Over the weekend, Osama bin Laden was killed after President Obama ordered a Navy Seal raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Nearly ten years after the devastating 9/11 attacks, the most hunted man in the world has been brought to justice. This will be a page turned in American history for years to come as a sense of closure has been brought to a memory that still lingers in the American conscience.
For me personally, it has brought about conflicting feelings that have been weighing upon me over the last few days. Seeing justice fills me, but I am struggling as a believer to delight in his death. Even more, I am struggling with the comments of other believers affirming an image of a god who is rejoicing over this opportunity to punish bin Laden eternally in hell. I think it paints a poor picture of the holy and majestic God we serve and I know that this tension within me is being brought to the surface because of the reality of hell.
I do not in any way doubt the reality of God’s justice or the reality of hell (Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31). However, I believe we uphold God improperly when we speak of Him as if He is stroking His fingertips and licking His lips at the prospect of torturing rebellious souls, as if that is His sole drive in the cosmos. Moreover, it is just as improper to describe Him as one who frowns upon those who think He is only the former description, as if all He can do is love and pity the rebellious. Both of these position a portion of mankind over the rest and place God in a corner that cannot hold Him.
In Exodus 34:6, God describes Himself to Moses as being “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” So He definitely loves, shows mercy, and extends compassion, but there’s more to the description. Verse 7 continues, “…keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.” In the previous chapter, God says in verse 19, “And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” Biblically, it’s not an either/or answer, but a both/and answer. Is God loving or just? Yes. Is God merciful or wrathful? Yes. Is God compassionate or jealous? Yes. This is a much different understanding of God than the either/or answers.
God created all of us in His image (Genesis 1:27). One of His qualities is justice. So the fact that we rejoice when we see justice accomplished points to the creative order of the Lord. We yearn for justice and each new day is one step closer to the end God has promised, where His judgment will be final and all that is evil will be destroyed and removed. So if you are moved by justice, it is because you are made in the image of a God who promises it.
It troubles my heart to see people, especially believers cling to the justice of God as His end-all feature as if He finds joy above all in sending people to hell. That is not the God I read about in the Bible. To think God has been waiting around in Heaven for the last ten years to finally get His hands on bin Laden for his atrocities to the American people is not an accurate understanding of who He is. Again, I am not working to take away the reality of God’s justice. I am simply saying that He is not American. To operate on the assumption that He is brings about a perversion of His character and nature. There is a stark difference between American nationalism (something that will pass away) and reverent awe of God. The deeper question I have to this attitude is this: why does the idea of God’s wrath in this instance drive someone to such joy? God is rejoicing? He is high-fiving His followers because we finally got this guy? How does that not drive pity to the surface of the heart? This was how Jesus responded when He looked upon the rebelliousness of Creation. He wept over the knowledge of its impending destruction (Matt 23:37-39; Luke 19:41; 23:34).
Through the events of the weekend, what I found to be the most startling/sobering reminder is this: our offense against God is no less than that of Osama bin Laden’s and all of us are deserving of eternal damnation in hell. The only reason those of us who are believers have the gift of salvation is because of what Christ did for us on the cross. He was our ransom, our redemption, our substitute, our propitiation. There is nothing we have done, are doing, or can do to deserve that gift because our offense is too great. A gift such as this does not drive us to such boastful arrogance as to delight in the eternal punishment of a man in hell. That is fleshly pride and it is wayward. It is a different action altogether to delight in the manifestation of God’s justice as opposed to celebrating the hell-bound journey of a soul.
I do not regret the demise of Osama bin Laden nor do I condemn my country for its pursuit to root out this evil. I believe that the world is a better and safer place without him. I do not deny the very real realities of God’s justice or the existence of hell and I affirm God’s absolutely justified use of them both for His glory. However, Luke 10:17-20 has served as a valuable reminder for why I rejoice in this worldly manifestation of justice. In this passage, Jesus is speaking to the seventy-two disciples after they have returned from mission with joy over their victories in faith. They are telling celebration stories of how demons fled from them in the name of Jesus, who then responds:
“I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
When Christ died for us, He died for a much greater villain in you and I than Osama bin Laden could ever be in this world. The gift of salvation Christians have been given was something we were actively working against. We opposed God, but He changed us through His divine mercy. Do not let your pride take that gift and use it for delight over the eternal, ruthless destruction of another human soul. And don’t create a demonic and unbiblical God who laughs and cackles at the opportunity to devour an individual. Rather, let God’s gift of salvation drive you to your knees out of gratitude towards His grace. Let it drive you to pity for those who do not know Him. Let it compel you to urgency in sharing the hope of the Gospel to those who do not know it. The truth is that you and I are utterly deserving of hell and we should be sobered by that reality, not pridefully built up by the fact that Jesus has rescued us from it.
Believer, praise God that He chose to display His power in your life through His mercy rather than His justice.
Do not rejoice in another’s suffering. Do not rejoice in the comforts afforded through citizenship to a country that will pass away. Do not rejoice in the fabricated version of a god who greatly desires the destruction of souls. Your hope lies elsewhere.
Christian, rejoice that your name is written in Heaven.