Doubtless there will be much commentary in days ahead about the appropriate Christian response to the death of Osama bin Laden.

I think it’s appropriate for Christians to intermingle grieving and gratitude.

Grief for a life made in the image of God but so destructive of human life and so dishonoring to God.

And gratitude for justice being served as an instrument of God’s wrath.

If it’s true that “God’s emotional life is infinitely complex beyond our ability to fully comprehend,” it should be no surprise that his followers would reflect some of that complexity as well. After all, we are the people who are “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.”

A couple of early pieces that point to this tension in the Christian life:

Update: Thanks to a commenter below for highlighting this 2002 quote by D. A. Carson on bin Laden:

He is an evil man, and he must be stopped, but he is a man, and we should take no pleasure in destroying him. Vengeance is the Lord’s alone.

Do not offer the alternative, “Should we weep for Osama bin Laden or hold him to account for his genocide and prevent him from carrying out his violent intentions?”

The right answer is yes.

Love in Hard Places (Crossway, 2002), 143.

Update 2: Kevin DeYoung looks at two questions: (1) Did Osama bin Laden deserve to die? and (2) Did those who killed him have authority to do so?

Update 3: Doug Wilson looks at an issue that Kevin touched on with respect to moral equivalency. An excerpt:

Osama was a violent and evil man, and so we should thank God he is dead. He was killed by men who, by all accounts, were not exactly cub scouts themselves. But any kind of flattening, any kind of moral equalizing, any attempt to witness to a co-worker by talking about the death of bin Laden, and then pivoting to a discussion of your aunt who sometimes gets into the cooking sherry too much, will the effect of representing the Christian faith as morally clownish.

Update 4: Mike Horton offers a helpful two-kingdom perspective, with three applications regarding our response: (1) we can rejoice that even in this present evil age, God’s common grace and common justice are being displayed through secular authorities; (2) we cannot rejoice in the death of the wicked any more than does God (Ezek. 18:23); (3) the mandate to believe and to proclaim the gospel to every person is all the more urgent.

Update 5: John Piper:

In response to Osama bin Laden’s death, quite a few tweets and blogs have cited the biblical truth that “God does not delight in the death of the wicked.” That is true.

It is also true that God does delight in the death of the wicked. There are things about every death that God approves in themselves and things about every death that God disapproves in themselves.

Piper goes on to explain the biblical way in which God can both approve and disapprove the death of Osama bin Laden, and why this is not double-talk.

Update 6: Albert Mohler urges “sober satisfaction,” arguing that “the death of bin Laden was fully justified as an act of war, but not as an act of justice.” In particular he critiques the celebrations in the streets and points to the fact that “true justice” is often elusive in this world. “It was the best we could hope for under these circumstances, and there was more than adequate justification for his death. But we still should feel the loss of the greater satisfaction of human justice.”

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90 thoughts on “How Should Christians Think about the Death of Osama bin Laden?”

  1. Ray says:

    I’m pretty sure Rob Bell thinks Osama Bin Laden is in heaven.

    1. JM says:

      This is a silly and pointless comment, Ray. It does nothing to erase the stereotype of the Young Reformed crowd being snarky and, well, jerks.

      Justin, thanks for the balanced response and thanks for the Carson quote. He is by far one of my favorite voices from within your tradition!

      1. James says:

        No Ray, according to Bell Osama will eventually be in heaven cause love will melt his heart.

      2. Zachariah says:

        I like a little snark in my day.

      3. Boyd says:

        JM, it is a fair statement. If Bell wishes to publish the idea that eventually everyone will be in heaven, then that must include Osama bin Laden. Sure, it doesn’t have the lovely-dovey sentimental feeling as much as it does with Gandhi (come on, who really dislikes Gandhi??), but its a fair application of Bell’s logic nonetheless.

        1. Jon Coutts says:

          Actually, Boyd, did you read the book? It doesn’t say everyone will be in heaven, in fact it denies that very guarantee. It simply offers the imagination the possibility, which is debatable of course, but not the same as what you are making it to be.
          Also, if you want to charge Bell with “lovey-dovey sentimental” logic then you might also want to consider whether there is another logic at play amongst his critics. This logic has surfaced in this whole Osama incident quite prominently, and it seems to want to conflate retribution with “justice” in rather less than canonical terms.

          1. Boyd says:

            Jon, to maintain that Bell isn’t suggesting that all people (eventually) go to heaven is absurd. Of course he is suggesting that. It makes no sense to say “I’m not saying everyone goes to heaven, but please read the next 200+ pages where we can imagine the possibility that they do”. That would be double-speak to the extreme. At the very least, he is trying to convince other to be open to that possibility.

