On the death of the wicked

Is it wrong to be glad that Osama bin Laden has been killed? What should a Christian’s response be to the news of his death?

Our response ought to be one of humble thanksgiving that God has taken out one of our enemies.

“But,” I hear you saying, “is it really appropriate to give thanks for someone’s death?” Yes it is, when it is such a man as Osama bin Laden, a man who was responsible for the cold-blooded murder of many thousands of people both here in the United States and elsewhere around the world.

The fact of the matter is that we frequently find the saints of God in Scripture giving thanks to the Lord and praising his name for taking out their enemies. For instance, at the time of the exodus, Israel stood beside the Red Sea and saw Pharaoh and the Egyptian army lying dead on the shore and they “sang a song to the LORD, saying,

I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
     the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea…
This is my God, and I will praise him,
     my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The LORD is my strength and my song,
     and he has become my salvation;
The LORD is a man of war;
     the LORD is his name” (Ex. 14:31-15:1-2)
Likewise, in the book of Judges we read of how God used the armies of Israel to defeat the Canaanites who had oppressed them, and used a tent peg and hammer, wielded by the hands of a woman to take out Sisera, the enemy commander. Deborah, the judge of Israel, led the people in singing a song of praise:
Most blessed of women be Jael,
     the wife of Heber the Kenite, of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
He asked water and she gave him milk;
     she brought him curds in a noble’s bowl.
She sent her hand to the tent peg
     and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera;
     she crushed his head;
     she shattered and pierced his temple.
Between her feet
     he sank, he fell, he lay still;
between her feet
     he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell—dead.
And then to end the song, she said:
So may all your enemies perish, O LORD!
     But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might (Jud. 5:31)
And we could go on to cite many other passages, especially in the Psalms, of God’s people longing to see vengeance come upon the wicked. Here’s an example from Psalm 52. See if it doesn’t sound like he could have been speaking about Osama bin Laden.
Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
     The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
Your tongue plots destruction,
     like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good,
     and lying more than speaking what is right.
You love all words that devour,
     O deceitful tongue.
But God will break you down forever;
     he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
     he will uproot you from the land of the living.
The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying,
“See the man who would not make God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
     and sought refuge in his work of destruction!” (Psalm 52:1-7)
It should go without saying that our hope and preference would be that all the enemies of the Lord—and our enemies—would come to repentance and find the Lord’s mercy so as to be reconciled to God (Ezek. 33:11). But if they remain obstinate and rebellious and continue to plot murder and mayhem…well then let us learn to pray the Psalms of imprecation, i.e., the Psalms that call upon God to strike the wicked.
May his days be few;
     may another take his office!
May his children be fatherless
     and his wife a widow!
May his children wander about and beg,
     seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
May the creditor seize all that he has;
     may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
     nor any to pity his fatherless children!
May his posterity be cut off;
     may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord,
     and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!
Let them be before the LORD continually,
     that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth! (Ps. 109:8-15)
Such prayers are not to be prayed lightly, or for trivial reasons. They’re not meant for say, the driver who “steals” the parking space we were just getting ready to pull into. The Psalmist goes on to show what kind of enemy he has in mind.
For he did not remember to show kindness,
     but pursued the poor and needy
     and the brokenhearted, to put them to death.
He loved to curse; let curses come upon him!
     He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him! (Ps. 109:16-17)
David is talking about bloodthirsty, violent men who slaughter the innocent. Elsewhere he says, "The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence" (Ps. 11:5). Such a man was Osama bin Laden. The Lord hated him. I know this shocks evangelical piety, but if the Scriptures are true, this statement is also true.

I can hear you say, “But doesn’t the Lord love everyone?”

Yes and no. He loves all men as men, as creatures whom he fashioned with his own hands, creatures whom he made in his own image; but he hates those men who have made themselves monsters.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes,
     you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
     the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man (Ps. 5:5-6)
Let us be glad that bin Laden is dead and gone. We ought to feel a sense of deep satisfaction that justice has been done. But as I mentioned at the outset, the appropriate response is one of humble thanksgiving. Sadly, however, our response has been anything but humble. We have not deserved the Lord’s kindness to us in delivering our enemy into our hands. We have not even acknowledged that it was he who did it. I listened to the president’s speech in vain for any recognition that the Lord has been merciful to us in taking out our enemy. The speech was largely an exercise of self-congratulation and American braggadocio. “Today’s achievement is a testament to the greatness of our country and the determination of the American people.” No, Mr. President. It’s a testament to the kindness and mercy of our God that he hasn’t given us over to the power of our enemies as our sins deserve.

Except for the now customary and nearly meaningless, “May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America,” he never acknowledged the Lord. Surprised? The closest he came to doing so was when he said, “We give thanks for the men who carried out this operation.” Give thanks for them? Yes we should, but to whom? Why doesn’t he say? Why isn’t he explicit that it is the Lord God Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ…you know, the God of the Bible, the only God there is?

Without doubt, our troops acted with bravery and conducted their mission with great precision and efficiency. They should certainly be commended and given the highest honors for their heroics. But they should learn to say (if they haven’t already), “Blessed be the LORD my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Ps. 144:1). And again,
Through you we push down our foes;
     through your name we tread down those who rise up against us.
For not in my bow do I trust,
     nor can my sword save me.
But you have saved us from our foes
     and have put to shame those who hate us (Ps. 44:5-7)
We fool ourselves if we think that American power is invincible. It is not. God is capable of drowning entire armies in the midst of the sea (Ex. 14:30), or of striking them dead with a single blow (2 Ki. 19:35). Our portion is not to boast of our success as if it is due to our superior power or the justness of our cause, but to humbly recognize that it has come only through his kind providence, and this in spite of our many sins.


Harlan Paulson said…
I appreciate your mentioning of the Psalms of Imprecation. We sing through the book at least every year. I am not up to Psalm 109 yet but here is our favorite version of Psalm 52.

Doug Enick said…
Thanks for the comment and the link. I've not heard that version of Psalm 52 before.

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