God, the Supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him over the people, for his own glory and the public good; and to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defense and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil-doers. (Westminster Confession of Faith, 23.1)
The evil man responsible for the murders of 3,000 innocent men, women, and children–created in God’s image–on September 11, 2001, has finally been brought to justice, after almost a decade of hard work and sacrifice.
I’m a little bit annoyed by all the Christians on Facebook saying stuff like “God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked”, or “Do not gloat when your enemy falls”, or with their Rob-Bell-esque “Jesus loves Osama, too”; or those consumed by fear on the other side, who say this will only lead to further retaliation. It seems to me these Christians are thoroughly confused about what it means to be a Christian as well as a citizen of the planet Earth.
“No creed by Jesus” bumper-sticker religion isn’t going to help anybody here. What’s really helpful in times like this is to realize that you’re not the first Christian to think about these things. Dead folks like St. Paul, Augustine, Luther and Calvin though about them, too, and we would do well to consider what they wrote. Namely, I am speaking of the Reformed Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms.
God may not “take pleasure” in the death of this wicked man, but he sure as hell ordained it, both decretively and providentially. In the Noahic covenant, which applies to all individuals, no matter what their religion, God ordained civil justice in this way:
“And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
“Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind…” (Ge. 9:5, 6, NIV)
Paul discusses the role of the God-ordained civil kingdom in Romans 13:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. (Rm. 13:1-5, NIV)
(For all you Republicans out there, you’d be interested to know that Paul goes on to explain why taxes are also God-ordained.)
The job of the magistrate is to enforce the moral law, and this fact is God-ordained.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that individual believers should turn the other cheek when they are wronged by an evil person. He also said “Love your enemies”. This would apply to you if your spouse or child were killed on 9/11 and one day you decided to go for a hike along the Afghan/Pakistan border and turning a corner on the hill you ran into the man who murdered your family. If you wanted to obey Jesus’ command, you may choose to turn the other cheek. (Or if he was wounded like the traveler in the parable of the Good Samaritan, you could choose to show him some love by bandaging his wounds.) But the United States government must not turn the other cheek, or it would be an illegitimate magistrate, failing to fulfill its purpose to protecting the weak and vulnerable. The job of a soldier is a legitimate job for a Christian, and the armed forces are a legitimate institution for a nation of peace-loving people to have.
This is not about a blood feud between two warring clans who don’t even remember what the grudge is about. This is about justice, and as far as millions of people are concerned, the requirements of justice have finally been met. A more proper attitude for these Christians would be to “rejoice with those who rejoice”–all those who are finally seeing some closure after the untimely death of their loved ones, and to rejoice that our brave men and women in the armed forces can maybe start to come home now.