[Ed.- I want to lead off with my own sinful tendency here. I will admit that when it comes to al Qaeda I have a personal axe to grind and it colors my judgement. I think I can overcome it when soberly applying the Bible and reason here, but I may not be able to so I want to be transparent. I was one train behind the bombed Picadilly Circus train in London in 2005. If Osama had his way, I’d be dead along with hundreds more Londoners than they killed that day. So, I will admit I may have blinders on here.]
Last night when I heard the news I tweeted “Bin Laden is dead. Good.” Since then I have been reading with fascination the debates on twitter and facebook between Christians about whether or not we should celebrate and rejoice in this news. Some of these folks I have read are just random people I don’t know and therefore have no frame of personal reference on, but other people I know quite well and I count all of their intentions as good. So I have to deal with this question: should we embrace and “celebrate” the fact that the Navy SEALs did some up close and personal work in Pakistan yesterday?
I say yes, yes we should – but soberly and with a keen eye towards the big picture.
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
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.
There are many passages that can be used to form this discussion, but I feel like the tension shown between these two sets the stage for consideration well. God is the sovereign ruler of this world, everything that happens is within control. From the actions of al Qaeda on 9/11 to the actions taken by our guys on the ground yesterday He has ordained it all. This should be the governing perspective in this discussion.
The clear conclusion we can draw from the Romans 13 passage is that God has ordained the authorities on earth to exercise some part of His judgement. Laws, police, armies and rulers are His instruments on earth, imperfect as they may be. As we have seen from many stories throughout the Bible, God uses imperfect people to bring about His perfect will. From there we can see overflowing evidence in the Psalms and other places that we should seek to be satisfied with God’s will. God’s will is done on earth, and we should strive to greet with His will with joy.
Of course, we need to look at the whole of Scripture and not just rest our judgments on a single passage or story. The Bible is filled with ideas that seem to present a dichotomy, but in reality demand for us to hold them in a productive tension with each other. When we look at the Proverbs passage in light of the previous points we see an instance of this idea. When God tells us not to rejoice in the downfall of our enemy, how should we understand this? I propose that each of these passages actually speak to different motivations.
I think Romans is talking about justice and Proverbs is talking about vengeance. These are two very different motivations for cheering the very same act.
To look at this news as justice is to embrace the Lord’s promise that eventually His justice will be done once and for all on this earth. This should stir several reactions in us. We should be fearful, as we all deserve death. We should be worshipful and grateful for the grace He will show His children on that day. We should gladly embrace His holiness manifested in His just judgement.
To look upon this news with vengeance is the sinful part of us, mistakenly perverting the call for justice. Anger, hatred and bitterness are all at the sinful core of revenge. We would do well to recognize this in ourselves and repent.
So, in the end my personal application is: I have sinfully reacted by feeling a sense of personal vengeance even as I recognize God’s holy judgement in this act. I need to repent and continue repenting for that sin while praying that the Lord will give me eyes to see His perfect justice instead of my wanton anger.