Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Answering Objections to Rejoicing when the Wicked Perish

My previous post about rejoicing at the death of Osama bin Ladin has sparked a little pushback.

My objector wrote:
I'm quite disappointed with the post. If we are to emulate the ways of God, then surely we should consider God's attitude:

(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."

Whilst this is applied to the House of Israel, by extension it applies to all humanity since God commands everyone to repent. (Although we know that only his elect will do so.) God does not delight in destroying sinful men.
This passages has been misunderstood by my objector. The proof that he has misunderstood it can be seen from the fact that God himself elsewhere explains:

Psalm 2:4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

Psalm 37:13 The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.

Psalm 59:8 But thou, O LORD, shalt laugh at them; thou shalt have all the heathen in derision.

Proverbs 1:26-27
I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.

What then does God mean in the passage quoted? He is contrasting the way of repentance and the way of continued disobedience. God's pleasure in the passage in question refers to his revealed will: God's revealed will is not simply that sinners perish (though he does threaten punishment) but rather that sinners repent of their sins and seek mercy. Don't think you are doing God any favors by dying in your sins. Instead, repent, for God has commanded that!

Recall that Eliphaz had explained:

Job 22:3 Is it any pleasure to the Almighty, that thou art righteous? or is it gain to him, that thou makest thy ways perfect?

The same principle is at work there: you shouldn't think you are doing God favors by simply being a little less wicked than your neighbors. The application is opposite (an application about pride) but the underlying principle of what is meant by "pleasure" is the same.

When we see God derisively laughing at the wicked being destroyed, we have to understand that God is not crying with tears of sorrow over their destruction.

Also, of course, there is a further fallacy involved in this objection. While we are to be like God, we are to be like God in holiness. We do not take on his sovereign prerogatives. While we do pray, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done - on earth as it is heaven," we nevertheless may pity our fellow men and wish well for them, despite our ignorance about whether God has made them to be vessels of wrath or vessels of mercy.

If someone is sad because they felt compassionate for Osama, I do not condemn them for their compassion. I do, however, firmly oppose a notion that the servants of God may not rejoice at the defeat of a prominent enemy of God.

My objector continued:
When the disciples wanted to call fire from heaven down upon his enemies, he responded thusly:

"But He turned and rebuked them, [and said, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”] And they went on to another village." (Luke 9:55)
Jesus earthly ministry at that time was one of mercy, not judgment. But is my objector unaware of what Christ will do upon his second coming? At that time, he will come in judgment.

Moreover, surely my objector has not forgotten about the times that God did send down fire from heaven to destroy men. Will he object that it was a different God? I would hope not, but what other interpretation fits my objector's objection?

He continued:
And, of course, the cardinal value of the Christian life is to "love our enemies" , to forgive those who abuse us - even those who wish to destroy us or put us on a cross. It seems Americans of all theological persuasions, both heretical and orthodox, want an escape hatch from this requirement and so they argue that there is a difference between personal enemies and enemies of the state. This to me is very feeble. Jesus was an enemy of the state, but he did not resist the Romans, neither did his disciples advocate rebellion against Rome or disobedience to law, even when the Romans were martyring them. This is not to gloss over justice, which is the natural God-ordained function of the state, but to establish love as the necessary hand-maiden of justice.
It may seem feeble to my objector, but Paul claims that those with the "power of the sword" are the ministers of God's wrath:

Romans 13:1-7
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Rulers have this responsibility from God not to turn the other cheek, but rather to execute the wrath of God against sin. Despite the seeming feebleness, the distinction between personal enemies and enemies of God and the State are an important distinction (and, of course, Osama was not only an enemy of God but of the Americans as well).

He continued:
We read of no rejoicing when Herod, a monster greater than Osama bin Laden, was eaten with maggots and died (Acts 12:23); we are taught that those who use the sword shall also die by it (Matthew 25:56). We are also taught to live at peace with all men as much as possible (Heb 12:14; Rom 12:18).
I question whether Herod was a greater monster than Osama bin Ladin. Nevertheless, what should we read into the silence of Scripture? Surely to read something into it is a dangerous technique. The passages about living by the sword and about being at peace with all men are, again, about one's personal duties in relations between fellow men. It is not about the duty of rulers, at least not in a direct way.

He continued:
I am perturbed by your identification of Osama Bin Laden as a prominent "enemy of God". We are ALL enemies of God and subject to sin and death in our natural estate. ALL minds are hostile to God by nature. We ALL abide under God's wrath by nature. God, by his own counsel chooses to remove the restraints from some men and allow them to behave freely according to the dictates of the sinful heart we all share. In this way, he raised up Pharaoh (Rom 9:17).

Osama Bin Laden merely displays the evil that is within us all, but which God in his mercy has delivered US. If it were not for God, we could be Osamas ourselves: "there but for the grace of God, go I" .
We are not all enemies of God. We all were enemies of God. However, we who believe have obtained the adoption of sons. We are no longer God's enemies, but his friends.

Moreover, Osama was not just any enemy of God. He was one who waged war specifically to promote his false and anti-Christian religion. He made his goals explicit in writing. This is an extraordinary level of opposition to Christ.

Is it only by the providence of God that we were not like that? Of course. The point is not to glorify us. Nevertheless, He set himself up against God in a unique way, waging war against Christ. Even today, those who considered him their ally or leader continue to set themselves against the gospel of Christ and make martyrs of Christians.

And those martyrs are calling out to God with a loud voice: "How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10)

He concluded:
I am afraid that many have been swept up by the godless rejoicing of a godless world! Beware the mingling of provincial patriotism with the everlasting gospel. I recognise that this is harder to avoid in the United States than elsewhere, due to the heightened patriotism of this age, but I believe it must always be resisted.
I don't think that the patriotism of this age is any greater than that of the first half of the 20th century. Nevertheless, it is possible for people to get swept up in patriotism without pausing to consider. As such, this warning is legitimate, and we should heed it. On the other hand, we must remember our catechism - the summary of Scripture teachings that we have taken care to learn:

Q. 26. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.

Q. 45. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.

Praise be to our True and Living King!


1 comment:

Jason Landless said...

My response can be read here: