Is it right for Christians to rejoice at the death of Osama Bin Laden?
Exactly 12 days before the Twin Towers fell to the ground, I stood at the top of the south tower, taking in the highest terrestrial view of New York City with my wife, Esther. It was breathtaking. Just under two weeks later I woke up, not just to the news of the attack, but to the sight of smoke rising from the direction of Manhattan.
Like the assassination of President Kennedy, everyone will remember where they were and what they were doing when they found out that the towers were hit. I was on my way to a seminary class to complete a Masters of Divinity degree in cross-cultural missions. My goal was to become a missionary to Muslims. In my journal that morning I wrote these words, in a fog of sadness, anger and confusion: “Where was Superman? Where was God?”
The Bible tells us that sin is for a season (Hebrews 11:25), but God always gets the last word (Galatians 6:7,8)— justice is patient. 10 years after the horror of that morning, it would appear that justice knocked on Osama Bin Laden’s door. And America cheered. But here is my question—for Christians, should there be cheering? Laughing? Dancing? Celebration?
I admit to mixed feelings as I watched the news. I was happy this man couldn’t dream up more horrors for the world to gag down, but as I watched video clips and looked at still photos of Americans cheering, waving flags and even leering into cameras with unmistakable glee, I also felt increasingly sad and somewhat ashamed. It was unsettling. Shouldn’t I be happy that this monster got what he deserved? That the ‘good guys’ won? That once again, America came out on top?
Here’s what I think—I think it’s right to rejoice. But not at the death of the man, per se—that seems cheap to me, shallow, petty and even sadistic. Frankly, it just seems below us. Rather, I believe, it’s right to rejoice at the satisfaction of justice. God cares about justice. This was never more evident than when God willingly allowed the death of His son to satisfy the guilt of humanity for affronting His holiness. Only because that act of justice was carried out on Jesus could God, in Christ, forgive you. It’s always right to rejoice at the satisfaction of justice, because whenever justice is satisfied, God is glorified. Earthly justice reflects and echoes the character of God.
I think the reason it’s critical to rejoice over the right thing is because otherwise it’s just way too easy to fall into the finger-pointing trap of defining and personifying evil as being “out there,” rather than where Paul starts with his finger-pointing. We need to be brutally honest about our own potential for evil. I’ve found it’s a whole lot easier to love your enemies when you first see yourself as the ‘chief of sinners.’
Believe it or not, there is a tragic side to Osama’s death, and it’s simply this—he spent his life in the passionate pursuit of a lie. I heard an interview on the radio this afternoon with the Christian parents of a twenty-something young man who died in the towers that day. The interviewer asked them if they were happy to hear the news of the death of their son’s killer. “Well,” the boy’s mother spoke up, “we were able to forgive Osama Bin Laden some years back, and that was when the healing began for us. So no, this news isn’t something we were desperately waiting for so we could find closure. Actually, when I heard, it just made me feel sad… because what seems obvious to us is that he was just a deceived man and that he’s probably facing an eternity in hell. And I don’t think it’s ever okay to be happy about that.”
I thought it was a remarkable response. And don’t you go spouting off something self-righteous at me about how this attitude offends the dignity of the ‘innocent blood’ that was shed that day—these are words spoken by the mother of one of those ‘innocents!’ And I think her words echo those of the Bible’s God—“‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.’” (Ezekiel 33:11)
God’s first hope for anyone is always repentance, that they will cast themselves down at His mercy and accept the ultimate satisfaction of justice paid for by Jesus Christ. But when repentance fails to come—? Well then, that person must pay the price for the satisfaction of justice themselves, and the wages of sin is death. So I ask you… is it right for Christians to rejoice at the death of Osama Bin Laden? Here’s what I think, for what it’s worth—
We can rejoice in the justice and still mourn the deception.
Surrounded By Grace,