by Al Maxey

Issue #486 ------- May 6, 2011
The common interests of states and individuals alike
demand that good and evil receive their just rewards.

Euripides {485-406 B.C.}

The Death of Osama bin Laden
What Should Be a Christian's Response?

As almost everyone knows by now, the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, who was behind the deaths of countless thousands of people, and who was undoubtedly plotting to murder a great many more, was killed this past Sunday (May 1, 2011) in a daring raid on his compound in Pakistan by a group of Navy SEALS (from their elite Team Six). His death has, as you might imagine, generated a flood of strong emotions from people throughout the world. Those individuals within the fold of radical Islam are infuriated, and they will most certainly seek to retaliate against Americans and American interests in some way! On the other hand, just as these very people danced in the streets with joy as our nation came under attack on September 11, 2001, so now have a great many of our own citizens flooded the streets, singing and dancing, at the news of Osama's demise. National and religious fervor are hard to contain when significant events impacting both occur. It is simply part of our divinely designed human nature. We were created with emotions ... and we tend to express them! At times, these emotional displays will be appropriate and consistent with God's will and purpose for our lives. At other times, however, they will not.

By the way, some of you might find it interesting that on May 1, 1945 the first announcement went out that Adolf Hitler was dead (although most of the world did not get the news until the following day). Hitler took his own life, while cowering inside a bunker in Berlin, on April 30. Both announcements were released on May 1 -- and they were 66 years apart!! Thus, on the first day of the fifth month sixty-six years ago, we saw the fall of an evil man!! I think you can see where some are now taking this -- this can be manipulated to form the number 666. I personally don't see any spiritual significance in this, but some obviously will.

Over the past few days I have heard from a great many of my fellow disciples throughout our great nation (and in other nations as well), and they have indicated that they are struggling with the emotions they are having over this news of Osama bin Laden's death. Some are conflicted: their first impulse is to rejoice, but then they feel guilty for doing so! Are we not supposed to love our enemies, and even pray for them? If this man is judged by God to be unfit for heaven (which seems quite likely), is this occasion for us to feel such joy that we sing and dance in the streets?! Our human nature longs to respond that way, but our spiritual nature seems to question that response (at least, this is the case with some disciples). Others feel there is no reason for God's people to withhold their jubilation over the demise of one who arrayed himself against God and His people, and who was the very personification of evil. Indeed, some, who are quite vocal in their expressions of hatred for their own brethren (if such disciples dare to differ with their own party or personal perceptions), have not restrained their expressions of contempt for this man. On the Contending for the Faith Internet discussion site, for example, Kent Bailey stated, "Rather than shooting him in the head, they should have used a flame thrower on him prior to dispatching him to hell" [Monday, May 2, message #38539]. Doug Post felt the SEALS should have taken whatever was left of his head and upper torso, attached it to a pig, and dangled both from a helicopter as it flew over the heads of the people of that region [Monday, May 2, message #38540]. I must in all honesty confess that, as one who loves his country and was outraged by the cowardly attack against us on 9/11, there is a part of me that is tempted to utter similar invectives against this man. There is another part of me, however, that whispers, "But, is this how a Christian should respond?" And that is the question that is before us!

One Reflections reader wrote: "I have to admit that when I first heard the news my initial thought was, 'I hope that man burns in hell.' But, now I'm wondering if this is the mindset a Christian should really have. As a United States citizen, my emotions want to rejoice in the events of the last 24 hours. However, I have to wonder if God would really want me rejoicing over such events." I'm sure many of us wonder the same thing! Several have asked me if the Scriptures provide us any guidance on this matter. Frankly, I believe they do, although at first glance that guidance appears somewhat contradictory.

