How should we feel about Bin Laden’s death? Should we should rejoice, which would most often be defined as celebrating or reveling? Or should we be sad and wish these events had not happened? This is not as easy to answer as it may appear as evidenced by the quantity of writings today on the subject. I believe understanding the heart of God will help us know what our response should be. When we look at scripture, my conclusion is that it should be with mixed emotions that we view the death of Osama Bin Laden. Allow me to explain. Should we rejoice in the death of Osama Bin Laden? No! God does not rejoice at the death of the wicked even by His own hand. However, should we be glad and take refuge in the fact that justice has been done and God is righteous? Yes. Bringing Bin Laden to justice is a right and just thing and worth soberly thanking God for, but his death is not something to rejoice over. There is a difference . . . and a tension between the two.
Two Ezekiel passages help us understand this difference.
Ez 18:23; 31-32 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.
Ez 33:11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
In both of these passages, God is warning that in righteousness and justice, God will dispense His wrath and bring death to a people that have turned away from Him. His holiness and righteousness will and must demand this. However, He yearns for the people to turn back to Him. He does not rejoice in their death, but will rightly judge. We see two aspects of God’s heart. He is just and we can be glad that He is holy, but He also takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and neither should we.
The error that is tempting to make is to equate rejoicing with thinking the action was right and justified. These two must not be viewed as equal. God righteously pours out His wrath, but does not rejoice in pouring out His wrath. I support the action and am satisfied the man responsible for atrocities and the deaths of many has been brought to justice, but I do not rejoice that a sinner entered eternity without Christ. We can be thankful for this action with a somber heart. When God’s righteousness is revealed, His glory is revealed, but we know that God longs for all to be saved from His wrath. 1 Tim 2:4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
On the rejoicing side, the argument is made that government is clearly called to protect its people biblically (1 Tim 2:2, Rom 13:4) and that David prayed for God’s justice. I absolutely agree. However, these verses do not teach that these actions should spur rejoicing in the death of another. Rather, we obey and honor these instructions with seriousness of heart. On a personal level, it breaks my heart to discipline my children, but I know I honor God and His holiness as well as truly show love to my children when I do.
As we compare scripture with scripture, Prov. 24:16-18 is helpful. “for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity. Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.” These verses are wise instruction to each one’s personal response when calamity falls on the wicked. They apply to this situation because we are talking about our own response to one whom we each have seen as our enemy and a threat. His crime is staggering, and the government’s civic and moral obligation is to respond, but our personal feelings are not to rejoice in his death.
While we have clear scriptural support that God does not and we should not rejoice in the death of the wicked, we also know from scripture to take joy in God’s justice, holiness and to take refuge in his judgment of the wicked. Prov 21:15 says, “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” Prov 14:32 uses the word refuge to describe our attitude towards the death of the wicked. We can take refuge in the truth of God’s righteous hand and thank God for his justice and protection. “The wicked is overthrown through his evildoing, but the righteous finds refuge in his death.”
In summary, I believe we can be glad and satisfied that the justice of God is upheld while having God’s heart, a somber heart, for the death of the lost. I invite your discussion!
After writing this, I read Dr. Albert Mohler’s post on this and he does a much better job than I on explaining these mixed emotions. Read it here.