.  After all, we are all guilty of wrongdoing, wrongdoing that compelled Jesus to come and be put to death to pay for the penalty.

So can we rejoice when the likes of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Adolph Hitler, or other archetypical enemies meet their demise?   God remarks to evildoers in Nahum 2:13, “I am against you,” and in Malachi 4:1 he says, “all the arrogant and every evildoer will be (destroyed).”  And to Christians in Romans 12, Paul commands, “do not be proud” but leave room for God’s wrath.  So we can certainly be joyful that God’s word is true that oppression will cease, and that at times we see the judgment of sin on earth.  But we must make sure that our joy springs from the right place, out of our desire for God’s justice and not personal triumph.

Events like Osama bin Laden’s death can remind us of the demise from which we were saved in Christ, and should inspire us even more to seek and to save the lost.

 

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2 Comments

  1. This is exactly how I feel, although I didn’t have Bible verses to back it up…

    I had a discussion with my Bible study group this Tuesday after Osama was killed and they were upset with how I was reacting – I was in the camp of “condemning those rejoicing.” My Christian friends couldn’t understand what I wasn’t exuberant with joy that this evil man had died. I tried to explain to them that I can’t rejoice in the death of others, no matter how evil he is, and although I was happy Osama will no longer be around to kill others or cause more harm, I just felt it was inappropriate to react as much of America reacted. I felt persecuted because of my reaction. Which isn’t a good feeling to have amongst Christians, I might add…

    Anyways, I’m happy you wrote this because this is generally how I felt and you make great points about where the joy should lie.

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