It was all over the airwaves late Sunday evening: Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States, had been shot dead at his compound in Pakistan. A 10 year quest to bring a man to justice had finally been completed. He is officially dead. A measure of closure now dawns for those who lost loved ones in the attacks planned by this hateful mass-murderer, and my heart unites with them in being thankful that this man will never again be able to plot the harm of another human being.
But something was greatly unsettled in my soul as I watched thousands of Americans celebrate his death on the various news reports, many of them holding signs and chanting slogans. I was even more unsettled on Monday as I reviewed news headlines from around the world, some of them openly jubilant over that fact that Osama Bin Laden was now burning in hell. It seemed to me that we as Americans were celebrating the death of our enemies in that exact same fashion that radical Muslims celebrate the death of Americans.
Please do not get me wrong, I support the death penalty for dangerous criminals who have taken the lives of others. I likewise support the death of Osama Bin Laden, and I hope the way he died will deter other evil men from following his dangerous ideology. Bin Laden was to my generation what Adolph Hitler was to the generation of World War 2. I am truly thankful justice has been brought, and based upon his openly espoused religious beliefs, I do believe Osama Bin Laden is now suffering the eternal torment of hell. But though I am thankful, I cannot celebrate the death of any sinner, no matter how awful his crimes.
Why? There are two reasons. First, because sin is still a present and horrible reality of this world. Men flew planes into those buildings on September 11th because of sin. People strap bombs to themselves and seek the destruction of others because of sin. Wars and genocide and persecution take place all over the world because of sin. Sadly, Osama Bin Laden’s death will not bring an end to such violence. In fact, it may escalate such violence for a time. Thus, I cannot celebrate. I can be thankful that this particular man can no longer do harm, but I grieve over the sinful state of creation and I pray more fervently for the peace of Jesus Christ to spread to more and more men.
Secondly, I cannot celebrate this man’s death because the torments of hell far exceed what our minds are capable of imagining. Osama Bin Laden was an evil man, but he was still an image bearer of God. His life was meant to glorify our Creator, but because of sin, the purpose for which he was created became drastically twisted and deformed. He exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and he is now suffering the eternal penalty of hell. I cannot rejoice in any man being sent to hell. No Christian should. Yes, God is being glorified this very second as His justice is being displayed in the punishment of the wicked, but God does not experience some sadistic joy in the eternal punishment of evildoers.
Ezekiel 18:23 says, “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” God grieves over lost souls; and thus, I grieve over lost souls.
In Scripture, Christ specifically teaches us what should be a cause for celebration: the salvation of lost persons. Remember what He taught us in the gospel of Luke through three different parables. In Luke 15:7, Jesus said, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” The salvation of men is what should lead us into the streets to celebrate. Revival of His church is what should cause us to break forth with rejoicing. We can be thankful for God’s justice. We can and should trust in that fact that vengeance is the Lord’s (Rom 12:18-21). But we who have been made objects of God’s mercy through the grace of Christ should never celebrate death and hell; we should celebrate forgiveness and eternal life and proclaim to all men everywhere the power of Christ to reconcile us to our holy God.