Osama’s Death, and Fuzzy Christian Thinking

It was the news the world has been waiting to hear for a decade now. Finally it has come, and celebrations have erupted around the globe, especially in America. With the leader of al-Qaida now finally killed, one small – but significant – step in the war against terror has been completed.

Of course he has been leading the terrorist organisation for more than twenty years now, but the West only came to learn about him big time after 9/11. The attack on America was only one of his many acts of terror. But with his death, one chapter in this ugly terrorist assault is now closed.

There will certainly be many who will seek to take his place, and reprisals may well be forthcoming. So how all this exactly pans out in the days ahead remains to be seen. But I for one rejoice at this news. It is a case of justice being meted out to a very evil person.

But already in all the early discussion about this, a lot of very fuzzy Christian thinking is emerging. Lefties and pacifists of course only think this is bad news. They trot out all the usual tired arguments about how all killing is wrong, and how violence never solves anything.

Indeed, so much silly thinking on this has appeared in such a short period of time that I am quite amazed to be honest. We expect non-believers to come up with such silliness, but for believers who should know something about their Bible to do so as well is simply sad.

For example, some have said that the use of violence only leads to more violence, and we should have nothing to do with the use of force. The short answer to this is quite simple: try telling that to the prisoners at Auschwitz. Try convincing them that the use of force never achieves anything.

Try telling them that all killing is only always evil, and that the Allies were so very wrong to try to stop Hitler and liberate the concentration camps. Only someone who has never experienced such horrors could make such ludicrous statements.

Then some believers rather foolishly tried to make the case that all killing is murder, and that God condemns all killing. Never mind that God in fact has condoned at least three types of killing: capital punishment, self-defence and just war. But some believers just don’t get it – or don’t want to get it.

This inability on the part of some Christians to make the most basic of mental and moral distinctions baffles me. The Bible is quite clear on this: not all killing is morally taboo. Yet some of these believers think they know better than God, and are more moral than God. They actually sit in judgment on God, insisting that he confirm to their morality. But I speak to these issues here:
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2006/09/11/is-it-ever-right-to-kill/
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2007/03/23/were-the-early-christians-pacifists/

Other objections were less reckless, and were even sincere. Some asked about Matthew 5:44 for example, with its call to love our enemies. Briefly stated, this was a personal ethic mentioned by Jesus, which must be seen in the light of the social ethics elsewhere defined in Scripture.

Paul for example examines the use of force – even killing – by divinely-ordained government, as he writes in Romans 13:1-7. I have dealt with these issues quite often elsewhere, for example here:
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2011/04/20/difficult-bible-passages-matthew-539/

Then another person raised the objection of Matthew 28:19-20 which speaks about the Great Commission – our responsibility to preach the gospel to all people. I assume this person meant that we should never kill anyone because that takes away their chance to hear the preaching of the gospel.

But that is not a very thoughtful objection. Indeed, just take it to its logical conclusion: if we want everyone to have as many chances to hear the gospel, and for the longest possible amount of time, then we should be doing everything we can to ensure that people live as long as possible.

Any scientific scheme to extend our lifespan should be welcomed unconditionally, and anything which might reduce it should be resisted at all costs. And by this reasoning, all killing whatsoever should be resisted, since it lessens the time a person has to hear the gospel.

Thus we were quite wrong to kill Hitler, or Saddam, or bin Laden. If an armed rapist breaks into our home, it would be wrong to try to resist him – at least by killing him – because that would shorten his time to hear the good news and repent.

But this is rather silly. God has appointed a time for each person on earth to leave this world. Many people die in infancy. If God has allowed this, then he is wrong, according to this kind of reasoning, because the person did not have a proper opportunity to encounter the gospel.

The truth is, we do have an imperative to tell everyone the gospel. But when it is time for people to go, that is the end. And if God has ordained for example the state to punish evildoers, and that includes the death penalty, then God is not unjust to send them to an early grave.

But I again have dealt with these matters earlier. In these two articles and the comments below them I also address some of these objections:
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/11/on-capital-punishment-part-1/
www.billmuehlenberg.com/2007/10/12/on-capital-punishment-part-2/

Another person raised Proverbs 24:17-18: “Don’t rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased.” Yes that is a biblical principle, but it is not the last word on the subject.

Indeed, any one verse alone can be used to say anything. But we must let Scripture interpret Scripture. Another Proverb that can equally be used here is Prov. 11:10: “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.”

There are many such passages. When we look at the issues of evil, justice, and judgment on wrongdoing – both divine and human judgment – we see lots of passages which actually speak of rejoicing over the destruction of the wicked, of seeing justice triumph, and so on.

We certainly find this in the Wisdom literature, of which Proverbs is a part. Many psalms for example speak to this as well, such as Ps 44:7-8; Ps 60:12; Ps 118:6-7; etc. As but one example, consider a passage like Psalm 139:21-2: “Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.”

Of course readers today need to take care with such passages. But there are plenty of them. Many of these are known as imprecatory psalms, and they offer quite a different take on these sorts of issues. But they deserve an entire article to properly do them justice, so stay tuned for that.

Or read the Song of Moses in Exodus 15, wherein God’s people rejoice and exalt in the destruction of their enemies. After Moses and the Israelites sing this song as an act of worship, we read these words in vv. 19-21:

“When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the LORD brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them:
‘Sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea’.”

Then there is the climax of history when a heavenly praise meeting erupts because of God’s judgment on the wicked. The people are finally vindicated and they celebrate God’s judgment of the enemies of God and his people. Read Rev. 18:20; 19:1-3 for example.

But all such discussions are not in fact new – these are rather old debates really. Should Christians be pacifists, or is there a case for just war? Is there a proper and moral use of force? How should Christians think about international relations – and more recently – the war on terror? There will always be disagreements on these sorts of issues.

Some Christians will never shake their pacifism, and there is little anyone else can do to convince them otherwise. So we will just have to learn to agree to disagree here. But one thing we all can do is sharpen up our intellectual skills and our moral reasoning. There is far too much sloppy thinking and mushy moralising out there in some Christian circles.

This rather confused and muddled thinking does not really bring clarity and help to the debate. We all at least need to be willing to trade in any preconceived ideas and agendas for what the Word of God actually teaches. But nonetheless we can expect that these sorts of debates will keep bubbling along nicely.

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