Thursday, May 05 2011
A Christian Response to The Death of Osama Bin Laden
I must admit, I had stopped thinking about the possible capture of Bin Laden. I figured that if we (the United States) had really wanted him dead, it would have already been done. Therefore, we were probably keeping him alive because we had a tap on him and the info was worth more than his death. But what do I know of such covert activity? Nevertheless, I had not specifically stopped to contemplate what the response of people would be if he was found and killed. In retrospect, I would have thought the response would be relief and elation. Thus, obviously, I had not contemplated the Christian response to such a possible event. But I do think I am being fair in estimating that had I considered it, I would have known there would be some form of a confused response.
It been just a few days since the news, and the initial rush of the media, speculations, theories, have not disappointed. Nevertheless, within the Christian community, there was a call that we should not enjoy any sort of celebratory mood because the self-proclaimed mastermind of the 911 terror attacks (as well as many others) was indeed located and killed in Pakistan by American special forces. In some instances, even a proverbial ‘slap on the hand’ was apparent in tone of some individuals who thought it inappropriate to be joyful over the death of anyone, regardless of the degree of evil represented. Some articles written by Christians who are notable scholars in their fields made some points, but most left the reader with little conclusion, and perhaps more questions than when they started, and the aftertaste of ‘it was right, but it was wrong, and it was wrong, but it was right’.
Therefore, it is my attempt to approach this from a conservative (biblical authority), logically philosophical based perspective that will test our assertions, and hopefully point us back towards the character of God for our conclusions. I do not declare myself most qualified for the subject. Nevertheless, it would be irresponsible for me to idly sit back and wait for those ‘who are’. As a note, an alarming, but not surprising observation is the use of several biblical passages that have passed no test of scrutiny for context. While this is not a new issue, I would expect theological scholarship to use the circumstances as a ‘teaching moment’.
I will start the discussion based on a question to attempt to help us test our own philosophical presumptions for consistency and validity. Do you believe that God cares for angels? It may seem abstract, but the question merits our honest answer to get to the bottom of our thinking. As a part of the created order, the response should be ‘yes’. We also acknowledge that angels have one aspect the same as humans – ‘free will’. This is obvious in that the devil and his demons are all angels who have chosen not to follow the will of God (antithetically – Psalm 103:20). This indicates that the angels were also created in the relational facet of God, with the ability for agape love (as defined in ‘always doing what’s in the best interest of the other person’) and praise (Psalm 148:2). These ‘fallen angels’ are now most commonly referred to as ‘demons’, with their leader carrying a few names, such as: serpent of old, Devil, dragon, Satan, etc. As opponents of the Almighty God, these angels are destined to meet their doom, as evidenced in Revelation 19 and 20 (cf. Matthew 25:41; 2 Peter 2:4).
Therefore, we find ourselves in a very similar situation to the angels, and likewise, the reverse. Some will continue in relationship with God for eternity. As humans, we call that being ‘saved’ and residing in ‘heaven’. Others will be separated from Him, to which we refer as being ‘lost’ and in ‘hell’. I will not goose-chase the discussion of sacrifice and redemption and any possible applicability to angels. That is to miss the point – God created angels. God desires that angels follow Him. If they do not, they are destroyed in the eschaton. And knowing that God is reality and source of true love, it is accurate to say that He loves His angels, as well as us, His human creation. Now, the question has graduated as to whether or not you believe that God wants His angels to be saved (reside with Him in eternity – Mark 8:38; Luke 12:8, 9; Hebrews 12:22) too. If the aforementioned paragraph holds true, then the answer is an obvious ‘yes’.
This brings us to the next point in light of the initial subject matter: Have you ever grieved that Satan or any of his demons are going to be eternally separated from God, you, and the heavenly realm in the second death? I have never heard nor read of anyone bemoaning this point. And yet oddly enough, some are now attempting to correct and even chastise other Christians for celebrating a victory over evil in the death of a human being who has chosen to serve the very one whom we epitomize as ‘evil’ and have no sympathy for otherwise (save, one Rolling Stones’ song). This is a philosophical contradiction that we cannot easily dismiss. Furthermore, if we are truly concerned with how the Islamic world views our response to this event, why are we not consistently as concerned for the rest of the realm of evil when it comes to our announcing the impending doom of Satan and his demons? These cannot be divorced.
