Justice: Satisfied

Series: Easter Explained

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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13 thoughts on “Justice: Satisfied

  1. As I just posted elsewhere…

    I’m not one to be spiking the football in the end zone – but I also know that the time to counsel others about it is not while they are spiking the ball in the end zone. I think many of the non-spikers don’t seem to understand this. Therefore, I expect to immediately see them all in bars attempting to argue drunk people into sobriety…

  2. Hi, Beez. Nice to see you here.

    Just to clarify, in case I didn’t communicate it well enough the first time around: I’m not trying to argue anyone into anything. There are some readers who believe the truths I’ve bulleted, and I’m trying to focus us together on those shared truths.

    Some people don’t share the beliefs I’ve highlighted here, and I’m not in the business here of trying to convince them. For some people, my suggestions of what feelings are appropriate might not seem fitting. I’m not arguing with them, either. It was a suggestion. I don’t have any grand expectations of being able to control others’ feelings.

    The Christian blogosphere is showing a lot of ambivalence about how to respond to bin Laden’s death. I’m trying to put it into perspective: there is good reason for mixed feelings.

    As for timing: for those of us who believe what Jesus said about loving our enemies, if this is not a good time to think about what that really means, when would be?

  3. Tom,

    Sorry – I intended my post more of an assent than a dissent. I should have provided more context – yours was a rational approach to temper the discussion. I particularly appreciated THIS line: “The celebrations two nights ago were spontaneous and immediate outpourings of deeply held feelings. Feelings can’t be right or wrong.”

    I think too many Christians have been attempting to counsel people on exactly THAT, during that initial outpouring, and that is where my main objection lies. You’re not doing that here, and I recognize that.

  4. hi tom,

    i so appreciate your thoughtful, well-written posts.

    i disagree, however, about the spontaneous celebrations. while feelings may not be right or wrong, what we do with them is behavior, and behavior can most definitely be right or wrong. my feelings of rejection after having a prom invitation turned down are not right or wrong, but if i punch her afterward, i think we can agree that would be a problem.

    in this case, people feel whatever they feel, but they don’t have to gather, wave the flag, and chant “usa! usa!” like we won something at the olympics. they don’t have to dance on his grave, celebrating his arrival in hell with shouts of joy. this was not our finest moment.

    also, don’t forget that there was collateral damage — others died in the raid. even though they weren’t americans, is that not enough to sober us?

    the killing of bin laden may have been defensible, even necessary. in all honesty, i am not sorry that he is gone. but i think our reaction as a nation bears reflection. is this who we really want to be?

  5. Tom,

    Have you written about capital punishment elsewhere?

    I ask because in your quick mention of Romans 13, you include that the civil government has the authority to enforce capital punishment (which is something I don’t see explicitly in the text).

    I know you’re one to take Scripture seriously and to treat it carefully — and at first glance, that quick reference doesn’t seem very careful. So, I am assuming you’ve written elsewhere.

    I would like to read what you’ve written, if you wouldn’t mind linking.

  6. bw, I think we’re in agreement, mostly. I was trying to get across the point that throwing a big party doesn’t fit the reality of what really happened. It’s hard for me to stand in judgment on something so spontaneous. I have the advantage of hindsight and time for reflection, which wasn’t the case for everyone on Sunday night, so I didn’t want to come down real hard on it, but I do think it was inappropriate.

    brgulker, I haven’t written on capital punishment before. Rather than getting into a discussion on that, I would suggest that I probably got it wrong in the OP–that this was an act of just war rather than of a civil government’s normal duties. I haven’t written on just war either, in case you might ask, but if you’d like I could link to some articles that I think cover its basis pretty well.

  7. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for your reply. I’ve read plenty of just war theory (as well as the counter arguments), but I always welcome learning.

    I was specifically curious, though, in anything you’d written on the topic, particularly because I do enjoy reading what you contribute in this space.

    If you have the time free to share a few links, I’d welcome that, but if not, I certainly won’t take any offense whatsoever.

    I do feel the need to say, though, that I don’t think the war against terrorism (of which killing Osama is but one small part) fits very well into the Christian Just War categories with which I am familiar due to the extent of innocent life that has been taken (on all sides).

    For example, I think one can make a strong case that as many (if not more) innocent lives have been lost in the Middle East as a result of the attempt to bring Osama and others to justice as were lost in the 9-11 attacks (please understand I’m not trying to start a flame war, just pointing out the main difficulty I see for Just War theory here).

  8. One of the problems with the “War on Terror” is that is must adopt a different set of rules than are covered by just war theory. I have found the following article by Lee Harris one of the most thoughtful and informative on the subject. It’s a very good (though not short) read.


    And a companion article by the same author


  9. BillT,

    Thanks for sharing. While it’s interesting, I’m struggling to buy his premise in point 1, which seems to be the lynchpin for much, if not all, of what follows.

    Certainly, the “war on terror” is novel; I understand that much. But if I’m understanding his argument, he seems to be saying that such novelty precludes us from making judgments about whether or not the war will be “just” or “right” or etc. because we will only be able to evaluate it accurately from the perspective of hindsight.

    Is anyone else reading it that way?

    If that is what he’s saying, well, I just can’t agree. In spite of its novelty, surely we could have anticipated the “collateral damage” that fighting this type of war would cause, right? It is fact (isn’t it?) that part of what makes this war so different from previous wars is that we’re not fighting a nation here; instead, we are fighting against small groups of people that exist within multiple nations.

    In other words, we knew going in that these people lived among civilians, e.g., and that bringing the fight to them would necessitate bringing the fight to areas populated by civilians (and in some cases, more civilians than “terrorists”).

    I appreciate his point as an American who is concerned with National Security — and I agree we won’t know the full “success” of these efforts in the present.

    My issue isn’t about “success” from a nationalistic perspective, however. My concern is with the justness of this war, and frankly, I’m not sure his argument illumines much on that front.


  10. brgulker,

    I would be hesitant to summarize or defend the concepts in the article. It’s a bit out of my depth. I know I find it to be original thinking on a difficult and complex subject. He is thorough in detailing the background information and in forming his conclusions. That is far more than any of the critics of the actions in Iraq that I have read have been. The world has changed and he certainly gives us solid reasoning for dealing with that change. The concept of justness in war may need to be examined in more than one way. I’m sure your conclusions about the article are as valid as mine.

    As to your point that “we’re not fighting a nation here; instead, we are fighting against small groups of people that exist within multiple nations.” I see the action in Iraq as a different part of the war on terrorism than lets say the recent action against OBL. Iraq wa too dangerous to leave with it’s then leadership. Regime change was necessary as a part of an overall strategy. I think that’s more what the article focuses on.

  11. Your thoughts have helped me to organize mine. Thank you. It also helped when a friend shared something she heard on Dennis Prager’s show, Proverb 11:10 “When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish, there is jubilation.”

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