In Prov. 24:17 we find this advice: "Do not gloat when your enemy falls, and when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice." On the other hand, in Prov. 11:10 we read: "When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy." In Psalm 58, David says we are to rejoice in the triumph of justice. "The righteous will rejoice when he sees the retribution; he will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked" (vs. 10). When God drowned the army of Pharaoh in the sea, Moses and Miriam led the Israelites in singing praise to God for this act (Exodus 15). Indeed, "Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing," and they sang praise to God for killing the enemy (vs. 20-21). Singing and dancing and rejoicing at the death of one's enemies? Yes ... and there is no indication God was displeased with this display. Yet, we have to acknowledge the fact that Scripture also reveals: "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezekiel 33:11; cf. 18:23). Yet, we certainly know that our Lord God has on many occasions brought about the death of the wicked, and will do so on a grand scale at the final reckoning, to which the angels will declare, "They deserve it" (Rev. 16:6). When Satan was cast out, the heavens and all who dwell in them were called to rejoice (Rev. 12:12). "When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous" (Prov. 21:15). Therefore, as already noted, on the surface it certainly appears that conflicting messages are being sent forth to God's people! Deeper study and reflection, however, reveal that this is not the case.

The real issue here is a matter of motivation. What precisely lies behind the various emotions we feel and display when an event like the death of Osama bin Laden occurs? For example, do we feel vindicated or vindictive? There is a difference, and a rather significant one! When a wrong is righted, when justice triumphs over injustice, when good conquers evil, those who are on the Lord's side experience a sense of relief, and even joy, that He has vindicated His name and His people. At the same time, we take no pleasure in the fact that when God renders some judgment against the wicked this involves the physical death, and eternal destruction, of men and women who, for whatever reason, made some horrible choices in their lives. And, frankly, this ought to be sobering, for there, but for the grace of God, go you and I. Yes, Osama bin Laden deserved his fate ... but, what fate does Al Maxey deserve at the hands of a Just and Holy God? Before I become too smug over the destruction of another, I need to do some sober reflection on my own unholiness!! Such self-evaluation will hopefully prevent me from gloating over the death of one like bin Laden, though I can certainly find cause for some degree of rejoicing that God has acted in such a way that one who harmed so many people is now in no position to hurt anyone else ever again. Yes, Scripture says we may rejoice when good prevails over evil, but Scripture also warns us not to "gloat" over those who've experienced the wrath of God! Keil & Delitzsch, in their commentary on the statement made in Prov. 24:17, declare it to be a "warning against a vindictive disposition" [vol. 6, p. 136]. The Pulpit Commentary fully agrees -- "It is a warning against vindictiveness ... which is warmly censured and repudiated" [vol. 9, p. 460]. However, this is quite different from finding joy in God's righteous judgment against the forces of evil and those who have aligned themselves with these dark powers. "Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you!" (Rev. 18:20).

It might surprise some to hear this, but our nation's leaders had a God-given right to take the action they did against the evil terrorist Osama bin Laden. After all, as the apostle Paul declares by the inspiration of the Spirit, our secular government "does not bear the sword for nothing" ... Indeed, it is "God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer" (Rom. 13:4). Therefore, I praise our God for His action against this evil individual, and I thank God that He kept His agents of wrath (in this case the US Navy SEALS) safe from harm during this operation. I rejoice that evil has suffered another blow, and that God has avenged the blood of the innocent who have been slaughtered for many years at the bidding, and at the hands, of bin Laden. I take no delight in his death, however, for with that death comes the certainty that he is now past the point where he could perhaps one day repent and turn from his evil ways and find salvation! At the moment of his death his eternal fate was sealed, and that is a tragedy that should touch the heart of any Christian, no matter who the wicked deceased may be! When God said, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezekiel 33:11; cf. 18:23), He immediately told us why -- "I would rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die?!" God takes no pleasure in their death, because their death assures they are now "beyond hope!!" Our God "does not wish for anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). You and I ought to feel the very same way. Thus, when one dies before turning from his evil ways, this is a genuine tragedy. It should deeply sadden us. On the other hand, we can certainly find cause for rejoicing in witnessing the action of our just God in vindicating His holiness and avenging His people. Brethren, the reality is -- when faced with an event like the death of Osama bin Laden, we, as children of God, will experience mixed emotions! This is normal, and it need not distress us! However, may we ever guard against gloating over, or evidencing malicious pleasure at, judgment rendered against another. Remember: there but for the grace of God ...

