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Christians and Osama – Justice or Vengeance?

May 14, 2011

So, Osama bin Laden is dead. Old news. However, I think it is still pertinent to look back at the way events have transpired after the fact in order to critique them and learn from them. I learned a lot myself just from communicating with others about the events, from watching the way things unfolded online on Twitter and Facebook, from debates over the “right reaction” to Osama’s death, and from reading much about the subject from many different perspectives.

First things first: initial reactions.

As soon as I heard the news that Osama had been killed, I was overjoyed. Finally, a conclusion to the 10-year-long manhunt for America’s (and possibly the world’s) enemy #1. I quickly searched the news for video – and found a live feed from ABC. I scoured the written news to bypass the verbal analysis from the video feed, and found that Osama was confirmed dead by multiple sources. Relief flooded over me, and I felt free. Within moments, Facebook and Twitter were alive with activity (news travels fast in the Internet age), and the status updates seemed to come in two different flavors: either “Rejoice! Wonderful! He’s dead!” or “We should never rejoice in death – even the death of a terrorist.” Here are two opposing points of view I read on Facebook:

Positive reaction:

Mark Driscoll – 1st post:

Finished long day of gospel preaching to hear the glorious news that bin Laden is now dead, killed by CIA! Thank you soldiers who tracked him for a decade. Thank you Jesus for being His JUDGE

2nd post:

The cheering crowds remind us that justice is glorious & comes ultimately through Jesus cross or hell. Justice wins

3rd post:

This week the world rejoiced @ the defeat of a murderous tyrant & prince marrying a princess wearing white. This is ultimately the storyline of our Bible where Jesus crushes Satan & rides on a horse to take his bride the church.

Negative reaction:

Spread by many and attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. (though the first full sentence is from Jessica Dovey, a Penn-state grad and ESL teacher in Kobe, Japan (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/05/anatomy-of-a-fake-quotation/238257/):

“I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” ~Martin Luther King Jr

Needless to say, after my initial reactions of joy, relief, and freedom, I was not in the mood to hear someone telling me to be somber and solemn about Osama’s death – let alone to mourn in it (as some Christians armed with Bible verses argued). The man (some would say ‘monster’ – and rightly so) would have never mourned even a single life he took, so why should we mourn his loss? I was much more inclined to agree with Mark Driscoll on this point that justice was served and we ought to be thankful in that “glorious news” – even in the “cheering crowds” – because we know that in the end “justice wins.”

After much debate – just on Mark Driscoll’s posts – about what is justice; whether or not we should rejoice in justice; what would Jesus do (say); and the fact that elsewhere in the Bible, God says that he never rejoices over the loss of a single unrighteous life, pastor Driscoll began posting his own Bible verses and analysis to combat the verses posted by the naysayers. Here is a little of the Bible verse debate that caught fire online:

Positive reaction:

Mark Driscoll – 1st post:

Proverbs 28:5 Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it completely.

2nd post:

Romans 13 “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

3rd post:

Psalm 5:5 “you [Lord] hate all evildoers.” God loves the whole world. And, he hates some people in justice as they do evil & refuse his grace.

Negative reaction:

Posted by many of my Christian friends and other Christians around the Twittersphere:

Ezekiel 33:11 “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?”

Ezekiel 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”

Ezekiel 18:32 “For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”

Romans 12:19 “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.”

Proverbs 24:17 “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice.”

My reactions:

Now, again, after my initial reaction – joy, relief, and freedom – how can my heart be expected to be somber, solemn, and mournful about the loss of so evil a man? Here’s what I wrote in reaction:

I really hate putting on a “sad face” when a man like Osama is killed just because it’s “the Christian thing to do.” My heart rejoiced and breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the news. I shed no tears for his loss, and I shed no tears for the loss of his eternal soul – though some Christians would preach that we must.

The fact is, I would not mourn the passing of Hitler, Hussein, or Osama any more than I would mourn the passing of Judas. In fact, it would be far better to more his loss than theirs, because he walked and talked with Jesus for three years and was a part of their brotherhood. It is truly a pity about Judas.

And my own initial Bible verse reaction:

I understand this: Ezekiel 18:23 “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”
But, we do not rejoice in the death of a man. We rejoice in justice that has been served. Proverbs 21:15 “When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.”

