Celebrating death

Yesterday morning I walked into the living room to find Sydney and Parker on the couch watching the coverage on Fox News of the death of Osama Bin Laden.  As the footage rolled of packed streets with American flags waving and people cheering as if we’d just won the Final Four, Sydney asked one simple question: “Are they happy because someone died?”

This, my friends, is a tough one.

There is a part of me – the fully American, chest-pumping, fist-bumping, man’s man part of me – that wants to run into the streets and burn couches and celebrate the victory of the American way of freedom against a terrorist who was bent on (and in some ways, successful in) changing our way of life.

That is the part of me that reads Proverbs 11:10 and totally gets why people were running around like it’s New Year’s Eve in Times Square celebrating.  When evil has held you captive, and suddenly it’s gone, you want to party.  I get it, and even God gets it, because He wrote the very words that give us insight into that very human tendency.

When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy. (Proverbs 11:10)

Rot in Hell!

So it makes total sense that streets are full of shouting and celebrating, right?  That headlines would run across the country like the one that ran in the New York Daily Times?  It’s obvious that the removal of wickedness leads to rejoicing. But doesn’t this lead to something even more obvious?

For man to act in this way only reveals that we are, in fact, just man.  If all I am is that chest-pumping American, then the reaction is understandable, but is that all I am?

Just 10 years ago, we watched in horror as the streets of another country were filled with rejoicers just like our streets are now.  They waved different flags, and spoke a different language, but what they rejoiced over was the death of nearly 3,000 people on our soil.  Then, we saw the scene as despicable.  Is it somehow more honorable today because the flag is American?

Now, as soon as I typed the word “American,” I could hear the comments flying: “Oh, so you’re sympathetic to the enemy?” “You think he should have lived??!”  “What kind of American are you?”

I’m an American who loves this country more than any other country in the world and who appreciates the sacrifice that our men and women make every day to keep our borders secure.  I’m an American who wants people who are oppressed by evil rulers in other countries to be able to live in the same kind of freedom I enjoy.  I’m also an American who is a follower of Christ, and that begs the question of when my faith should trump my patriotism.

Surely by now we all know that God is neither Republican nor Democrat.  But do we also understand that He isn’t American?  He isn’t on our side against the rest of the world, and apparently, He isn’t out in the streets dancing about over the death of Bin Laden.

Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ (Ezekiel 33:11)

God is on the side of righteousness, and the only time the unrighteous can become righteous is while they are, in fact, still breathing and can use that breath to call on the name of Christ.  Death ends that possibility, and removes all pleasure from the end of any life in God’s eyes.  In fact, the only time that death is seen in anything close to a positive light by God is when the righteous die, because then death is the entrance into eternity with Him as opposed to apart from Him.

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)

There are times that our faith runs counter to our culture, and this, I feel, is one of those times.  Not celebrating the death of our country’s greatest enemy could definitely cause those around us to wonder where our loyalties lie, and on this I think it is imperative that we make our position absolutely clear: we stand on the side of those who are trying to follow the words that Jesus spoke to His disciples.  They are hard words, unnatural words, but His words nonetheless:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons 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 brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)

Apparently, rejoicing over the death of our enemy makes us like everyone else around us.  By not praying for our enemies, we find ourselves unable to see the world around us – and the evil present in it – with eternal eyes.  We get swept up in the crowd thirsty for blood and lose the distinguishing mark of His blood that redeemed us.  We lose the ability to see anything from a perspective any higher than human vengeance, and thus cannot fathom the possibility that vengeance belongs only to God (Romans 12:19).

Did people rejoice in the Bible over the death of evil men and women?  Yes.  The deaths of Ahab, Jezebel and Goliath led to cheers.  Heck, when the entire Egyptian army got swept away in the Red Sea, Miriam wrote a freaking praise song about it.  But those were part of the old covenant when God judged wickedness on the earth through His people.  We live in a time when He has judged wickedness on the earth through His Son, and that should give us pause to consider the redeem-ability of man.

Osama Bin Laden.  Hitler.  The very names seem synonymous with evil and make us feel justified in our celebration of their demise.  But what about another name?

Saul.

Surely in his day he was as much an instrument of evil against the good in the world as the 2 other names mentioned.  He was responsible for the deaths of numerous early Christians, and unmoved by remorse over it.  If he could have had his way, no follower of Christ would have outlived him. But he couldn’t have his way, because as evil as he may have been, he was redeemable, and in the end was a better man, as Paul, than anyone would have ever dared to believe possible.

It is not something that we can do naturally.  Human nature loves the good and hates the evil.  It repays evil with evil.  But redeemed nature sees everything with eternal eyes, and prays for the persecutor.  Ultimately, Osama Bin Laden had a choice to make regarding his Creator, and he made it.  Christians around the world are well aware of that, and our response now reveals whether or not we ever even prayed for him as he made it.

This – the unnatural prayer prayed in supernatural strength for those who persecute us – is what allows us to celebrate the removal of wickedness in this world while still grieving the judgement of the wicked in the next.

