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Gaddafi, Evil, and Our Response. Part One

Oct 21, 2011

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/

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12 Responses to Gaddafi, Evil, and Our Response. Part One

  • Hi Bill, just a thought regarding your statement,
    “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.”
    I think this needs some re-wording. God is not love and wrath, but in His love He is wrathful. The Bible states that God is Love, but no where does it say that He is equally ‘Wrath’. Wrath is not an attribute of God, but the action of His love.
    Cheers mate, Troy Kam

  • Thanks Troy

    I try to deal with your objection here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/03/06/the-wrath-of-god/

    I think a biblical case can be made that wrath or anger (at sin and evil) is an attribute of God, but Christians can and do disagree on these matters.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I do agree that Christians have to get ethics somewhere other than sentimentalism and shallow-rooted desire to keep things ‘nice’, but my enthusiasm will remain muted until they actually have elections and the coptic Christians are given a legitmate place in their society with freedom to be who they are.
    God Bless,
    Michael Hutton

  • It would have helped the families of Lockerbie victims if Gaddafi had been brought to trial at THE HAGUE in the International Criminal Court and given them the reasons for that atrocity. However his case will be heard in Higher Court – as we all will.
    It should also be a warning to Mugabe and his henchmen that the fate of Gaddafi could be their’s as well.
    Wayne Pelling

  • Bill,

    I am with you in affirming that the wrath of God is one of His attributes. That is why the doctrine of propitiation is so important to the believer. Christ’s blood sacrifice on the cross appeased the wrath of God as indicated in Rom. 3:25-26; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10. This propitiation is being weakened by some theologians today who want it to mean expiation.

    Evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, places the wrath of God in ‘the communicable attributes of God’ and gives this definition: ‘God’s wrath means that he intensely hates all sin’ (1994. Systematic Theology, Zondervan, p. 206).

    In an earlier generation, William G. T. Shedd, wrote, ‘By the suffering of the sinner’s atoning substitute, the divine wrath at sin is propitiated, and as a consequence of this propitiation, the punishment dur to sin is released, or not inflicted upon the transgressor. This release or non-infliction of penalty is “forgiveness” in the Biblical representation’ (in Henry Thiessen 1949. Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, p. 326).

    Thank you for providing the evidence that the wrath of God is an essential attribute of our Almighty God. We praise God that his wrath is in his nature as much as his love, patience and forgiveness.

    In Christ, Spencer Gear

  • Hi Bill- I don’t regret Quaddafi’s death at all, but I think that the manner of his death should give us all pause about the future of Libya. If, as you mention, he was killed in a fire fight between rival groups of the opposition, that is not good news that they are shooting with each other. The wound I saw though looked more like an assasination (based on a video and totally non-forensic of course). Again, if that occured after he was taken prisoner it hardly bodes well for how the victors will treat their enemies.
    On the other hand I’m rather glad he didn’t end up in The Hague. Beyond any shadow of doubt he merited the death penalty (not questioning that- just how it may have been done). He would never have received that in the International Criminal Court. Contrary to what Wayne suggests I doubt whether many of the Lockerbie bombing families would have had closure from a long trial (witness Milosovic) and an life prison sentence in comfort paid for by western tax payers. My concern isn’t about whether he received justice- only what the manner of it suggests about the future of Libya.
    Ed Sherman

  • And that is assuming that at some future date some Islamist government didn’t find a way to see him freed in exchange for some trade deal- like the Lockerbie bomber.
    Ed Sherman

  • Thanks guys
    The point of this article was not to suggest that an ideal end to his life took place, either in terms of justice or the wellbeing of the nation. And things may well get worse in Libya. My point was that some Christians who seem to abhor any and all ends to dictator’s lives may need to rethink things in light of the biblical data. Justice in this world is important to God, and should be important to his people. Of course how such justice is worked out in a fallen world is a moot point, and may not always be ideal.

    And by crossfire I meant between his enemies and his supporters, but that was based on early reports, and the exact situation still seems to be a bit unclear.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • It seems to me you could use these Old Testament passages to justify the killing (and celebrating the fact) of anyone you interpret as being an enemy of God.

    Would you use the same reasoning to justify the bombing of the Mardi-Gras? Or the assasination of Dawkins or Hitchens?

    You often describe yourself as “pro-life” but you seem to be able to conveniently wriggle around this constraint when it suits you.

    James Beattie

  • Thanks James

    But you miss the point here big time (not surprising of course – you atheists usually seem to mangle such matters). The short reply is any military or physical force Yahweh commanded of Israel, was limited, temporary, and not an ongoing event. Primarily taking Canaan was what we are talking about here. And often this language of course can be metaphorical for God’s victory over all evil in all its forms.

    But let me remind you that I am a Christian, so Christ is obviously the paradigm here. He never once said we should use force or violence, nor did he himself ever do so. Instead he told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. But I discuss religion and violence elsewhere, eg:
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/13/violence-in-the-bible-and-the-koran/
    https://billmuehlenberg.com/2008/11/21/jesus-muhammad-and-violence/

    So nice try, but again you fail to make the grade!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I found this site while doing research for a paper that I should be writing now, and I admit that I didn’t read your entire post here, but I’d like to share my opinions on this subject in general.

    Back when bin Laden was killed, a few friends and I accidentally started a giant Facebook commenting debate about this very subject of rejoicing at the death of someone evil, and I’d love to get another opinion on my stance.

    Jesus himself tells us to love our enemies. If we truly loved them (and I’m not saying I’m able to love bin Laden, etc.), then we would not just refrain from celebrating in the streets, but we would be heartbroken at his demise.
    We’re usually devastated when a loved one of ours leaves our world for Heaven, but imagine how terrible we should feel when someone who Jesus says we should love leaves for Hell.

    I could go on, but I should get back to my paper. The Facebook conversation itself is captured here, if anyone is interested in reading more: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150282576523765

    Thanks for your time!

    Joshua Brisco

  • Thanks Joshua

    But if you do in fact read through this two-part article, and a few of the related ones, you will see my response. You need to consider the totality of the biblical revelation here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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