As mentioned prior in this article, several Scriptures have been trotted out recently to support the notion that God takes no pleasure in the ‘death of the wicked’. While I would not argue that God cares and loves His creation as a whole, the use of these passages in the direct application of the event with Osama Bin Laden is technically incorrect. For example, Ezekiel 18:23 (and I am not picking on any of my brethren who have used this passage recently) is in the context of disobedient Israel being placed in Babylonian captivity by God. During this second part of 3 phases of exile, God is still conveying the message of repentance to a stubborn nation of Jews. Aside from the context of the book as a whole, chapter 18 is pointedly speaking of the obstinate Israelites who refuse to repent. Through His prophet Ezekiel, God is saying that He takes no joy in the destruction of His people, but desires that they would turn back to Him. To say this is dealing with Babylon would be incorrect. I am not making the case that God cares not for those who have never accepted Him. I am simply stating that He is addressing Israel.
More pointedly is Proverbs 24:17 – “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” While at first glance, this passage would seem to apply directly to this situation, and Proverbs can prove difficult at times to pinpoint the context. Therefore, we often turn to the early commentators of the ancient Scriptures to help us gather a closer understanding of the writer’s intent. In the Babylonian Talmud (A.D. 325-427), the rabbinical insight to these passages states that the application/restriction of celebrating over the defeat of an enemy hinges upon the definition of an ‘enemy’. The commentators stated that these ‘enemies’ were not those of opposing nations who would war with Israel. Rather, they were brethren of the nation of Israel. In other words, Proverbs 24:17 (in the immediate context) was stating not to rejoice in the ‘falling’ and ‘stumbling’ of another Jew that you are at odds with.
Nevertheless, it is interesting that the Israelites of the past ages were having these same discussions about celebrating a victory over a hostile nation – even as we are seeing today.
It is noteworthy for this discussion that God does address reparations to restore loss in the biblical passages (Exodus 22:, 23:, Leviticus 5:, 6:, Numbers 5:6ff;). That is why God commands execution of individuals in the cases of murder (i.e. Exodus 21:12). Life is considered valuable to God, and thus He requires the life of the one responsible for the erroneous death of another. And also please note at this juncture, that King David was personally responsible for the death of Uriah the Hittite in 2 Samuel 12:9 (“You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword,”), even though he did not ‘pull the trigger’, so to speak. He was in charge of the setup that caused Uriah’s death. Likewise, Osama Bin Laden is responsible for the terror attacks he has orchestrated. Regardless, these are laws for the people of God, not enemy nations (those not of God). Those who attacked Israel (aside from His use of enemy nations for the discipline and punishment of disobedient Israel, i.e. Isaiah 10:5) condemned themselves to death by the power of God, vested in His people. Even Englishman Blackstone, one of the greatest influences on American law who based his interpretations on biblical applications, observed that human life is to be kept sacred; that he who willingly and wantonly takes the life of another must forfeit his own.
As Christians we must understand that which we speak of in Scripture when applying it to such serious and delicate situations such as this. When families are sacrificing the lives of their loved ones to defend our national security, we must weigh words carefully before espousing certain Scriptures in an attempt to say things have been handled incorrectly. For example, it is not remotely applicable to say ‘returning evil for evil’ is the same thing as killing a man such as OBL. Returning evil for evil in this circumstance would require us to plot an equal number of terror attacks on unsuspecting Muslims across the world and kill an equal number of their civilians and military. Would it have been better to capture and question OBL? Would the Islamic realm have appreciated and respected us more as a nation of Christians had we handled him differently? History gives us a resounding ‘no’. Have we not learned any lesson in watching Israel get whittled away, piece by piece, each time being guaranteed that peace will be had with the Islamic community? We must remember – in representing Christ, we demonstrate the value we place on His creation, human life, by how we will not tolerate those who destructively treat and erroneously take other’s lives.
The victory over death at the cross did not leave us to be spiritual basket cases, worried about offending others in the wake of defending our own lives. We are allowed to rejoice in victory over evil. Is this justification to be obnoxious and arrogant over the obliteration of a human being? Of course not – and this should not have to be explained. But does that carry over to restricting us from rejoicing that a cowardly mass murderer has been removed from this earth? Absolutely not. This victory of finding and eliminating OBL is not to be equated with him being a man lost to God. He was lost far prior to this defeat and brought himself to this end. In many cases, death is required in a broken world to bring about victory over evil. And in the grand scheme of things, just as Miriam led the Israelites in the song of Moses at the edge of the sea after Pharaoh’s army drowned, we are told the faithful will sing it likewise in the victory over the beast and his image in the heavenly realm (Revelation 15:2-4). If we have a grand celebration to look forward to in heaven over the elimination (death) of wickedness, we have reason to celebrate in these defeats of evil in the present. Once again – if one believes in grieving the loss of a wicked man, in order to be philosophically consistent, he must grieve the loss of a wicked angel as well.
Give God all the glory, thank our armed services for putting themselves in harm’s way to protect us, and pray for protection in the days to come.
Keep the Faith,