So Osama Bin Laden is dead. And what should be our response?
Three responses that I’ve observed in the hours since the news broke.
1) Gloating. There are a lot of people taking what I would describe as a perverse pleasure in the death of a man. That should not be so with the Christian. For at least two reasons
a) Our doctrine of creation reminds us that Osama was a man made in the image of God, made for a relationship with him. That is the reason the Lord says in Ezekiel 33:11 ‘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. ‘
b) Our doctrine of salvation reminds us that we too are sinners. Our sins alone would have taken Jesus to the cross. Any gloating would suggest a self-rightousness that is a denial of the gospel.
2) Sadness. Many Christians have rightly commented that we shouldn’t wish a man dead and have recognised that in lots of ways we are no better. They have suggested that we should grieve over the death of a sinner.
3) Rejoicing. Other Christians have argued that we should rejoice that justice has been seen to be done. That God in his sovereign will has brought an end to a life dedicated to wickedness and to a life that was behind much of the persecution of Christians in the Muslim-majority world.
So what is the Biblical response?
The question as Christians we have to ask is this; is it ever appropriate for Christians to rejoice in the death of the wicked? I would want to argue that the Bible says ‘yes’ it is. In an excellent book, entitled ‘Crying for justice, what the Psalms teach us about mercy and vengeance in an age of terrorism’ John N. Day looks at what are called the imprecatory psalms in which God’s people cry out for God to bring justice and through which God’s people call for vengeance. Such psalms contain verses such as
‘Break the teeth in their mouth, O God; tear out, O Lord, the fangs of the lion!’ Psalm 58:6
‘Happy is he who repays you for what you have done’ Psalm 137:8
Christians are continually called to seek reconciliation and practice long-suffering, forgiveness, and kindness after the pattern of God. Yet there comes a point at which justice must be enacted – whether form God directly or through his representatives, such as the state and its judicial system. This response is likewise patterned after the example of God. The inhabitants of Canaan, for instance, experienced God’s long-suffering grace for four hundred years. But then their iniquity became ‘complete,’ and judgment fell.
When God’s people find themselves suffering from gross or sustained injustice, they are in principle justified in calling for divine justice and appealing to divine vengeance.
The Christian must embrace the tension inherent in reflecting both ‘the kindness and severity of God’ (Rom. 11:22)
What can we learn on this day as we reflect on the death of Osama bin laden?
1. I should certainly have prayed more for Osama’s conversion than his death. I should pray for God’s enemies and seek their salvation remembering that I too was an enemy of God.
2. My rejoicing should be a ‘sorrowful rejoicing’ remembering that the Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked. There is no room for gloating.
3. I should remember that in God’s will sometimes justice is seen to be done and that the enemies of God’s people and agents of extreme wickedness are destroyed. God uses human agents to enact his justice.
4. I should remember that where justice is not seen to be done it is right
Qumar David was a Pakistani Christina serving a 25-year prison term for blasphemy. He did not receive a fair trial.
He died in his prison cell on Tuesday. His lawyer says he is ’100 percent certain it was murder’.
The Post reports:
‘Regional prison chief Ghulam Qadir Thebo said the prison doctor believed Qumar David, 50, died of a heart attack on Tuesday in Karachi Central Jail after complaining of chest pain. An autopsy is due to be carried out on the body in the presence of his family members.
Two prominent Pakistani politicians have been murdered this year for their campaign to change blasphemy laws that make it a capital offense to insult Islam. Critics say the laws are widely misused to persecute Christians or settle scores in the mostly Muslim country.
Human rights groups say Christians convicted under the law have been murdered by extremists.
David’s lawyer Pervez Chaudhry says he is “100 percent” certain it was murder but was unable to offer evidence. Chaudhry said both he and David had received death threats during the trial in 2010.’
I have been told by pro-Taliban religious extremists that if I will continue to speak against the blasphemy law, I will be beheaded.” But he said his faith gave him strength.
As a Christian, I believe Jesus is my strength. He has given me a power and wisdom and motivation to serve suffering humanity. I follow the principles of my conscience, and I am ready to die and sacrifice my life for the principles I believe.”
Today Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian Pakistani Government minister died a martyrs death. The Lord Jesus says ‘Be faithful to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.’ – Revelation 2:10
An atheist told me recently ‘No one kills in the name of Atheism.’ In fact he was so sure he told me twice. Of course he’s not unique in making such a claim. Richard Dawkins writes in the God Delusion Individual atheists may do evil things but they don’t do evil things, in the name of atheism.
