Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden and Anthropomorphism

It seems everyone is ecstatic about the news of Osama bin Laden's demise. The primary instigator of terrorism against America is now dead. Should we, as Christians, join in the party?

Proverbs 24:17 admonishes us, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles." Why? As analogues of God, and even more importantly, as a people united to Christ, we must think God's thoughts after Him. What might be the Lord's sentiments in this case? Ezekiel 18:32 tells us, "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live." In another part of Ezekiel, the Lord says, "Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?" (33:11).

What we have here is a case of anthropomorphism. Scripture teaches that God orders the affairs of the universe and nothing comes to pass without Him actively willing it and providing the potency for its fruition. This is also absolutely the case in the area of redemption, wherein God has elected those whom He has foreloved and passes over those that He has reserved for perdition. However, this does not negate the fact that God desires all to be saved. This is God's prescriptive will. What God chooses to effect in reality is His decretive will. Does this make God as somehow confused? Certainly not! But it does make us human, and this sort of language is God's means of condescending to our level in order to reveal to us the facets of His character that He wants revealed.

God is compassionate and He wants His people to be the same: "The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made" (Ps. 145:9). God also desires humility, the recognition of our creaturehood. Who was it that made you you and bin Laden himself? Could God not have made you into an internationally-hated terrorist as well? As it is, only by the hidden wisdom of God do I not blog about you today—nor you about me! So let us adopt a sober, God-fearing disposition to this latest eventuality.

Calvin comments on Ezekiel 18:32:

"But the Prophets words are plain, for God testifies with grief that he willeth not the death of a mortal. I answer, that there is no absurdity, as we said before, in God's undertaking a twofold character, not that he is two-faced himself, as those profane dogs blurt out against us, but because his counsels are incomprehensible by us. This indeed ought to be fixed, that before the foundation of the world we were predestinated either to life or death. Now because we cannot ascend to that height, it is needful for God to conform himself to our ignorance, and to descend in some way to us since we cannot ascend to him. When Scripture so often says that God has heard, and inquires, no one is offended: all pass over those forms of speech securely, and confess them adopted from human language. (Genesis 16:11, and often.) Very often, I say, God transfers to himself the properties of man, and this is admitted universally without either offense or controversy. Although this manner of speaking is rather harsh: God came to see, (Genesis 11:5,) when he announces that he came to inquire about things openly known; it is easily excused, since nothing is less in accordance with his nature: for the solution is at hand, namely, that God speaks metaphorically, and adapts his speech to the convenience of men. Now why will not the same reasoning avail in the present case? for with respect to the law and the whole teaching of the prophets, God announces his wish that all should be saved. And surely we consider the tendency of the heavenly teaching, we shall find that all are promiscuously called to salvation. For the law was a way of life, as Moses testifies, This is the way, walk you in it: again, Whosoever has done those things shall live in them: and, again, This is your life. (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19; Deuteronomy 32:47; Leviticus 18:5; Isaiah 30:21.) Then of his own accord God offers himself as merciful to his ancient people, so that this heavenly teaching ought to be life-giving. But what is the Gospel? It is God's power unto salvation to every believer, says Paul. (Romans 1:16.) Therefore God delighteth not in the death of him who dieth, if he repent at his teaching. But if we wish to penetrate to his incomprehensible counsel, this will be another objection: Oh! but in this way God is chargeable with duplicity; — but I have denied this, though he takes up a twofold character, because this was necessary for our comprehension. Meanwhile Ezekiel announces this very truly as far as doctrine is concerned, that God wills not the death of him that perishes: for the explanation follows directly afterwards, be you converted and live. Why does not God delight in the death of him who perishes? Because he invites all to repentance and rejects no one. Since this is so, it follows that he is not delighted by the death of him who perishes: hence there is nothing in this passage doubtful or thorny, and we should also hold that we are led aside by speculations too deep for us. For God does not wish us to inquire into his secret. Counsels: His secrets are with himself, says Moses, (Deuteronomy 29:29,) but this book for ourselves and our children. Moses there distinguishes between the hidden counsel of God, (which if we desire to investigate too curiously we shall tread on a profound abyss,)and the teaching delivered to us. Hence let us leave to God his own secrets, and exercise ourselves as far as we can in the law, in which God's will is made plain to us and to our children."


