My thoughts on the death of Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden is dead. He was killed by American Special Forces in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad yesterday. Justice has been served. Romans 13:2-4 has been fulfilled,

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 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, 4 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.

Bin Laden was a wicked man who, from all indications, died in his sin and contrary to his misguided hope, is now experiencing the torments of hell under the just wrath of the one, true, Trinitarian, holy God.

How should those who know the true God savingly through faith in Jesus Christ respond? My emotions are deeply mixed. On the one hand, I am grateful that justice has been served. “When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15). By his own admission Bin Laden was responsible for thousands of murders. He deserved to be executed by proper governmental authority as ordained by God. The longing for justice that lives within every image-bearer of the holy and just God is not wrong. It is inevitable and in many ways it is right.

Our problem is that sin has corrupted our longings as well as everything else within us. This is why we must be admonished not to take vengeance in our own hands. When justice is violated, that is our impulse. But God’s Word warns us against acting personally on that impulse (Romans 12:19-21):

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

This is what forces me to resist harboring vendettas while encouraging governmental authorities to fulfill their calling to punish those who do evil.

Jesus calls us to love our enemies. Even Osama Bin Laden. I won’t pretend that I have fulfilled that command. Nor can I say that my heart has been free from hatred toward him. But I must say where I have failed to love or harbored hate I have sinned against my Lord. Though it may be considered un-American to speak of loving someone as wicked as Bin Laden, it is the way of Christ.

That is why my emotions are mixed. I am very grateful that justice has been served. But I cannot rejoice that Bin Laden is now suffering under the wrath of God–the very same fate that I deserve but from which I have been rescued, not by my righteousness, but by the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ.

Proverbs 24:17 says, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, & let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” That was my first thought last night when I heard the news. It’s what I immediately tweeted and posted on facebook. I was encouraged by the response of many and saddened by the response of some.

Yes, we can celebrate the proper execution of God-ordained justice against evil in the world. But should Christians celebrate the death of the wicked? God doesn’t. “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways” (Ezekiel 33:11). That’s why some of the euphoric displays of joy on the part of Christians–even Christian leaders–at the news of Bin Laden’s death leave me cold. Their celebrations strike me as more American than Christian–which is precisely the problem with much Christianity in America in our day.

I confess to having a very personal interest in all of this. The church I serve, as well as my own personal family, has vested interests in what happened last night. We have prayed for people in that region for years. We have sent loved ones there. Those very dear to us have stayed in the town of Abbottabad and some live there still. I have spent time in that region, meeting people, sharing meals with them and praying for them. They need the gospel. All that has happened will impact the work–and the workers–in that town and region, as well as in other Islamic countries.

In our joy and in our sorrow, surely all who love the Lord Jesus can unite to pray for the advance of the gospel in that part of the world, and particularly for those who are there right now giving themselves to that cause.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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