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Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is lead pastor of The Gathering, a community church located in beautiful downtown Albemarle, North Carolina. He's the author of God is My Air Traffic Controller and My Name's Not Lou. Paul is passionate about his wife, his 3 children, running, reading, coaching, leading people who are following Jesus, Swedish Fish and the Carolina Panthers.

20 comments

  • Paul,
    This is challenging and is a much needed word. It seems to me that it’s the same paradox we find ourselves in many times – hate the sin and love the sinner. You’ve summed it up extremely well in the last sentence.
    It grieves me to see a life lived in wickedness and hate, wasting what God could make of it. But I rejoice that God is against wickedness and will remove it from our lives.

    On a much more mundane note, there is one typo in this sentence:
    “When evil has help you captive, and suddenly it’s gone, you want to party.”

    • Thanks for catching the typo. I actually proofread this 3 times, too.

      You’re right about the paradox. Tension, it seems, is unavoidable when we are caught in between 2 worlds, yes?

  • Wow. Thanks so much for calming the intensity and giving me a space to “sit” in my heart. This is such great & much needed insight in these tense times. It helped me to clear the cobwebs out of my own head, and make a small moment to Be Still & Know God. Thanks for bringing these insights out where hopefully others can step back from the whirlwind intensity of these times and get clear. Thanks! Excellent wisdom.

  • i feel honored to have been sitting next to you when you wrote it (or were at least working on it).

  • HI Paul,

    I don’t know you, but one of my best friends is Mandy Pate and she had this as her post on Facebook. Thank you for being obedient and putting into words everything that I have been feeling since yesterday. I could not have said or explained it better myself. May we as brothers and sisters in Christ pray for our fellow Americans and for our enemies as we go forward.

    Tricia

  • This is definitely a much needed lesson.
    I do think our faith should always trump our patriotism in any and every situation, we just don’t have to show our joy by shouting in the streets. Yes, we can celebrate in our own hearts the removal of wickedness while grieving the fact that a soul has just slipped into an eternal lake of fire and brimstone to be tormented day and night, forever. A soul that Jesus loved, just as He loves you and me. I know, for some people it is hard to accept that fact, but it is just that….fact!
    I guess this is where one would say “this is a bitter-sweet end”.
    Great word!

    I wouldn’t, however say that you love America “more than any other”, maybe as much as any other.

    • What I meant was that I love America more than any other country, not more than any other person. Sorry for the confusion! I’ve made it more clear. Thanks.

  • Thanks, Paul for the insight. I am sorry that he did not know Jesus and that he will not know the forgiving love and compassion the God has for us all. I wander now how did you answer that question for Sydney?

  • Wow Paul, you summed up what my friends and I have been discussing for two days. My first thought when I found out about his death was to thank God for this victory. Then God stopped me and made me realize it wasn’t a victory for Him. One of the people He created just passed into eternity without knowing Him and will now be separated forever. That makes it very hard to celebrate Bin Laden’s death. I’m very supportive and grateful for our troops and all that they have done for our country and for freedom but I don’t think I can celebrate someone going to hell for eternity.

  • This is a Good word you present. I have no doubt that even in the midst of “celebrating” the end of an evil life, the satisfaction of vengeance accomplished against an evil man, there is ambiguity of feelings for many. And not solely in the heats of God’s people. Sanctity of life is a Universal Truth. Whether the life is evil or controlled by evil, it’s still life, created by God. The sad Truth is: that life never experienced God’s joy, peace, presence and power in life…and now, never will.

  • Paul, I had that same feeling about all of the dancing in the streets but I couldn’t put it in words nearly so eloquently as you did. Nicely said!

  • Paul, I’ve had the same feelings of wanting to rejoice and also feeling guility for feeling that way. I know he made his choices and he killed thousands of innocent people so it’s hard not to find yourself dancing in the streets! Thanks for helping me sort through my emotions….great words!!!

  • Thank you for this word for the Church. As the Church we must remember that we have a responsibility to pray for our enemies and that is so hard to do. Thanks for the reminder. God is using you to wake us up….thank you for your insight and obedience to the Holy Spirit.

  • Paul,

    This is an absolutely spot on and timely post. We do run the risk of sounding “unpatriotic” when we say and believe things like what you’ve just said. However, you are so correct that our loyalty lies, first and foremost, with our Lord and He (as you pointed out) is neither Republican, Democrat, American, European or whatever else. The time is coming when the Christian faith will not be seen as a defining characteristic of America but something that stands in opposition to it. I pray we will stand on Christ and no other. Good work and Godspeed.

    Christian

  • I think you hit the nail on the head when you once again remind us that God isn’t N American. He is multi cultural and although our thinking tends to be a bit one sided we have to consider the “other side” as well. God is grieved whenever sin abounds and this act (9/11) was sin as its ugliest but God’s desire is that all repent. On another note it was interesting to see all the people rejoicing over the events, and yet to think how many of them had been chanting anti-war chants just days or weeks before?
    Thanks Paul. Great insight

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