            Therefore, let me revise my statement: According to Bell’s book, let’s “imagine the possibility” that Osama bin Laden is in heaven”. Either way, if the shoe fits on Gandhi it also fits on Osama.

  2. Jeff Baxter says:

    Thank you Justin for posting this. In just the last few hours of the news about Bin Laden, I have felt mixed feelings. On one hand, this distructive man has been stopped. On the other hand, as far as we know, He did not believe Jesus to be his Savior. This causes a mixed feeling. Thank you for raising the awareness.

  3. Jon Coutts says:

    I appreciate the perspective.

    I do wonder, has justice been served? If so is the manner in which it has been served such that it can be called an instrument of God’s wrath? This seems a lofty summary which I’m not sure does ‘justice’ to the complexity of the situation and the questions involved. How should Christians think about this death, and this claim of justice done?

  4. Todd says:

    I also have had mixed thoughts. They would be skewed if I had a loved one killed in 9/11 and have experienced that pain and anguish. I also don’t think justice has been served. The government may think justice is done, but God will reign and impart perfect justice as He so determines. Thanks be to God for His perfect justice.

  5. Ray Carroll says:

    Mixed emotions are the standard, but I’m unnerved by the number of Christians overly celebrating death. “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” Ezekiel 18:23

    1. Michael says:

      I’m as overly concerned about Christians implying we should not celebrate justice.

      “Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves…But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. “

      1. Jon Coutts says:

        In what sense was this justice? The woman used as a human shield. Was this justice for her as well?

        1. JM says:

          I believe, as Justin notes above by quoting Carson, that we must avoid either/or thinking. It’s too simplistic and does not do justice (pun intended) to the full revelation of Scripture. For a fuller discussion you can see my post: http://jmsmith.org/blog/bin-ladens-death-and-biblical-balance/

          1. Jon Coutts says:

            I am not asking for either/or thinking. I am responding to the confident statements above which not only say that ‘justice’ (however defined) has been served, but also imply that God is the direct agent of this particular act of ‘justice’. That’s the either/or thinking that has me asking questions.

  6. Sarah says:

    A Twitter round-up of some Christians can be found here:
    http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctpolitics/2011/05/how_should_chri.html

  7. Michael says:

    Jon, is it the fault of those enacting justice that the evil-doers throw their women in the line of fire?

    It was justice in the fact that a mass murderer was given his due by the governing authorities. What would you have done if you were President?

    1. Jon Coutts says:

      Michael: Are you saying that God didn’t know that woman was there? I’m just calling into question the extent to which we want to call this scenario just, and to attribute that justice to God.

      Isn’t Osama’s “due” a criminal trial?

      If we want to talk about mass murder don’t we have to include the civilians that have been killed by the armies in search of Osama?

      I like what someone said above, that this just isn’t that simple.

  8. Peter G. says:

    Here are D.A. Carson’s reflections on Osama bin Laden from 2002: “He is an evil man, and he must be stopped, but he is a man, and we should take no pleasure in destroying him. Vengeance is the Lord’s alone. Do not offer the alternative, ‘Should we weep for Osama bin Laden or hold him to account for his genocide and prevent him from carrying out his violent intentions?’ The right answer is yes.” —Love in Hard Places, (Crossway, 2002), 143.

  9. Daniel says:

    Ray, I was thinking of that verse (Ezek 18:23) as well. Ezekiel goes on to warn, “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall” (18:30).

    It is good to remember that some who are shown on the news rejoicing might have been personally affected by the attacks attributed to this evil man.

    I hate to be cynical but wonder at how long it will be before politics-as-usual takes over. Prov. 24:17

  10. donsands says:

    It makes no sense to me that they threw his body in the ocean. I just don’t get it. And it is amazing that not one American casualty. Navy Seals are incredible.
    And I am glad this wicked man is dead. And I am not as sad as I should be I guess. I know but for the grace of God, there go I.

    1. Bryce says:

      I would guess they buried him at sea to prevent his followers and fans from turning his grave site into a shrine.

      1. John says:

        That would be my guess as well.

    2. jj says:

      It is also in keeping with Muslim custom (or Islamic law) that the dead are to be buried within 24 hours. (per news report)

  11. Joshua says:

    When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. Proverbs 21:15

  12. David Peach says:

    I agree that we probably should have mixed emotions over the issue. While I am glad he is gone, I do not rejoice in his death.

    May God help us as we move on to the next challenge that faces the world.

  13. Are we too quick to assume that we (United States military) are God’s instruments of justice in our world?

    Israel being used by God to punish other nations in the Old Testament is not a mandate for America to assume that God is using her to punish other wicked nations today. The promotion of self-rightousness and the poor hermeneutical work needed to reach that conclusion is more dangerous than any terror attack.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Doesn’t Romans 13 teach that even unrighteous governments can be the avenger of God’s wrath?

      1. Yes, it can and has been interpreted that way many times over.

        I have no doubt that God uses the unrighteous to judge the unrighteous. That is not what I am referring to. I was simply cautioning against the thought that we (again, America here) are a righteous, chosen nation that God is constantly using us to promote justice and punish evildoers.

        Does that make sense? I guess my comment is less about this specific incident and more about the pride and nationalism that appears all too quickly in times like these.

      2. Jon Coutts says:

        If the justice done here was as an instrument of God’s wrath, are we okay with assigning all the injustices it involved (the many who died in the decade long hunt, the human shield caught in the crossfire, etc) to God as well? I recognize this is a complicated situation, and am not sure how to sum it up myself, but I wonder if those who confidently correlate this justice in with God’s justice want to explain these things. Also, I wonder what difference it makes that God’s wrath was poured out on the cross?

        1. Michael says:

          Jon, what would be the alternative, letting him go free to kill thousands more? And there is no reason to ask “if” the justice done here was God’s wrath because Romans 13 clearly tells us this is so.

          Are we so far removed from the atrocities of evil that we can not celebrate justice being done? Those who lived as recent as WW2, as most of human history, know better.

          1. Jon Coutts says:

            So everything a government does by way of executing justice is equally approved by God because of Romans 13? Its that clear and simple? What does Romans 12 do to our attitude on these matters?

            I’m not sure what Obama should have done. I wasn’t there and don’t know what the options were. I imagine a trial would have been preferable. My point is the comments simply equating this with the justice of God.

            I celebrate justice being done on the cross. I celebrate that God is just rather than uncaring. But whether this was full justice I don’t think I can say. Seems like it keeps the cycle of bloodshed going. The whole thing is ugly, start to finish. Why can’t we say that?

            1. Greg Long says:

              Reports are that OBL fired at the soldiers who invaded his compound. What would you have them do?

              I’m really puzzled at what you’re trying to say here, Jon. It seems to be a clear-cut example of Romans 13 in action, and I rejoice for that.

              1. Jon Coutts says:

                I think my questions are pretty clear, Gregg. We’re talking about Christian attitudes to this event and I wold like to know why Romans 13 trumps Romans 12 in that regard.

                Do I have to speculate what those soldiers should have done in order to defend the question as to how “just” we can call this and how much we want to attribute that “justice” to God?

              2. Greg Long says:

                Jon, I’m really not sure what’s so difficult about this. Individual Christians are not to take vengeance into their own hands. But the government is charged by God to do so. Are you saying Paul was contradicting himself just a few verses later?

              3. Jon Coutts says:

                I see a contradiction in your interpretation of it. The government is called to something other than what individuals are called. In my interpretation of it the Christians are called to mercy and self-sacrifice, and yet are also called to submit to the government and to understand their role under God’s sovereignty in the promotion of relative justice in this world. When the Christian is involved in society (which should be all the time), they submit to the government and seek the promotion of just laws and just actions, but their attitude to such things is grounded in the clearly Christ-like descriptions in Romans 12. In this case, I think way too many Christians are using Romans 13, which calls us to support the just use of government in the world, to attach the word “just” to the particular actions that have transpired and to make it sound as if God is pleased with the ins and outs of it. But if we want to talk about how Christians should think about this, I’m thinking that Romans 12 ought to weigh in rather heavily and not be relegated to a merely individualistic realm on the assumption that vengeance and justice are so easily separated from one another in this messed up situation.

  14. Richard says:

    Can we also thank and be grateful for the soliders who carried out their God-ordained vocation?

  15. Strickle says:

    Psalm 9 is a great passage for this day. A reminder that ultimately for all of us it is God’s hand from whom justice is served.

    http://www.esvbible.org/search/psalm+9/

  16. Jonathon Sawyer says:

    With the rest of the American nation, of which I am proud to be a citizen, I am grateful that the leader of an organization of evil is no longer able to provoke additional acts of terror. I am thankful that the Obama administration and the intelligence of the United States of America has finally thwarted the malevolent intentions of Osama Bin Laden.