  1. Your Proverb and Ezekiel passages raise a few question for me in light of the present issue of the death of bin Laden.

    Proverbs 24:17-18 seem to apply more to the fall and stumbling of an enemy who remains alive. How can God, in displeasure over the rejoicing of the righteous, turn away his anger from an enemy who has died? Are we to take this as a warning that, in bin Laden's case, because Christians rejoice in his death, that God might grant renewed success to al Qaida?

    Regarding your Ezekiel passages, I grant that we are not to rejoice that bin Laden is now suffering eternal conscious torment, but how are we to commend the justice in the death of the murderer of many, and the leader of those who killed tens of thousands in his name? Are we to stand by stoically and nod? How would the loved ones of bin Laden's victims perceive our seeming unaffected disinterestedness by justice being served in their case? Have we no obligation to not only weep with those who weep, but to also rejoice with those who rejoice when justice has been served(Rom. 12:15)? We are still under God's post-deluge covenant with the earth that it is just that "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image." If what you write is accurate, how are we to practically minister to the families of the victims of Osama bin Laden, if we are not to rejoice with them that justice has finally come to the one who has robbed them of their loved ones?

  2. Great post, brother, with much needed balance and sobriety.

  3. John, the Proverbs passage is actually the humanized response (analogy/ectypal) of the divine counterpart (archetypal) in the Ezekiel passages.

    In God's prescriptive will, He finds no pleasure in the destruction of His enemies, though He effects it anyhow in His decretive will.

    That should pour on some sobriety on our reactions to situations like these, while not neglecting to show support and compassion to those in need of them.

  4. UT, please dumb down your first sentence in your reply to my comment. Thanks.

  5. Brother, it just means the Proverbs passage is what it means for us humans to do what God does in Ezekiel.

    Luke 6:27-36.

    Rejoicing in the justice of God must be tempered with the consideration that God is also merciful.

    Knowing the depravity of the human heart, it would be all too easy for us to actually rejoice in the evil that befell an enemy than to see the hand of God's justice in the situation.

  6. Perhaps it will be of benefit to remember that God also said: "Vengeance is mine I will repay saith the Lord." From which we should remember that if we wish to rejoice in the death of such a person as Bin Laden showed himself to be we should do so less as a "tit for tat" matter and more for the sign that it is of God's justice being applied to this wicked man.

    Also, it should be remembered that in causing David to write the imprecatory psalms as songs to sung in God's worship God intended us to remind us that it is right to rejoice when the enemies of his people are brought to the appointed end. Not because we desire their harm (they are still made in the image of God) but because, in raising their hands against God's people they raise their hands against God.

    So what is the point I am making? By all means rejoice but that rejoicing needs to be kept within bounds.

  7. Trackback:

  8. As soon as I heard the news of Bin Laden's death, one of the first thoughts that came to my mind was the inevitable debate among Christians that would be going on all over the Internet. While I don't go along with those people who are rejoicing simply in the fact that he was killed and saying all sorts of hateful things about his demise, I myself rejoice in, not the fact of his death, but its consequences. No longer will he be able to spread his evil or kill innocent people; no longer will he be able to make war against democracy; and no longer will he be a cause for fear in the hearts of our people. I rejoice, not in revenge, but in justice.

    Of course I, like all Christians should, wish he had surrendered his life to Christ and repented of his evil. God says He wishes none to perish, but that all would come to repentance (II Peter 3:9). Unfortunately, he chose not to do so and instead died defending an evil cause.

    In Christ,

  9. "We cannot rejoice in the death of the wicked any more than does God (Ezek. 18:23). We may take satisfaction that temporal justice has been served, but Christians should display a sober restraint. When Christ returns, bringing infinite justice in his wake, his saints will rejoice in the death of his enemies. For now, however, he calls us to pray for our enemies, even for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). This is the day of salvation, calling sinners to repent and believe the gospel. We may delight in the temporal justice shown to evildoers, but leave the final justice to God" — Michael Horton, 'The Death of Osama bin Laden: What Kind of Justice Has Been Done?',


Related Posts with Thumbnails