That’s not “Christian”! I’m “more Christian” than you are!

I think it is more than just unfortunate when people conjure up the phrase “what would Jesus do?” or pull Bible verses to suit their own worldviews and claim that some things are “just not Christian” because they personally don’t agree with them.

(Another good example of this would be alcohol – some Christians would claim that a person is sinning every time they touch the substance to their lips – but the Bible says nothing about drinking being a sin, only drunkenness (Galatians 5:16-21). In fact, in Christ we have great freedom through the grace of God and are no longer bound to the Old Testament law (Galatians 5:1-6, 13-14; Romans 8:1-2) (and there is still no mention of drinking itself as a sin in the Old Testament law – but that’s the subject for another time).

Suffice it to say that no one can claim to be “more Christian” than another, and no one can claim that someone else is “less Christian” than themselves, for we are STILL ALL sinners (Romans 3:23) and we are all equal inheritors of Christ’s glory and grace (Romans 8:17; Ephesians 3:6; Galatians 4:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:30) “so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:29). Who then can claim to know what is more or less Christian except the one who has made us Christians and imputed his own righteousness to us? (2 Corinthians 5:21).

What would Jesus say?

But I did receive a “what would Jesus do?” style question challenging my status postings about Osama’s death. This is what I replied:

Admittedly, in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus does give an incredibly high call to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Here is a good post about that: http://theresurgence.com/2011/05/02/love-your-enemies

But elsewhere, in John 3 – after the most famous verse Jesus spoke (3:16, “For God so loved the world…”), he says this: “17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

So, while we may rejoice that God is just, we must also rejoice that God is gracious to sinners when they repent. For we all “are more murderous and hateful like Osama than we are perfect and holy like God.” Not one of us is without sin – and therefore we all stand condemned and deserve justice – like Osama.

But, God is gracious, as John 3:18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

So, for Christians, IF we want to rejoice in the justice that is done to evildoers, we must ALSO rejoice that the same justice is not handed down to our own sinful selves.

Here are some more good posts: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/is-god-glad-osama-bin-ladens-dead

http://www.dougwils.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8626%3Ado-your-soul-some-good&catid=129%3Aobama-nation-building

But make no mistake. Rejoicing in justice and rejoicing in vengeance are very different things. Vengeance is contrary to the gospel: http://theresurgence.com/2011/05/02/love-your-enemies

Human Justice vs. Holy Justice. God’s Upside-down Kingdom vs. Our Earthly Governments

The reply I received to this post initially made me seek to further defend myself and my own happiness in the justice dealt to Osama, but looking back now, I realize that it was well written, and hits on a number of very important points: the first is a distinction between human justice and holy justice; the second is a distinction between God’s Upside-down Kingdom and our earthly governments. Here is the reply:

Hm. If justice is indeed God’s, and we are to love our enemies even to giving them our clothes and shelter, I’m not sure we should be hunting them down and killing them. It seems like the justice here is human justice and not holy justice. The Upsidedown Kingdom premise would lead me to believe that justice would be in bringing peace to Afganistan and Pakistan, not guns, bombs and drones.

And my response to it:

Indeed, judgment is God’s and he will judge all people after the end of the world (Revelation 20:12): “And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” So, Osama’s final judgment is yet to come.

Additionally, vengeance is God’s and he will repay (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, Hebrews 10:30): “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.”

And while I also wholeheartedly agree that we ought to get out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, bring peace rather than bombs, and shouldn’t even have started these wars in the first place, I also must point out that not all institutions on earth are godly, and even fewer abide by biblical principles. So we can hardly hold every institution, or even every person, accountable to the standards of the Bible.

Additionally, while I find the “love your enemies” thing to be incredible, and a wonderful thing for Christians to try to live by, we cannot be expected to always “turn the other cheek” or risk being tread all over and taken advantage of. Ever tried to tell a small child who is being bullied at school to “turn the other cheek”? It doesn’t go over so well, and it isn’t biblical. Even Jesus expressed anger and dealt out justice to those who cheated worshipers in the temple courts by overcharging for sacrifices (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19). Though he preached “turn the other cheek” Jesus recognized when that was inappropriate and he dealt out justice to those who deserved it.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil

A blog post one of my friends sent me used these verses from Paul to show how we cannot be justified in rejoicing Bin Laden’s death  (and many others have used these as well I’m sure):

“Romans 12:17-21

“17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

http://www.brettdurham.net/?cat=1

But, submit to earthly authorities

However, he (and others) have forgotten to continue reading in Romans where Paul says this:

“Romans 13:1-4

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

Here, we can see that God sometimes uses earthly leaders to “carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” This still has nothing to do with final judgment, or eternal justice, but this is earthly justice, rightly deserved, and approved by God.