    Bin Laden’s attack on American soil, which lead to the cessation of nearly three thousand American souls, was abominable. For the family’s of those victims, my heart is heavy with grief.

    Nevertheless, I cannot in good conscience participate in the triumphant, joyful glee in his death. I believe that all men are created in the image of God. Death is the enemy of the life of God, breathed into all mankind, in His own image.

    I will not respond with ecstatic elation at the death of any soul, regardless of the level of that soul’s depravity.

    I stand with my nation this evening, affirming with sober contentedness, that a man who has committed great atrocities, is no longer able to spur additional misery and sorrow. I thank the American government for removing from our world’s society a man of reprobate actions.

    But, I do not rejoice in death.

    “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles…” Proverbs 24:17

    Jonathon Sawyer

    1. Joshua says:

      When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers. Proverbs 21:15

      Can we in light of this proverb and several more like it rejoice not in the death of a man but in the justice that this man’s death represents? I think the answer is yes! I am not personally joyful that Osama Bin Laden is dead like I have some grudge against him. But I am glad that a man who had no regard for the life of others and appeared to think he was invincible and not accountable was shown justice. I do rejoice today not as an American but as a Christian!

      See Proverbs 11:10,31

      Thoughts?

      1. Jonathon Sawyer says:

        I rejoice that, out of love, the justice I deserve was poured out upon Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross. I do not rejoice in death, the bitter and tragic consequence of sin.

        Jonathon

  17. Nate Archer says:

    I basically deserve what Osama is going to get. When God gives justice, let Him be praised. When God gives grace, let Him be praised.

  18. Deland says:

    Sorry, but I can’t help but celebrate. I cannot weep for O-b-L, even though I know that it is only the grace of God that restrains my own evil. Yet when great evil is defeated, it’s good to celebrate. As Christians in our nation we can agree with David’s words in Psalm 18:37-38, & 49
    I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
    I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
    I crushed them so that they could not rise;
    they fell beneath my feet…
    49 Therefore I will praise you, LORD, among the nations;
    I will sing the praises of your name.

    So, “Should we weep for Osama bin Laden?” Should Frodo have wept over Sauron fall? Should VE Day or VJ Day have been somber days of reflection? Was the song of Moses and Miriam (Ex 15) a funeral dirge for Pharaoh and his army? No, these are celebration of the power of God demonstrated in His just destruction of those who persecuted those He loves.

    In Revelations 18 & 19 God’s people are called to rejoice at the judgement and punishment of Babylon.

    18:20 “Rejoice over her, you heavens!
    Rejoice, you people of God!
    Rejoice, apostles and prophets!
    For God has judged her
    with the judgment she imposed on you.”

    19:1 After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting:

    “Hallelujah!
    Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
    2 for true and just are his judgments.
    He has condemned the great prostitute
    who corrupted the earth by her adulteries.
    He has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”

    3 And again they shouted:

    “Hallelujah!
    The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.”

    Is it wrong to see the fall of Osama bin Landen as a small foretaste of Christ’s ultimate victory over his enemies?

  19. JC says:

    Could it be that the joy/happiness/relief many are experiencing over the death of bin Laden is rooted more in a typological sense, rather than a personal sense? OBL was the face of evil in our day. As such, his death means more…it’s like evil itself was destroyed. For me, his death serves as a pointer to the day when the face of evil in all times will be destroyed by the skull-crushing heel of the Son of Man.

    I do not personally revel in the fact that OBL is now facing eternal torment in hell. For that reason, his death is sad. I whole-heartedly condemn the front page of the New York Daily News which reads “Rot in Hell”. But I will not deny that there is a sense of happiness/relief/joy that I feel now that he is gone and I think we ought to feel it. Feel it and let it point you to the joy we will feel the day after Satan is cast into the lake of fire.

  20. Brad says:

    Is this a Church affair? If not, why do we care?

    Brad

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Brad, can you explain a little more about your perspective? Are you saying we should only care and talk about “Church affairs”? Or do you think Romans 13 only applies to church situations?

      1. Jon Coutts says:

        Does Romans 12 only apply to church situations?

        1. Greg Long says:

          Huh?

          1. Jon Coutts says:

            Greg, see above. basically, when it comes to the Christian attitude to this event, why does Romans 13:1-7 trump Romans 12:17-21?

    2. Brad says:

      “Or do you think Romans 13 only applies to church situations?”

