The news and the internet have been a buzz the past few days after the announcement from the president that Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. SEALs in Pakistan. People right away took to their Facebook pages to update their status with a victorious salute to the armed forces and the president or shared a quote that condemned rejoicing in an enemy falling or any kind of violence. Several around the Washington D.C. and New York City areas went out into the streets, waving flags and chanting "USA, USA, USA!" However, several feel conflicted as to what the appropriate response should be for the death of someone who was responsible for the death of thousands. Should we rejoice that this terrorist was killed or instead be mourning and grieving? This certainly is a difficult question to wrestle with and one that does not have a simple answer. The following are some things that I have been thinking about as I have been pondering what an appropriate (in other words, "biblical") response to this event should be.
Osama's Death Was Carried Out By the Appropriate Means
Paul tells us in Romans that God has given the government authority to punish evildoers. He describes the government as an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4). This is actually a means of God's grace because if man's wickedness had nothing to physically restrain it, then human society itself would collapse as only chaos could ensue. Part of this wrath that the government can carry out would include the death penalty as he does not bare the sword in vain. In fact, the Greek word here for sword, machaira, is often connected to killing someone or someone being killed, in some cases judicially (Luke 21:24; Acts 12:2; 16:27; Romans 8:35; Hebrews 11:34,37; Revelation 13:10). Osama bin Laden did indeed deserve the death penalty as he shed many of a man's blood. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man (Genesis 9:6; personal translation). Thus, bin Laden deserved death and the appropriate authority carried the death penalty out. However, Dr. Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Seminary makes a good point that we were robbed of the satisfaction of seeing full human justice occurring through an arrest and a trial.
Now it is true that Paul instructs in just a previous chapter for us to If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." To the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:18-21). And Jesus preached in the "sermon on the mount" that You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:43-45). However, it is important to notice that Paul here is referring to individual Christians and that Jesus is addressing individual disciples and not the institution of the government. We must always be careful not to apply a passage of Scripture to something to which it does not apply. It is the God appointed governing ruler or official that bears the sword, not an individual acting outside of the government. Had Osama been killed by an individual acting for the purpose of revenge, it would not have been appropriate. In this case, we have those who were acting as part of the government bringing about the death that Osama deserved for his murder of so many.
I Grieve That Bin Laden Has Began An Eternity Apart From God's Grace
While I recognize that Osama bin Laden did deserve death and that it was carried out by the appropriate means, I find myself grieving over his death. Here was a man who lived his entire life without ever turning to the Lord through repentance and faith. The judgment that he faced on earth is nothing compared to the judgment that he now experiences. it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). He now has started an eternal sentence of everlasting conscious torture in Hell apart from the grace of God. This is a scary picture. Even the most ardent atheist (including bin Laden when he was alive on the earth) experiences the grace of God. For He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:45). God blesses those on the earth even who do not acknowledge and worship Him as He deserves with good things. In Hell, however, there are no such blessings. For the unrepentant who do not turn from their sins, this life really is their "best life now." With Osama's death, I grieve that he gained the world but lost his soul.
I Rejoice in God's Justice Being Done
At the same time that I grieve, I also rejoice. I don't rejoice in Osama's death itself but the very fact that God's justice is being carried out. In both bin Laden's execution and the beginning of his experiencing God's full wrath in Hell, God is glorifying Himself by displaying His justice. God is glorified in both displaying His mercy and His justice (Romans 9:21-24). He is glorified in displaying His mercy to those whom He intends to save (the vessels of mercy in v. 23) and in displaying His justice to those whom do not turn from their way to Him (the vessels of wrath in v. 22). If we truly are concerned with glorifying God, we must glorify Him not only for His grace and mercy but also His justice and wrath.
So I am left both grieving Osama's death, knowing where he is now and will be for all eternity and also rejoicing in God displaying His justice. Now you won't find me dancing in the streets for this, but instead coming to God in prayer.
Soli Deo Gloria!