It seems that the entire interent is abuzz about the death of Osama Bin Laden. There are, of course, ranges of human emotion at the death of one of the most dangerous men in the world, and a leading candidate for the most evil man of the century award.
Some are literally dancing in the streets, moved by the relief and satisfaction they receive in seeing a man that plotted the deaths of so many humans (and himself rejoiced in their demise). ”Tit-for-tat,” they may say, “He danced on our graves, we will do the same. We feel avenged.” Others are simply relieved to see the dispatching of a leading terrorist. Others grieve the loss of human life, not because they feel sorry for Bin Laden, but because he, created in the image of a Holy God, died (by all accounts) in denial of the free gift of grace offered to him by God, now to spend an eternity in the conscious torment of hell.
For a range of responses from wise theologians, I invite you to read the thoughts of Albert Mohler, Michael Horton, Christopher Morgan, and Doug Wilson. Each provide a good perspective – theologically – of what we ought to consider at the death of a human, even one, like Osama Bin Laden, whose name came to be synonymous with “evil.’
What I would like to have us learn from is a stark example of the role of government.
Government has been created for our good, as a necessary reminder that we are sinful, fallen humans that, left to ourselves, would seek our own good, regardless of the needs of others. Though government is a human institution, it is wrong to conclude it functions outside of the Sovereignty of God.
Romans 13 makes it abundantly clear that God instituted government. Other references in Scripture reference how God appoints and opposes kings and rulers, that He institutes and orchestrates government for His own glory and for our good.
Government is a good thing. In this latest example of governmental power, we see also the legitimate and justifiable authority given to human government to wield the sword of justice. Romans 13:1-7 reads:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.
I’ve highlighted the section that most deserves our attention at present. The point I wish to make is that one of the chief duties of government is to punish evil and preserve the space for the good. That is clear in the death of Osama Bin Laden and it has remarkable implications for those of us making arguments in favor of life and religious liberty.
It is unarguable that OBL was the epitome of evil in our time. He took pleasure in perpetrating evil on the world. There was little that we could reasonably believe to be “good” about the man who killed, and took joy in terrorizing, thousands of humans.
But, thanks be to God, who appointed government to wield the sword of justice to punish this great evil. Some governments steadfastly (and cowardly) refused to confront this evil. Others were themselves corrupt and evil and, I believe, had the sword of justice removed from their hands by the God who placed it there originally. But our government – replete with its faults and problems – was given both the authority and will to confront this evil, oppose it, and inflict a level of justice upon it. In their actions, the U.S. Government wielded the sword of justice faithfully, punished evil, and preserved the space for the good.
What should we take from all this?
First, let us be slow to “rejoice” in the death of any human. Osama Bin Laden, though evil incarnate, it would seem, was still bore the image of God. Even God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. He was human and, thus, of intrinsic worth in his human reflection of the Creator he denied and outrightly opposed. Though he received his just and justifiable punishment, ours is not to rejoice in his death. Ours is not to enjoy vengeance; that belongs to our God.
Second, we ought to be thankful that God has given us government to so punish evil; yet, we must also pray that God will see fit to use the death of OBL to call many to repentance and faith in Him. It is a great act of mercy that God has allowed government to exist and given it the authority to punish evil. And that has been God’s design, I believe, in giving government the limited authority that He has given to it. You may call it, “making an example” out of someone (and you might be right), but it ought to serve as a reality check of eternal perspective for those who practice evil. For, neither in this life, nor the next will evil go unpunished. Repent now, I say, and place your faith in Christ while you may!
Third, as we give thanks for the punishment of evil, let us be careful to encourage the promotion of good, the preservation of the space for the Gospel to advance. Even as we rejoice that the removal of one who taught a false religion and forced many to follow his false ways under threat of physical punishment or death, we must pray God will send many to preach the true Gospel to those left without their religious leader. Moreover, we must work to ensure that all nations give freedom to missionaries, pastors, churches, and religious communities to preach the Good News that God has atoned for our great rebellion against a righteous God. (If you don’t know what this “Gospel” is that I’m talking about, I beg and challenge you to read this book.)
And that goes for this country, as much for any, and for Christianity as for any religion. Government’s role is to preserve the space for the good. In our system of government, that means government does not get to censor which religious message is preached – from the pulpit or the public space. Rather, it must defend the space for the Gospel to be articulated to a Gospel-needy world.
Finally, let us also work to ensure that government wields rightly the sword of justice. Sometimes, as in Bin Laden’s case, that is the literal sword (or bullet). But, government’s sword-wielding might also take a less lethal form. As Doug Wilson said in the piece I linked to above,
The ghouls who run the abortion industry, and their shills in the halls of Congress, kill more Americans every day than bin Laden did in his one major flame-out, and the Navy Seals [sic] aren’t coming after them.
As Bin Laden is now facing the eternal judgment – and more perfect justice – of God, so too will our leaders be held to account for their action or inaction in the face of mounting moral evils they refuse to beat back. A great privilege and duty has been placed on those given the sword of justice to wield. Use it to deny justice, and I fear for the accountability they will face.
Today, I am relieved that evil has been punished, but I know that a final vanquishing of evil remains. Until that time, we know another will take Bin Laden’s place in manifesting evil. Still, I find the charge to government and those under government given to us through the Apostle Peter instructive as we live in this fallen world:
14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor
Live, then, as free people. Put the rest to silence.
About Jeremy Dys
Jeremy Dys is the FPCWV's President and General Counsel. In addition to his duties of providing strategic vision and leadership to the FPCWV, Dys is the chief lobbyist and spokesman. Dys is regularly featured in local, state, and national print, radio, and television outlets. He lives close to Charleston with his wife and growing family.