In Part 1 I focused on the Priestly response to the death of Osama Bin laden, and in Part 2 the Kingly response.  Now we take a look at how someone with the disposition and temperament of a Prophet might respond.

The Biblical Prophets spoke of the restoration of all things.  They were the ones reminding the people of their covenant relationship to God whenever they went astray.  When a nation was disciplined and its people suffered famine (recession/depression), plagues (rampant disease), or invasion and attacks (resulting in exile), it was the Prophets who had warned of impending disaster, and who afterwards restored hope and imparted a vision of a better tomorrow.  It was a part of their job description to reveal the heart of God toward them, even when it meant telling the people unpleasant things for their own good, whether they cared to listen or not.

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.  See, I have set you this day over nations and over Kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant …. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land.  They will fight against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” (Jer. 1:9-10, 18-19)

The people often fought with and resisted the Prophets.  In fact, as you can see from the above quote, both the Kingly and Priestly types will find themselves at odds with the Prophetic personality.  They were ridiculed, mocked, dismissed as mentally unstable, labeled as trouble makers, often called unpatriotic, and accused of being traitors to their country.  They confronted nations and called them to repent; to return to God and his will as well as His way, and they were often killed for it.  Of course, long after they were dead, they were honored as great men, friends of God, with monuments built in their honor. 

But they were more than messengers of doom, which is actually a cliche’.  Biblical Prophets also spoke of the restoration of all things.  They called the people to grow in intimacy with God and obedience to his will, and they cast a vision of the type of world God desired to establish among them.

“A prophet disrupts denial and exposes the subtle and overt idolatry of the heart, provoking sorrow and shame that lead either to greater hardness or to repentance.  But repentance is always offered on the promise of restoration and healing.  The hope of a “new” day is the carrot dangled to arouse the desire for reconciliation and righteousness.  So the prophet seems to focus on two issues – the hardened heart and future hope – in order to disrupt deceitful complacency and idolatry, and to increase desire for what was meant to be.” (Dan Allender, 1996 Mars Hill Review 5 Summer)

 So how are things meant to be?  And how does that vision influence how the Prophet might respond in the aftermath of Osama Bin Laden’s death?

 Shalom: How it’s Supposed To Be When we hear the word shalom we generally interpret it to mean “peace”.  But Biblically speaking shalom means much more:

“The webbing together of God, humans and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew Prophets call shalom.  We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies.  In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight …. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” (Cornelius Plantinga, Not The Way It’s Supposed To Be pg.10)

When the Twelve Disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he taught them what is now called “The Lord’s Prayer”.  Within that prayer are the words, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  That is shalom; heaven on earth; the restoration of all that is consistent with the abundantly good will of God for all his creation.  But we can’t speak of shalom without also considering the “vandalism” that has marred Gods creation: Sin.  Just as there is more depth and breadth to the meaning of shalom, so we must consider that in God’s view, sin is more than just an act, it is also a disposition; an attitude of the heart that is bent toward sin and idolatry, and every person is an idolater until they die to self.

“All sin has first and finally a Godward force.  Let us say that a sin is any act – any thought, desire, emotion, word, or deed – or its particular absence, that displeases God and deserves blame, and let us therefore use the word sin to refer to such instances of both act and disposition.” (Plantinga pg.13)

In Part 1 I asked the question: “Is it okay for Christians to celebrate the death of Bin Laden?”  I tried to draw a distinction between being grateful for the defeat of evil which threatened our welfare, and celebrating the death of another.  As a truth teller, the Prophet would not hesitate to point out that those who rejoice in the death or calamity of anyone, including an enemy, displease God because of their own evil disposition.  So in this instance the Prophet reveals the will of God not only by proclaiming truth, but by also asking the type of questions that would disrupt the soul and cause one to see the state of their own hardened heart , “In order to disrupt deceitful complacency and idolatry, and to increase desire for what was meant to be.

“Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” 

God asks the above question in Ezekiel 18:23, and so the Prophet’s vision of shalom would compel him to ask of us the same question God presented to Israel: “Do YOU have pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”  And in case we are tempted to equivocate, God later states his answer unequivocally: “Say to them, ‘As I live!’ declares the Lord God, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live.”  

So, if shalom is the vision set before us, is it enough to simply not hate?  Is that the measure of God’s shalom?  Is there also room for grief that one for whom Christ sacrificed his life did not “turn from his ways and live?” The very asking of such questions is an act of disruption.  The question also contains the self-evident answer, and in the case of Bin Laden’s death it is a question many find confusing, even outright offensive.  And understandably so – after all – the Cross and what it represents is an offence to our natural sensibilities. 

