All around Libya and much of the rest of the world there are celebrations under way with the news that Gaddafi has finally been captured and killed. It seems he was captured and perhaps meant to be kept alive, but crossfire broke out between the rival groups, and he was shot in the head and died as a result.
So he now joins a growing list of dead tyrants: Saddam is gone, Bin Laden is gone, and now Gaddafi is gone. To all that I say good riddance. I will shed a tear for none of these cruel despots who caused so much misery, death and destruction to countless innocent victims.
But already, as with the previous deaths, there are some Christians wringing their hands and decrying not only any celebration of these deaths, but the deaths themselves. They seem to think it is somehow un-Christian or unbiblical to wish death on anyone, and/or to rejoice when an evil-doer comes to an abrupt end.
There are of course several passages which these folks can appeal to. And we need to take such texts seriously. But as I have argued before, this is not the end of the story. There is a whole raft of passages which appear to give a much different story.
So let me try to get the full biblical picture here. As always, it does no good just to latch on to a few passages, and ignore the rest of Scripture. The whole counsel of God must be taken into account here. Every text has a context, and the Bible as a whole must always be taken into consideration, comparing scripture with scripture.
What then does the Bible say to such issues as God’s enemies, evil, rejoicing over the defeat of enemies and evil, taking revenge, and so on? It seems there are two main sets of texts to examine here. As already noted, a few passages clearly seem to warn against any gloating or celebrating when the wicked perish.
Two texts especially stand out, and are appealed to often by Christians, as they have already in relation to the death of Gaddafi. They are:
-Proverbs 24:17-18: Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.
-Ezekiel 18:23, 32: 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? . . . For I do not pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.
One might also offer other passages here, such as Psalm 35:11-14. These passages of course express the heart of God. He obviously wants everyone to come to him in repentance and faith, to be reconciled to him, and have the relationship they were originally designed to enjoy.
And that should be our heartbeat as well. God loves the lost, and so should we, and we should be doing all we can to let the lost know about the great love story of the gospel. Of course contra the universalists who want to argue that God’s love is so great that no one will ultimately be lost, the Bible makes it clear that not all will receive his offer of forgiveness and reconciliation.
And Scripture makes it clear that our life on earth is a set period of time. He appoints the days and seasons of our coming and going, and is in charge of when we live and when we die. One never knows when their last breath will be, and we believers have an obligation to proclaim the gospel to one and all, before it is too late.
But that is not the end of the Biblical witness. There is more material that needs to be factored into the equation here. The truth is, we can at times rejoice at the defeat of evil and God’s enemies. Indeed, we are sometimes told to do this very thing.
This is because we are to always rejoice in what God rejoices in, and grieve over what he grieves over. And a holy and just God always rejoices when justice occurs, and always grieves when evil and iniquity abound. The Bible makes it clear that death and judgment is part of God’s plan and purposes.
Those who refuse to repent and turn from their evil are the just and fitting objects of God’s holy wrath. Both God’s love and his wrath are perfectly blended together, and we are never forced to choose one against the other. Both are fully a part of who God is, and those attributes should be fully embraced by us as well.
Consider just some of the many passages which speak to this. I simply offer them in the order in which they appear in Scripture:
In Exodus 15 we find the Song of Moses, 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’.”
In Numbers 31:1-2 we find one of many passages where even vengeance on God’s enemies is enjoined upon God’s people: “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people’.”
What about Deuteronomy 28:63: “As the Lord took delight in doing you good . . . so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you.” Thus not only God’s enemies, but God’s own people can be and are the subject of God’s chastening judgment, just as we read about in Hebrews 12:1-13. Whom God loves he chastises and disciplines.
Consider also several other passages from the book of Deuteronomy:
-Dt 32:36 The LORD will vindicate his people
and relent concerning his servants
when he sees their strength is gone
and no one is left, slave or free.
-Dt 32:43 Rejoice, you nations, with his people,
for he will avenge the blood of his servants;
he will take vengeance on his enemies
and make atonement for his land and people.
-Dt 33: 29 Blessed are you, Israel!
Who is like you,
a people saved by the LORD?
He is your shield and helper
and your glorious sword.
Your enemies will cower before you,
and you will tread on their heights.”
Not only do we read here about God taking action against his enemies, and the enemies of his people, but we read about how rejoicing is an appropriate response to such judgment and destruction. We find a similar thing happening in Judges 5:1-31, the Song of Deborah, in which the celebrating of the death of God’s enemies takes place. Such celebrations are not condemned or seen as mean-spirited, but as the fully appropriate response to the situation.
We also find a very similar situation in 1 Samuel 2:1:
Then Hannah prayed and said:
“My heart rejoices in the LORD;
in the LORD my horn is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.”
I will look at more such passages in Part Two of this article: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/10/21/gaddafi-evil-and-our-response-part-two/