Yes, Osama Bin Laden is dead, and there is cause for relief, gratitude, even joy that he can no longer use his influence to promote hatred, and terror in the world.  As scripture says, “when the wicked perish, the city rejoices”.  It is also safe to say of him what was said of Judas Iscariot, “He has gone to the place where he belongs”.   And yet, the Prophet Ezekiel also says that “God finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezek. 33:11).

When I presented to my friends on Facebook the question of how, in light of Bin Laden’s death, are we to responds to the seeming contradictions of these verses, and many others like them throughout scripture, the responses were varied, as they were on several other friend’s pages.  The responses covered a wide range.   Some seemed to question the newsworthiness of the event.  Others dismissed the coverage of it as merely “spectacle”.  Then there were others who were filled with sincere gratitude that this chapter at least was brought to a close, and joy in the assurrance that justice had been served.  Then there were others who seemed to respond with the kind of arrogance and disdain, even in victory, that muddied the satisfaction and Godly joy felt by many, reminding me that for some, this was not only a campaign of justice and protection, but one of vengeance, and who’s bloodlust was now satisfied – maybe.

Out of the various conversations, online and off, some questions that stick out:

  • Should we celebrate success in battle?
  • Should we rejoice in the fall of an enemy?
  • And does God take pleasure in the death and destruction of the wicked?

Since people interpret and respond to events differently based on all sorts of personal experiences and points of view, I’ve decided to make several posts looking at the topic through the lens of Christ’s mission as Prophet, Priest, and King.  I’m doing this not only to keep me focused on what I believe is a Christian response (of which mine is only one perspective even amongst Christians), but to also see how various perspectives and insights are needed in order to bring to bear a more complete and faithful witness of the one who is Soveriegn over all the affairs of men.

In scripture, Jesus’s influence on earth and in heaven is depicted in three types: Prophet, Priest, and King.  In scripture we see God calling and appointing men to function in these offices as leaders to protect and bless His people.  Even today each of us have certain gifts, abilities, and temperaments, that make us predisposed to view reality accordingly, and express our personalities and gifts primarily in one of these types (not official titles or positions), though Jesus was the only person to do so perfectly. 

Today I’m viewing Bin Laden’s death and our response through the lens of our calling as “Priests”.  The Priest wants to comfort people.  They speak words of life that encourage and strengthen those who are emotionally wounded, or burdened by life.  Life itself can be a battle, and they minister healing to those who have been ravaged by war (literally and figuratively), suffering, and loss. They stand along side those who have lost their way, or feel that perhaps God has forgotten them in their suffering and pain.   In the New Testament Christians are referred to as a Priesthood of believers, and as Priests we are called to the ministry of reconciliation; turning hearts back to God and to one another, reminding us that even as undeserving as we may be, God is still near and He cares, even when his presence is not felt in our lives.  We reveal the mercy of God even while we experience the severity of God, and the sinfulness of man. Priests are also, moreso than most, able to model the words of Paul the apostle in Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

It’s for this reason I believe that Priests would be able to enter into the joy of the people at this time.  Why?  Because they know the pain and suffering that has been experienced by so many people.  Even if they have not personally experienced any severe loss, they have not remained detached from the suffering and fears of others.  The word empathy has been held in low regard lately due to politics, but Priests, like Jesus, are filled with compassion, and because they have mourned with us in our losses, they are able to also rejoice in the consolation of our grief. 

But some are asking, “Is it okay for me to rejoice over a victory in battle that has resulted in Bin Laden’s death”?   Granted, not many seem to be struggling with that question, but some are.  Scripture is filled with examples of Godly people celebrating a victory in battle, and 2 Chronicles 20:27 is just one of many: “Then, led by Jehoshaphat, all the men of Judah and Jerusalem returned joyfully to Jerusalem, for the LORD had given them cause to rejoice over their enemies.”  Does this mean that Jesus as our Priest gets pumped about going to war?  No.  Despite what some may think, Jesus isn’t a “Hawk”.  Nor does it mean that they rejoiced in the pain and suffering of their enemies (as we shall see in a future post, this type of gloating displeases God greatly).  Nevertheless, I do see in scripture that there are examples of horrible unjust wars that men start for all sorts of wrong and selfish reasons, as well as horrible, yet necessary wars, and God uses both to accomplish His purposes regardless of man’s intent.  The priest’s focus at this time is not on politics, it is focused on ministering to the lives of those touched by suffering and loss, as well as sharing in the joy of those revived by renewed hope of a safer more peaceful future.  No matter the Priest’s personal feelings regarding Bin Laden’s death, or the responses of others to it, even if they are unable to enter into the celebratory mood of the masses, they will find a way to identify with some aspect of joy that others are experiencing in the sense of giving thanks and showing gratitude to God for His faithfulness, and care.  After all, there is indeed much to be grateful for.  “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”

I understand the responses of those who are not only filled with hatred, but also with joy at the demise of the object of their hatred.  We are commanded to hate evil, just as God hates evil.  Scripture is filled with verses like Psalm 97: “You who love God must hate evil.”  And King David, a “man after God’s own heart” declares in Psalm 139, “I have hated them with a perfect hatred. They have become enemies to me.”  So keep in mind that scripture shows hatred to be a valid emotion, and we are to hate the things that God hates.  The need for justice is a God given sentiment, and we naturally rejoice to see Bin Laden’s reign of terror brought to an end.  But God’s “Perfect Hatred” (perfect as in, pure, Holy, just, and wholly righteous), is different than what we too often express.  

Consider what was shared with me this week about the Jewish Passover Seder; it puts things into perspective.  As the Jewish believers are remembering the pain and suffering their nation suffered as slaves at the hands of the Egyptian, and when they recall the Ten Plagues, they pour wine out of their glasses ten separate times as a way of showing that they will not raise a glass to the suffering of Egyptians.  What I like about this practice, and the Passover in general, is that what is included in this memorial of their deliverance from their enemies is not only a creative reminder and consideration of the remaining peoples of their vanquished enemies, but also an acknowledgement that it was God who gave them the victory, not the strength of their own hands; satisfaction mixed with a sober mindedness; joy and gratitude expressed to a faithful God who sovereignly intervened in their affairs when they had no hope of victory; and an acknowledgement of their dependency on God’s grace and mercy, not the strength of their own hands and military might, of which they had none.  And the whole passover meal is a retelling of this terrifing, wonderful story showing the faithfulness of God who delievered them from danger.  I believe the Jews have the right idea; after all – they wrote The Book.

Priests, just as in the Jewish Passover Seder, will also remind us of our shared stories, and our place in God’s larger story.  They will remind us not to forget that he is still the center of the drama, working to bring about his ends in the world.  And because of the suffering and loss so many of us have experienced, the Priest is aware  that there are those who are not yet able to enter into the greater story, nor into God’s rest.  I’ve listened to some share how they have not been able to yet share in the elation that others are feeling because at the present time these events have only stirred up some of the pain of the past ten years.  They feel the pressure, and even desire to be “happy” and yet are filled with anxiety, which they hope and expect to pass now that this chapter has closed.  But presently?  They still struggle with the memory, and reality of loss.  The Priest will continue to walk with such as these, helping them process their ambivalence and their lingering sense of loss, assuring them that,  “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

Next – Part 2: The Kingly Response