Dawkins won’t even allow us to think that atheism had any influence on Stalin’s murderous regime. He writes:
the mature Stalin was scathing about the Russian Orthodox Church, and about religion in general. But there is no evidence that his atheism motivated his brutality.
Such a conclusion is a luxury on offer only to those with absolutely no grasp of history. The reality is that it is a plain and simple, indeed brutal, fact of history that over the past 100 years atheism, as an ideology, has been a driving force used directly to plan, plot, organise and carry out the mass murder of millions of people.
For the purpose of this post we will limit ourselves to a consideration of the way in which state-sponsored atheism has been used to justify the intimidation, torture and killing of those whose only crime was belief in God and who posed no other political or ideological threat. I am indebted to John Blanchard’s ‘Does God Believe in Atheists?‘ for some of the quotes but the ideas remain my own.
The ideology that lay behind state-sanctioned killing of Christians in the USSR
Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of the soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion, as the illusory happiness of men, is a demand for their real happiness.
And for Marx that meant the abolition of religion.
Of course, in periods when the political state as such is born violently out of civil society, when political liberation is the form in which men strive to achieve their liberation, the state can and must go as far as the abolition of religion, the destruction of religion. But it can do so only in the same way that it proceeds to the abolition of private property, to the maximum, to confiscation, to progressive taxation, just as it goes as far as the abolition of life, the guillotine.
Interestingly so indebted to Darwin was Marx that he said of his book The Origin of Species serves me well as a basis in natural science for the struggle in history. He actually wrote to Darwin asking if he might dedicate his next book to him. Darwin put his decision to decline down to the sensibilities of his wider family.
The result of dogmatic Atheism in the Soviet Union
From the very beginnings of the communist revolution in Russia the state set out to apply the atheism of Marx. Religion was systematically targeted as an enemy of the state, an oppressor of the people. It was something therefore not merely to be discouraged but destroyed.
Lenin said: There can be nothing more abominable than religion
And he went on to write
Every religious idea, every idea of god, every flirtation with the idea of God is unutterable vileness…Any person who engages in building a god, or who even tolerations the idea of god-building disparages himself in the worst possible fashion.
Marx’s dogmatic atheism was being used as the philosophical justification for the attack on religion beginning with Lenin, continuing under Stalin and maintained right through to the collapse of the Berlin wall. The fact that the attack on religion continued over generations demonstrates that this state-sponsered attack could hardly be blamed on the actions of one individual.
As the Wikipedia entry on the Soviet Union records;
The state was committed to the destruction of religion, and to this effect it destroyed churches, mosques and temples, ridiculed, harassed and executed religious leaders, flooded the schools and media with atheistic propaganda, and generally promoted ‘scientific atheism’ as the truth that society should accept.
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. – 1 Tim. 2:1-4
Have you ever thought what extraordinary words those are? When Paul wrote them there was not one King anywhere in the world who was a Christian ruler. For Paul then there is no secular government and that means for the Christian there cannot be secular government.
What is even more extraordinary is that Paul’s prayer focuses on the fact that God has put secular rulers in place not just for the common good of man but God calls upon the state to serve the church by upholding freedom and justice and thereby allowing Christians to get on with their lives and their evangelism!
We find other early church leaders calling on Christians to pray in the same way.
Clement writes in the second century:
Grant them Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, so that they may give no offence in administering the government you have given them.
Tertullian writes in his Apology:
We pray also for the emperors, for their ministers and those in power, that their reign may continue, that the state may be at peace, and that the end of the world may be postponed.
If we are to learn how to pray for the state the heart of all of these prayers is the recognition that rulers are appointed by God to rule in such a way as to enable Christians to ‘live peaceful and quiet lives’ and by so doing enable the church to be God’s agent in the world bringing salvation as it preaches and lives out the gospel.
John Stott writes:
Here is important apostolic teaching about church and state, and about the porper relations between them, even when the state is not Christian. It is the duty of the state to keep the peace, to protect its citizens from whatever would disturn it, to preserve law and order and to punish evil and promote god (as Paul teaches in Rom. 13:4), so that within such a stable society the church may be free to worship God, obey his laws and spread his gospel.
There is therefore a great deal at stake in how a government governs. Paul’s prayer implies that when a government fails to uphold the freedom of the Christian it is actually failing in its God-given duty! For many Christians around the world this failure of the state to live up to it’s calling is all too apparent. In recent months in the middle-east in particular the state has failed in its role of protecting the church from harm. Witness recent bomb attacks on churches in Iraq, Pakistan and Egypt.
