The big question on the Christian blogosphere has been whether it was appropriate for Americans—Christian Americans, specifically—to celebrate Osama bin Laden’s death.
In one sense it’s moot. The celebrations two nights ago were spontaneous and immediate outpourings of deeply held feelings. Feelings can’t be right or wrong. Thoughts and beliefs can be. Our beliefs and our feelings are tightly connected, in that what we believe ultimately determines what we feel. What motivated those spontaneous parties two nights ago, but the belief that an evil man who had hurt us very badly had just been taken down?
Then what should we think and believe? What can we know to be true about this man, and about his death? He was an evil man who hurt us badly, and he was taken down. I have no argument with that. There’s more truth to it than that, though.
• We know that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires for them to turn back toward him in repentance (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11). Had Osama done that, God would have welcomed even him into the company of the faithful. There is no reason to think that he did.
• We know that God calls us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and to pray for them.
• We know that sin carries with it a just penalty of death (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ paid that penalty on behalf of those who accept his payment. There is no reason to think Osama accepted that offer, so his penalty remained his own to pay.
• We know that God gives civil authorities the right to execute justice (Romans 13:1-7), including capital punishment for capital crimes; and we know that Osama was guilty of murdering thousands. The international community has stood behind America’s decision to carry out justice on Pakistan’s soil. Therefore we can be confident that what America’s President ordered, and what the troops accomplished, was acceptable in God’s eyes.
What feelings might this knowledge lead to? We often speak of justice being satisfied, which suggests an appropriate Christian response: satisfaction, mixed with regret. I regret deeply the end to which Osama bin Laden has come. For his sake I regret his choices, I grieve over what it made this fellow human being to become, and I am saddened to think of his likely current state, as one who committed grievous evils and rejected the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ.
Yet justice was satisfied in his case, and in that I find satisfaction. It is not good that the guilty continue in their ways, but it is good that God is just and deals justly with them. That includes situations like this one, when men act as his instruments to carry out that justice. Osama’s death, though grievous, was good.
The feeling of satisfaction is good and positive; it’s something to be encouraged and supported, when it’s appropriate. Did something feel good to you about Osama’s death? Why shouldn’t it have? There really was something good about it.
But satisfaction is a quiet thing: we usually don’t throw big parties over it. Especially when it’s mixed with regret.
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