Besides, Paul (and even Peter, in 1 Peter 2) calls us to submit to earthly authorities, as Peter writes, “for the Lord’s sake” (verse 13). And Peter also writes that God often uses human leaders to dole out justice, (verses 13-14) “13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.”

Rejoice with rejoicers, mourn with mourners

And even though the aforementioned verses from Romans 12 are well-intentioned, they skipped over verse 15, which says “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

So, on September 11, as I wept with those who wept, now in May 2011, I rejoice with those who rejoice – again, not in the death, but in the justice – doled out by earthly leaders, under whose authority and leadership I submit. Whether their decisions are stupid or wonderful – they have been appointed by God (and chosen by the people) to deal out earthly justice to wrongdoers.

See? Osama Celebrations

Actually, all of the above took place before I watched any of the news coverage of the events that transpired immediately following Obama’s announcement of Osama’s death. What happened all over the U.S. after the announcement is shameful and embarrassing, and in no way reflects any understanding of justice. Go to YouTube.com and type in the search terms “Osama celebration” to see what I mean. These are not celebrations of justice, they are wild parties in celebration of retribution and vengeance. And the fact that some signs and newspapers were printed with headlines like, “We got the bastard!” and “Burn in Hell!” does nothing to convince me otherwise. America went on a vengeance bender and it made me sick watching it.

This is my first post after viewing these “celebrations”:

The celebration – and the media coverage of said celebration – is over-the-top. We all (rightly) got upset when we learned of those in the Middle East dancing in the streets after the collapse of the twin towers. And yet now, much of America is doing the same – dancing in the streets over the death of one man who helped plot that. And vengeance is nothing to celebrate. Justice perhaps – but not vengeance. And dancing in the streets? That’s akin to dancing on his grave. Are we no better than that? It would be far better to acknowledge our own sigh of relief that he is dead, smile at justice, and move on with life.

And the fact that America feels they can police the world – sending troops in to whatever country, at whatever time, for whatever reason – is inappropriate as well. America is simply far too big, rich, and powerful – they feel invincible. We do truly need to rethink our motivations and our goals – and commit to a sustainable life and peaceful existence with our neighbors. We should not be a country that seeks vengeance, nor a country that seeks its own financial gain (we are already the richest in the world). Rather, we SHOULD be a country that seeks justice for the oppressed, provides for the needs of the poor, and seeks peace among nations. Anyway, those are “Christian” principles, and for all the politicians and people in the land that claim “We are a Christian nation” – they ought to re-examine what that means exactly.

And another:

Saw some news clips from the “Osama celebrations” in the U.S. Definitely excessive and shameful. That’s no better than when Osama’s people danced in the streets after the twin towers fell. Is the U.S. no better than they are? Be grateful for justice, but don’t party all night and dance in the streets for his death.

But, by far, the best article I’ve read on the subject – contrasting and critiquing the difference between justice and vengeance, and America’s celebrations related to them – was written by Albert Mohler. In it, he sums up the best ideas on justice and revenge from a biblical perspective:

“Revenge is not a worthy motivation for justice, and celebration in the streets is not a worthy response…Retributive justice is sober justice…[And] open patriotic celebration in the streets? That looks far more like revenge in the eyes of a watching world, and it looks far more like we are simply taking satisfaction in the death of an enemy. That kind of revenge just produces greater numbers of enemies.”

The full article may be read here: 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/ and deals with the difference between human justice and holy justice, as well as the difference between God’s Kingdom and our earthly kingdom.

So, I guess the real question to ask yourself after hearing the news and living through the response is: What is/was your reaction to the news? Are you satisfied in justice, or do you celebrate in vengeance? And how are you going to live your life as a result of that?

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