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16th May, 2011

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Happy the child-killers?!

After the death of Osama bin Laden, much lively, and sometimes acrimonious, discussion developed among Christians over the question of how they should respond to the death of a man whose mantra was "death to the West". As one would imagine, sentiment ranged from "he deserved a more painful death" to "we should have prayed for his conversion while he was alive rather than partying over his death". I would like to throw my hat in the ring.

Questions such as this, where different passages of Scripture are called upon to support rather conflicting perspectives, need to be subjected to conceptual analysis to be properly resolved. By which I mean that one must dig below the surface of mere semantics to get to the real meaning of each passage in question. Such analysis must be based on the premise that Scripture reflects the mind of God, and the mind of God never contradicts itself. (Anybody who rejects that sentence is wasting his time reading this blog.) Naturally, since God's thinking towers above ours as the heavens tower above the earth, believers will often find it exceedingly difficult to harmoniously integrate all God's thoughts. Perhaps we will discover that this truism comes into play in seeking to analyze the conundrum at hand. The problem in such instances lies not with God but with us.

Without applying conceptual analysis to our question, we could easily think that Scripture is hopelessly contradictory. On the one side, you have Proverbs 24:17-18, Ezekiel 28:23, and Matthew 5:44:

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him (Prov. 24:17-18).

"Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?" says the Lord GOD, " and not that he should turn from his ways and live?"

But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

On the other side, you have a passage such as Psalm 137:8-9 and 139:22:

O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock!

I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies.

Let us not underestimate the difficulty; the same mind that said, "Love your enemies" also approves of the words, "I hate them with perfect hatred". Proper conceptual analysis requires recognition of a simple truth: the "real meaning" of individual words is so very often driven by context. Let's give a simple example:

Thus says the Lord: "Behold, I am against you, and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off both righteous and wicked from you" (Ez. 21:3).

Whoa there! God is going to set His sword against the righteous in judgment. How can that be? The only possible answer is that "righteous" here is entirely comparative. God was about to bring national disaster against the residents of Jerusalem because they were utterly corrupt, the whole lot being like rotten figs so bad they could not be eaten (Jer. 24:2). But within that corrupt society worthy of destruction you still had degrees of wickedness. By comparison with the

most debased, debauched, and criminal class you had some who were "righteous". They were not murderers, maybe not even thieves and so, relatively speaking, could be called "righteous". An analysis of the idea (concept) being expressed here means that one could translate this verse something like this:

Behold, I am against you, and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off both law-abiding citizens and criminals from you.

Exactly the same people, in the context of God's lack of pleasure over the punishment He was about to bring (Ez. 18:23) could be called "wicked".

So too with words like "enemy", "hatred", and so forth, one must recognize the broad spectrum of connotation of each word. One needs to analyze each passage to see exactly what is being said. You have enemies, and you have enemies. There are the wicked, and there are the wicked. So, some "enemies" should be prayed for (not against), and their demise should not be a cause of rejoicing. Every one of us has people who don't really like us, in some cases people who would be happy to see us suffer. For them we should pray, and at their demise we should feel sadness. After all, it's only you they don't like, and you (like me) are merely a human being.

But then you have vicious enemies of God. People who hate God, who curse His name, who go into apoplectic rages at the mention of His name. Such an individual is worthy of our "hatred" (Ps. 139:22) in the sense that we never would even attempt to develop a harmonious relationship with them. We avoid them. Should such a person attack you because you love God, then you do not need to pray "for them" in the sense Christ was speaking of, but "against them" in the sense of the Psalmist. Shortly after God had worked the most unbelievable miracles to deliver the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, a group of people called Amalekites sought to wipe the freed Israelites off the map (Ex. 17:8). God's response was unequivocal. He said to Moses,

. it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from your enemies all around. that you will blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. You shall not forget (Deut. 25:19).

These people were not just attacking Israel, they were showing their hatred and contempt for their Creator, the One who had just redeemed Israel with mighty power. God has every right to place His enemies under a ban of destruction. He is just in doing so. In the general resurrection they will have every chance to repent and come under Christ's blood. But in this world, God gave Israel instruction to be merciless towards them. In that context, then "happy" is he, the Israelite, who "dashes their children against a rock". That is, "happy" in the sense of having God's blessing, not happy in the sense of getting personal delight out of it. If God decrees utter destruction against a people, then those who carry out the grisly deed of dealing with the children can do so with a clear conscience - as long as they don't gain "happiness" from it. Happily for us those days are over.

Should we rejoice over bin Laden's death? That depends on whether he was a sworn enemy of God or not. And I don't know the answer to that. But he certainly deserved to die; Jesus said that "he who lives by the sword shall [deserves to] die by the sword". I don't shed any tears for him.


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What readers say

For a typical example of the opinion of Christian writers about the death of bin Laden, see Should Christians Rejoice in the Death of Osama Bin Laden?


Believe it or not, we aren't the only ones to have opinions and hold convictions. If you want to know what others think, then click away to the left and you will be transported to the entertaining, thought-provoking world of public opinion.


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