In the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, there have been a lot of verses flying around the Internet lately. It’s been a virtual sword drill… the Proverbs People vs. the Ezekiel Army.
Here are the basic verses and views of each side:
The Proverbs People
“When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.’ (Proverbs 21:15)
“When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.” (Proverbs 11:10)
The key argument that the Proverbs People make is that it is good and right and natural to rejoice when justice is done.
The Ezekiel Army
Say to them, ‘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. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11)
“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)
The key argument that the Ezekiel Army makes is that we should not rejoice in bin Laden’s death because God doesn’t. Rather, we should mourn a life that was unrepentant and wasted.
So who’s right? It seems like the Bible is contradicting itself. How are we to reconcile these two passages?
First, we need to understand how to interpret the Proverbs. The Proverbs, unlike other books in the BIble, are less about “God’s promises” and more about “this-is-the-way-life-is-so-you’d-better-understand-it-so-you-can-live-successfully.” Wow. That was a lot of hyphens.
In other words, when the writer of Proverbs says…
“Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” (Prov. 23:13-14)
…it doesn’t mean that if you beat the living daylights out of your kids with a stick they will be saved. It also doesn’t mean that you should “beat the hell out of them”. When Proverbs says…
“The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.’ (Prov. 22:7)
…it doesn’t mean that you are literally the slave to the bank.
Proverbs tells us “the way that life is” or “the way that life works.” God has woven a natural order of things into the fabric of nature. There are causes and effects. The are actions and reactions. Proverbs helps us understand what those are and how they work.
In the case of children, if we leave them undisciplined, they will literally become “hellish” little people (and hellish big people, if left unchecked). And to the parents who are squeamish about spanking, we are assured that, though they may cry, our children will not die if we spank them. Having raised two boys through the Spanking-Years, I can assure you this is the case. I was even thanked by my oldest recently for being a tough disciplinarian – he said he was glad he was disciplined because he sees the negative impact a lack of discipline has had on some of his friends.
In the case of the bank, Proverbs isn’t teaching about or condoning slavery, it is merely revealing a condition that exists whether we realize it or not: if you say you own your home, yet you have a mortgage, you don’t own diddly. Your house is owned by the bank. Don’t believe me? Stop paying those mortgage payments and see how long you’ll be living in “your” house that you “own.” Proverbs is just telling us the way that it it. If you have debt, the bank owns you. You don’t have to like it. You just have to understand that it’s true (and, by way of inference, not put yourself in that position).
So how does all this relate to the death of Osama bin Laden? The verses from Proverbs indicate a reality. When bad people are brought to justice, when guilty people are punished, when evil people and oppressors are wiped from the face of the earth, people celebrate. They rejoice. They are joyful. That’s just the way it is. Have you ever worked at an organization with a person who didn’t pull their weight or where you had a boss who was cruel. Were you there when they were fired? Did you do a happy dance? Of course you did!
We are wired to celebrate justice. We are wired to rejoice when evil is punished. We sing along with the Munchkins: “Ding, dong, the Witch is dead! Which old witch? The Wicked Witch! Ding, dong, the Wicked Witch is Dead!”
So how, then do we reconcile the verses in Proverbs with the verses in Ezekiel?
While Proverbs tells us the way that it is, Ezekiel helps us understand the heart of God. On the one hand, God is the God of justice. He judges the wicked and repays the evildoer. But at the same time, God is a God of mercy. Perhaps this passage from 2 Peter will help shed some more light on this…
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” (2 Peter 3:8-10)
Peter tell us that the Day of the Lord is coming – that great and terrible Day when God will come and judge the wicked and pour out His wrath. Why hadn’t he come yet (why hasn’t he come yet – 2,000 years later)? Because God doesn’t want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
God desires that people turn to Him. Now, the reality is that many won’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that some will. So it is very true that God takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” but rather hopes that “that they turn from their ways and live.” This doesn’t mean that God is squeamish about having to mete out punishment for the wicked and the guilty. Rather, God wants them to repent so that they can save themselves from His awful wrath.
If you are a parent, you understand this. We have always punished our boys for defiance. My youngest was being especially defiant one day. I gave him a final warning. Did he repent? Nope. He waded in to defiance again. Did I want to punish this beautiful child? Nope. Did he beg for mercy? Absolutely. In fact, as I was about to spank him, he pointed out the window and shouted, “Look, Dad! A rainbow!!! PLEASE LET ME LOOK AT THE RAINBOW!!!” I had to work really hard at not laughing out loud as his attempt to avoid the consequences for his actions.
We enjoyed the rainbow for a minute or tow, then it was back to the bedroom to do the deed. I too no pleasure in spanking my son that day, just as God took no pleasure in the death of Osama bin Laden. However, I did not shirk my responsibilities as a father because I understand that the Proverb is true that says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away” (Prov. 22:15). And God did not shirk his responsibilities as judge in allowing justice to be done on an evil-doer.
So let us rejoice in the justice. And let us be sober-minded in remembering that while we serve a God of mercy who desires all to come to repentance, but that He is a holy God who will not be mocked – “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).