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Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

(A 193 page book by Al Maxey)

One Bread, One Body
An Examination of Eucharistic
Expectation, Evolution and Extremism

(A 230 page book by Al Maxey)

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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Brother Al, I received my signed copy of your book Down, But Not Out in the mail today, and I just wanted to say Thanks!! I appreciate your work, and also the change of attitudes and the graciousness you are helping bring to the Churches of Christ.

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Dear Brother Al, I would like a copy of your sermon: "Overcoming Narrow Fellowship." I preached a sermon along this same line a few years ago, thinking I had adequately prepared the congregation. Wrong!! Things were never the same after that sermon, and I was eventually informed that I would be terminated. I'm now no longer preaching. I'm not bitter, though, for I'm now in contact with far more people via my Facebook postings than ever before! I can't go into a lot of depth on there, but I can plant some seed along the way, and I get a lot of favorable response.

From an Elder in Wyoming:

Dear Brother Al, I just finished listening to your sermon "Overcoming Narrow Fellowship." All I can say is -- AMEN!!! Right on target!! Thank you, brother. Also, I continue to appreciate your writings. Keep up the good work.

From an Elder in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, Thank you for the in-depth studies you provide for so many people! There are a few I don't agree with, and I plan to study them more and then write to you about them, but I agree whole-heartedly with almost all of them! I also heard you at The Tulsa Workshop. May God bless you, and may His Spirit guide you in your life and your writings.

From a Reader in Ottawa, Canada:

Dear Brother Al, Your last Reflections article, titled "Beauty of Brotherly Unity," is one that I would like, with your permission, to put on my blog. I especially liked your following statement: "If we ever hope to attract the lost to the fellowship of the saved, we had better be giving off a 'good and pleasant' odor! Oil, of course, is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and any priesthood of believers who've had the Holy Spirit poured out liberally upon them, running down and covering them, provides a spiritual fragrance that draws people to such a fellowship. As fragrant as the sacred oil used in priestly consecration is the odor of brotherly love." Amen, Al.

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Brother Maxey, I have written to you before, and just can't explain how I am enjoying your articles!! As I've told you, I recently left a tradition-bound congregation after decades of worshipping there. We are now a small, but strong, group of about 30 or so who are striving to learn and grow and unbind all those traditions! I am almost resentful of all the years I spent in bondage, when I need not have been! However, we're studying all these issues and we're amazed at the changes we have made just in the past 9 months. Thank you, Bro. Maxey, for all your hard work. You are helping so many Christians to break away from those chains and to finally feel the freedom that is in Christ Jesus. I can't even describe the joy I now feel. Thank you!!

From a Missionary in Peru:

Brother Al, Thank you for the lovely Reflections that you have written this past month! Also, I am really looking forward to reading your new book -- One Bread, One Body -- and am especially glad that it is now available on Kindle (I don't have any more room on my bookshelves). Perhaps your book will confirm some of my own thoughts on the Communion, or suggest ideas to break free from religious rigidity!! Every blessing to you, brother!

From a Minister in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you for your article "Deacons in the Church" (Reflections #484)! I am the one who wrote the article you referenced in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, and am also the author of the book you mentioned to your readers: Deacons: Male and Female? -- A Study for Churches of Christ. Your article summed things up very well. Our congregation dissolved the formal diaconate "office" 20+ years ago and freed up the congregation to serve. It has worked very well. We have a very high involvement and nearly no hierarchy. Somewhere around 2005-6 we began using women freely in our worship, which has also been a blessing to us. Our public prayer life has improved 200%!! God is good!!

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