Should Christians Celebrate the Death of Osama bin Laden?

Responding to the death of a terrorist.

Editor's note: The death of Osama bin Laden is a difficult paradox for Christians, which is why we asked Jonathan Merritt to unpack it. We think what he has to say is good and important, but we also know it's not the end of the conversation. So we ask that you weigh in with your thoughts on this world-changing event. We want to know what you think, too! We also ask that you write with grace and patience for your fellow commenters.

The snuffing of Osama bin Laden’s life has left White House officials beaming, news reporters busy and the thumbs of Twitterers raw. I can’t blame any of them. After all, this is one of the biggest events of the last decade. When I got the call Sunday night and turned on the television, I could hardly believe it was true, even though it was in bold print across the bottom of the screen: “Bin Laden Killed by Navy Seals.” My heart leapt with joy.

But as the night rolled on and I watched the reports come in and then President Obama speak, I found myself flooded with twin emotions. On the one hand, I was elated that a man responsible for so many deaths was finally brought to justice. On the other hand, I was deeply saddened knowing that someone who by all accounts never confessed Christ had passed from life to death.

I began to question my reactions, asking myself which emotion was more appropriate, more Christian? Should I rejoice at bin Laden’s death ... or mourn it?

After the announcement was made that the world’s most infamous terrorist was indeed dead, the Twitter-sphere blew up. As many as 4,000 tweets per second posted to the social networking site—each one a 140-character reaction to an event that undoubtedly deserved more. For many Christians, it seemed they were not wrestling with how they should feel. Celebration was their clear choice.

Pastor Rick Warren sent out Proverbs 21:15, which says, "When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers." Coincidentally, The Atlantic reported that Warren’s Scripture choice became the #3 most tweeted verse on this subject. Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice tweeted: “Crank this up as you celebrate the termination of bin Laden”

I admit that there's a part of me that wants to pump my fist, signal a flyover and spit on the dead man’s corpse. But is this an appropriate response for a Christian, to celebrate the death of the wicked? Or, to push it further, can a Christian ever celebrate the death of a non-believer?

I’m reminded of the words of Ezekiel: “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” (33:11, TNIV). The outcome that God desired and we should have too is that while Osama bin Laden was still breathing, he would have rejected doing any more evil and confessed Christ. This would have been cause for a true celebration—even the angels in heaven would have rejoiced (Luke 15:7). Anything short of this is a tragedy.

If nothing else, the propensity we feel to celebrate his death unveils the human tendency to want retributive justice for the sins of others but not for our own sins. Christians claim to believe all humans—yes, even Jesus-followers—deserve death (Romans 6:23). Justice demands such a penalty from each one of us. But we don’t want justice for ourselves; we want grace. Luckily, God has provided such grace through Christ.

“Rejoicing in the death of another, however wicked, involves forgetting the depths of our own depravity and the astonishing reality of our own salvation,” wrote Gideon Strauss of the Center for Public Justice in response to bin Laden’s death.

When a Christian points her finger in the face of the wicked getting what they deserve and shouts for joy, she is only revealing that she has forgotten her own need for grace. How can we celebrate God’s saving grace in our own lives on Sunday morning and celebrate retributive justice for others on Sunday evening? Is this not the ultimate hypocrisy?

While the situation will be clearer as more details are revealed, it seems the operation that killed bin Laden was likely in the bounds of government (Romans 13). Yet when a government must bear the sword, its Christian citizens must stand behind it weeping.

And when justice is served to those who wish only to harm others—as it was last night—we may perhaps express relief. Relief in knowing innocent people woke up to a safer world this morning. But relief ... not celebration. God loves those innocents, and I believe He desires to see them free from fear and violence. Yet even as our spirits lift knowing that this man will do no more evil, our eyes should burst forth with weeping knowing that bin Laden will likely spend eternity like he spent his life: separated from the true God.

What do you think the Christian response is to bin Laden's death?

Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer whose work has appeared in outlets such as USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor and He is author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet.

Top Comments


Angela Duerksen commented…

I'm not sure, butisn't there a verse in the Bible that talks about how God can give people over to their depravity? As in, he knows there are just some people that aren't going to accept Him, who are overcomeby evil and who will do nothing but choose evil? I could be mistaken, I don't know the exact verse. I don't want to say God just gives up on people, but I think he knows what's in people's hearts and sometimes their hearts are just permanently hardened. My first reaction to OBL's death was, honestly, to rejoice a little. But I felt a little weird about it. Maybe I remembered seeing terrorists rejoicing and burning the American flag in the streets after the deaths of innocent Americans (of course,OBL wasn't innocent,and neither are we). I didn't want to sink to that level, andexperiencing death around me has always been a sad occasion. So I guess it felt weird to celebrate the death of another human being.

But maybe we analyze it too much. What will we do if we don't fight back? If good does nothing, evil conquers and destroys.I don't believe Jesus was a pacifist, at least not in the modern sense of the word (and I'm sure he also doesn't delight in war). He believes in peace (He's the Prince of Peace), but he's also the captain of the angel army. There has to be some means toget to peace... and you can't always bring aboutpeace by only being peaceful, especially if there are those in the world who want nothing but to wage war on the "weak" and peaceful. If evil wins, there is no real peace (Maybe a false peace where the evil have conquered the world and show some "benevolence" to the conquered...a dictatorshipor nanny state comes to mind). The peaceful have to do what's right to protect what matters, and sometimes that can get dirty. And "loving" doesn't always mean talking, accommodating, tolerating, indulging, mushy feel-good stuff. Love is love, but it doesn't condone evil and the killing of innocent people, no matterhow much empathy or understandingwe may feel forOBL'stragic upbringing and circumstance.

This made me think of an article with an interesting perspective, called "Tribes", by Bill Whittle:

Anyways, that was my rant. Hope it made some sense.



jake commented…

i am sure Jonathan Merrit is a great dude and a nice guy. But why do I care what someone who has spent the last ten years growing up and sipping lattes thinks about UBL. I have seen my friends die, carried men who have their legs blown off, and notified families of their loss. You can see the last ten years on my face and I can feel it in my body. I want to hear from someone like me. Sometimes this magazine is really just 'Relevant' for effiminate hipster boys who hang out at starbucks and chide each other on their music choices.


Harrison Pierce commented…

Adolph Hitler thought himself a Christian, even more so after surviving multipleassassination attempts did he think that God's hand was over him. It was part of his M.O. to rid the world of the "evil" Jews in the name of Christ (whether or not it was a political facing or not to have that stance, most of those following Hitler thought themselves Christians as well.) and to throw gas on the fire of the "christian duty" of ridding the planet of Jews, the Nazi's republished the book by fellow Jew hater Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies. Hence, the "christians" led the way for the holocaust. which in fact were not Christians following the Spirit and teachings of The Christ, but rather theConstantine-ism of the church culture that happened whenEmperor Constantine "converted" after seeing the sign of the cross before a battle and felt it a sign from the Christian God for his protection (paraphrasing this account of course), just as the same thought process occured during the crusades...

Kritika Dwivedi


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