Whilst the church should and must turn to God in prayer at such times the leaders of other nations do have the opportunity to challenge government that is failing to protect it’s people, including Christians.
The article reports:
A meeting of EU foreign ministers failed to agree on a condemnation of sectarian attacks over the Christmas period that targeted Christians in Egypt and Iraq.
Talks ended angrily when Italy accused Lady Ashton, the EU’s foreign minister, of “excessive” political correctness because she refused to name any specific religious group as a victim of attacks.
Franco Frattini, the Italian foreign minister, demanded an EU response on the persecution of Christians after a New Year suicide bombing at a Coptic church in northern Egypt in which 23 people were killed.
The Egyptian bombing followed attacks in Baghdad and fears, expressed by the Vatican, of persecution leading to a Christian exodus from the Middle East.
Mr Frattini, backed by France, said it pointless to issue statements defending religious tolerance without any references to the specific minority, Christians, that was under attack.
Slate has posted a great article called facebook is making us sad reporting on a study which reveals the sub-conscious impact that social networking sites can have on our sense of well-being. The article is published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The conclusion of the study is that we feel anxious and even depressed whenever we compare ourselves with others because we almost always think that our facebook friends are doing better in life than we are. There is nothing new in those feelings but maybe Facebook exacerbates the problem because it suggests that everyone else out there is leading the perfect life.
Brian Houston makes us sad
Houston’s book You need more money: Discovering God’s amazing financial plan for your life could only be written by a rich Western Christian. I would love to hear him try to persuade the persecuted Christians in various Islamic countries that God has a purpose to bless them financially and make them rich in this life!
Here’s a taster:
If you are applying the Word to your life, God will bless you with prosperity and good success.
And then again:
Take a bit of time to think this through and if you still aren’t sure that God wants you to prosper, ask yourself these questions:
If God didn’t want you to get wealth, why would he give you the power to get it?
If He didn’t want you to be wealthy, why would He take pleasure when His people prosper?
And why would He promise prosperity and success if He preferred us to remain poor? Continue reading »
Tomorrow the four million, mostly-Christian, population of Southern Sudan will vote on whether to separate from the mostly-Muslim North under the conditions of a peace agreement signed in 2005 after decades of civil war in which two million died. The referendum lasts for 7 days.
In an article in the December edition of Evangelicals Now Jason Boyd of AIM comments on the referendum;
It’s part of the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005; it’s very important. The Southern Sudanese will exercise their right to determine whether they want to be in one Sudan or to be a different country, and I think that’s going to happen. The whole world is looking for that, and they have agreed; the Sudan government, which is composed of the National Congress and SPLM, also have agreed on that.
It’s a challenging time in the history of Sudan and everybody’s worried, and even right now people in Sudan are confused because they don’t know the future of the country. How are these things going to happen? Is it really going to be a peaceful referendum or is it going to be a violent one? If it’s peaceful, how is it going to be in terms of economy in the North, in terms of stability in the South? People are asking a lot of questions.
We, as a church, are praying hard. The church is non-partisan; we don’t belong to a party. We’re only preaching the gospel, and praying that everything in Sudan will be peaceful. We are against war, we are against violence, and we’re promoting peace. With the referendum, let it take place in a peaceful environment, and let it also be fair and accepted by both parties, and let the Southerners exercise their choice, their freedom. We saw two million people die in the first war and don’t want to see that happen again, because the people in the South and those in the North are all precious in front of God; God loves them all, and for us as a church we value them all together. We want the generation after us to enjoy peace; we have suffered in a time of war and we don’t want any more to suffer; we want them to really, really experience peace and let them develop the country of Sudan, which is a blessed country with a lot of resources. As a church our stance is clear: we want peace in the whole country.
That’s why we as a church are trying to work hard with the international community to sustain the peace that was signed, and we want to create an atmosphere where the Southerners and Northerners can live together as brothers and sisters, as they believed a long time ago, and not let these political things affect their lives. We don’t know, if the South votes to become independent, maybe after some few years it’ll come back again and join the North, like Germany. Nobody knows, but we have to keep that relationship.
Please pray for the country and the church in Sudan in the week beginning 9th January. For ideas on how to pray visit here.
For an insight into the church in Sudan:
As we rush headlong into Christmas and find ourselves with jobs undone, presents not bought or perhaps bought and not delivered, family and friends who won’t be able to get to us because of the snow let’s remember those who this Christmas face a greater trial. Please pray for the suffering church. Please pray in particular for Pastor Youcef Nadarkhan (33) , his wife and two young children after a death sentence was passed on him by an Iranian Court only because of his stand for Christ.
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