      No, what I’m asking is why I should care about things like Bin Laden, politics, the President’s re-election chances or geo-political issues at all. I should care because Romans 13 applies outside the church as well as inside the church? I don’t think Paul’s exhortation for us to obey all authority (even secular authority) is a good excuse to then justify any hand-wringing about the news, politics, and the last moments of OBL. Do you?

      Paul didn’t obsess about infamous, political terrorists of first-century Rome, did he? Rather he said: “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” There’s a broader consideration that I think is being missed here.

      Brad

      1. Justin Taylor says:

        That’s why I was asking you to explain because it wasn’t clear what your question implied.

        Respectfully, I think you’re conflating things. As to your first question, yes, I think we should “care” about what’s going on in the world. As to your other ways of framing it (“hand-wring,” “obsess”), my answer would be no.

        1. Brad says:

          Justin,

          I appreciate the thoughtful disagreement here. You know many of our heroes cared nothing of news or world affairs. In fact, Bunyan, Edwards and Brainerd were quite harsh of “worldly” or “godless chatter” which one learns was the common conversational interests of the day, a preoccupation with the news. I think our 17th and 18th century role models went too far here, but then again, maybe we’ve just grown desensitized to how easily the world distracts us from talking about and meditating on the Gospel.

          Brad

  21. Barbara williamson says:

    When I think on the death of Osama bin Laden I am minded of the scripture that says it is appointed once to man to die and after this the judgement. I see this as one of those situations that regardless of how I see it Osama bin Laden is now befor the judgement seat of GOD almighty and I rest in knowing that GODS judgement is perfect. Mine is not. This is a hard call for christians but thank GOd we don’t have to make the last call.That is GODS to do and we rest in the fact GODS call is always right.

  22. michael S. says:

    I’m a calvinist, but not reformed. Consider the comments above and it will show you why. People saying things like “I celebrate the justice of the cross” in opposition of an American celebrating the justice done to OBL, who killed 3,000 innocent people. It seems to run of “pseudo intellectual / spiritual” arguments.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love the cross. I deserve the cross. I relish the cross.
    I don’t want anyone to burn in a literal lake of fire for ever (Sorry RB).

    But I love my country. I think we can love and support America and love God. I love the freedom we have. I want my kids to worship in freedom, not worried about Islamic terrorists.

    Call me a redneck. Call me anti-intellectual. I was filled with joy seeing those half-drunk (a plus for the reformed!) college kids dancing in the front of the WH, located very near to me. I wanted to join them.

    I believe in God’s sovereignty, and I’m glad OBL got tapped 2 x’s in the head.

  23. Chris Ashton says:

    I’m amused Michael Horton’s article being described as Two-Kingdoms, while those of Wilson and DeYoung are not. Essentially they are putting forward the same arguments, the same theological positions and the same conclusions, but without the two-kingdoms keywords!

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      I agree that the conclusions are very similar. But Horton’s article seeks to place all of this in an explicitly 2K framework. Wilson would strongly disavow the 2K label.

      1. Chris Ashton says:

        Perhaps, dare I say it, we are all more “two-kingdoms” than we think we are. Even Doug Wilson! :-)

  24. Lord we ask that in death Bin Laden knows the grace, love and peace of Jesus that he didnt have in life

    check out our Christians blog

    Christians blog

    1. Chris Ashton says:

      Umm…I’m pretty he now knows the judgment and the glory of Jesus, but not his grace and peace. Eternal torment is the lot of those who lived on earth apart from Christ.

      And what’s with the prayers for the dead?

  25. Gerry Riley says:

    Wonderful points of consideration. Provides an opportunity to use headline events to seek a better understanding into the infinitely complex “will of God.” As we share the news of the day, we have a forum to also share the Good News about a loving,just and sovereign God, perhaps especially to those who do not know him personally.

  26. Jon Coutts says:

    I like the sounds of what Albert Mohler said in regard to “sober satisfaction”. That’s exactly the phrase the Canadian prime minister said in his first press conference on the matter.

  27. Sam Shropshire says:

    When I first saw Americans dancing and celebrating in front of the White House because of bin Laden’s death, it sent a chill through me. It was looking very much like the masses of religious zealots in some foreign Muslim country. I was thinking, “Have we become like them?” I thought of this quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” I’m glad Osama bin Laden has met his fate, and I’m thankful to the US Navy Seals who took him out. While I find relief, I don’t find it a matter of rejoicing.

  28. david ezra f says:

    Why do we only question our authority to kill one man? Why do we not question our authority to kill hundreds of thousands of men, women and children through our wars against the nations of Islam? God was never really vengeful. That was just history as written by the nation of Israel. Now we are writing history. God bless.

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Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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