When I first heard of Bin Laden’s death, I saw it as an act of war, and thought that justice had been served.  But my own prophetic temperament did indeed keep me in check.  Unlike the Priestly type who will find it easier to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn, the prophetic type will often appear out of step with others.  Not that they are insensitive, but when others are celebrating, these odd people are already seeing the dangers that lie ahead, and the need of repentance; and when others are grieving they are often thankful because they already see God’s hand at work in turning their hearts back to himself.  The Prophetic type is aware that in human terms the concept of “Justice” is often elusive, and much that is at least justified may be perceived as less than just to others (anyone with children know that this is true), and the difficulty increases when dealing with life and death issues, across ethnic, racial, cultural, and religious borders, and in a world where few agree on any one concept of moral truth.  And though most would agree that Osama was evil, not everyone agreed on what should be done with him once he was caught, or how to respond at his death.  The Prophetic type wants to look at things beneath the surface and beyond the natural order of things.  Yes, they preach justice, and they want to know that God’s will has been done, and God’s justice executed in God’s way.   However, they also want to make sure that in victory an individual’s, as well as a nation’s, bent toward idolatry, vengeance, and self-exaltation is kept in check.  And for good reason:

Do not rejoice when an enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it and he turn away his wrath from him.” (Proverbs 24:17)

Like most of America, I too was glad to hear that our soldiers had defeated Bin Laden and his men in battle.  We were proud  (in the good sense of the word).  We had a healthy pride in the service of our military.  But some of it was overboard.  And before I’m dismissed as a killjoy, keep in mind that even our military was concerned about some of the rejoicing which crossed over into gloating.  One of the earliest videos to go viral was actually one from the U.S. Naval Academy where our recruits were seen giving an exuberant celebratory cheer “I Believe that we have won” followed by wild celebration.   I totally get it.  But in the excitement of the moment and the frenzy of the crowd, it took on an appearance that was disconcerting enough to the military that the Navy has pulled the video and it is now nowhere to be found.  Blood thirsty?  No, not at all.  Gloating?  That was the concern.  

But you should not have gloated over the day of their captivity; nor should you have rejoiced in the day of their destruction; nor should you have spoken proudly in the day of distress (Obadiah 1:12).” 

Whose Side Is God On?  Although Israel was gloating over their fellow kinsmen who had become their enemies (think civil war), there are examples in scripture where God allowed foreign enemies to overtake nations less wicked than themselves, and then punished those very nations for the manner in which they gloated in executing the very discipline He had ordained (see Isaiah 14: 24-32, Amos ch.1).   This is what I am most concerned about for America with our military might and talk of Exceptionalism (which seems more and more like an empty boast), lest we displease God and find ourselves fighting battles we cannot win – and that would indeed, be a terror.  

Now, this next line of questioning is what usually gets the Prophetic type accused of being unpatriotic or even killed.  How many of you balked just a little when you discovered the details of the operation?  Did it matter that the intense gun fight we were originally told about was actually just one man (his courier who was shot and killed along with an unarmed woman)?  I ask this not as an accusation, I’m just wondering if it muted people’s sense of celebration at all.  And when we learned that the encounter ended with the shooting of his unarmed wife (in the leg), and an unarmed Bin Laden in the Chest and in the head, did it make you at all just a little anxious that the rest of the world would see this as an execution, and a re-enactment of the American Mythology of heroic vengeance?  Did it cause you to doubt what was earlier perceived as a holy and “just” kill, and maybe relegate it to the status of merely “justifiable“?  These questions are not attacks, but if you are like me, simply asking them causes just a little bit of anxiety, and is offensive to many:  “How dare you disrupt our peace with subversive questions?!”  “Why should we think about such things?!” “Don’t you support our troops!” “Are you sympathetic toward terrorists?” “Why disrupt the national mood of exultation with needless considerations?!”  The Hebrew Prophets were also accused of being disruptors of the peace, and so it is with these types; “A prophet disrupts denial and exposes the subtle and overt idolatry of the heart, provoking sorrow and shame that lead either to greater hardness or to repentance.”  

Prophetic types ask these questions because in these times of constant threats, and valid security concerns, they want us to remember the ultimate vision; that the goal is shalom.  More than just peace, as in the death of our enemies, or the absence of war and terroristic threat – they want “truth in the inward parts”, the flourishing of the human soul and the restoration of all things good; that we would prosper only as our soul prospers.  And so, where the Priest will comfort and encourage, and the King govern and protect, it is the Prophet who will often prod and provoke us into seeing more clearly where we are complicit in injustice, what is righteous, and what is possible.  And yes, they will continue to be put to death for it.  Maybe not a literal death, though that still happens, but the powers that be will find a way to discredit, or silence them (this is the prophet’s death), in order to preserve the status quo.  We need Prophets now more than ever.