Soon after the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hands of United States soldiers, believers flooded the twitterverse with expressions of joy and, strangely, some appeals for restraint in celebration. Their reasoning? I’ll let the following explain. It’s an exchange between a prominent Christian tweep and his followers.
@Leader: “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles.” (Proverbs 24:17)
@Follower1: @Leader Respectfully, “when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy” Proverbs 11:10
@Leader: @Follower1 One is descriptive (Prov. 11:10); the other is prescriptive (Prov. 24:17).
@Follower2: @Leader Justice served is cause for celebration. You misapply Prov. 24:17.
@Leader: @ Follower2 I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been done. But it is not a cause for rejoicing. Taking of any life is reason for grief
@ Follower3: @Leader: Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, ..do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles. (Proverbs 24:17)/How r we to respond?
@Leader: @ Follower3 How did Jesus respond to his enemies? See the Sermon on the Mount, especially Mt. 5:43-48.
I found the leader’s comments troubling for a couple of reasons. First, he appears to undervalue justice to the point at which his sympathy for a stubbornly unrepentant mass murderer almost turned joy into mourning. It’s almost as if he saw bin Laden as a victim of his own evil rather than a responsible moral agent in control of his own choices. Osama bin Laden is not a victim. He understood that God would see justice done, and—like each of us—he was given a choice in how justice would be accomplished with respect to his own sins. He could allow the Son of God to bear the penalty of his sin, or he could bear the penalty himself. He chose the latter. While we must never rejoice over the eternal torment of a soul, neither should we temper our celebration when good triumphs over evil.
When one of the leader’s followers suggested it was morally permissible to rejoice in the triumph of justice—specifically when an unrepentant evildoer receives recompense for his evil—the leader refuted him, referencing this portion of the Lord’s sermon:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighborand hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43–48)
It should be noted that the entire New Testament must be read in light of Revelation. God is merciful—delaying punishment for the evil we do—and He is just—promising to punish sin. He is a God of kindness and He is a God of wrath. Yet He doesn’t hold those two qualities in tension. His kindness and wrath don’t tug Him in opposite directions. He doesn’t feel any conflict. The Lord’s kindness and wrath exist as two expressions of the same quality: love. To quote Chuck Swindoll’s commentary on Romans:
A God of love must also have the capacity for anger. However, the wrath of God is not the kind of bellowing anger we have come to associate with abusive people. Paul described the Creator’s response to sin using the Greek word orge, which means “upsurging.” When used to describe wrath, it is a passionate expression of outrage against wrongdoing and, in this context, it pictures the passionate righteous anger of God cresting the walls of heaven and spilling over onto earth. And while it is indeed a passionate, upsurging response, it is completely consistent with God’s character, which is also love. His wrath is, without question, fearsome, yet also controlled, deliberate, measured, and utterly just. His wrath is nothing less than a reasonable expression of His righteous character and His unfailing love when confronted with evil. God is love (1 John 4:8), which is why He will not stand idly by while evil consumes His creation.
In the same way both kindness and wrath exist in perfect harmony in God’s nature, so also we find justice and mercy coexisting perfectly in God’s grace. “Grace” is not merely another word for “mercy.” Mercy is but one expression of grace; justice is another. Because God loves people, He hates sin. Because “He will not stand idly by while evil consumes His creation,” justice will eventually prevail. Justice, therefore, is God’s kindness given to victims of unrepentant evildoers. This is grace given to all of creation, withheld only from those who reject it.
The fact is, Jesus delivered His sermon on mercy and forgiveness during His first advent in full knowledge of what He would do upon His return. God has promised that He will eradicate evil from His creation either by Christ’s redeeming blood or through His avenging fire. Even though some–in fact, many–will go to eternal suffering, God will be satisfied. His conscience remains clear because He gave all evildoers–all of us–the opportunity to receive His mercy.
In the end of days, God’s mercy will eventually give way to wrath, which will consume all evil. And the saints will rejoice! (Jer. 51:48; Rev. 12:12; 18:20) Not over the demise of people, but in the triumph of good over evil. The recipients of mercy will not delight in the death of souls, but they will revel in the justice of God.
This is good and right. The Lord loves justice, and so should His people.