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What Would People Think?

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Christian Thing To Do

So in the comments to my last post, Barzelay called me out on excusing my un-Christian joy at another man's death because I'm "only human." Much as I appreciate Mike's defense of me (and Jeff's agreement with me), I think Barzelay's right. If something's wrong, then it's wrong. My fallibility is not a moral shield that makes it ok.

So is it wrong for me to rejoice in the death of evil men? I don't immediately have an answer. The man who died, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, was a vicious man who killed people in gruesome, spectacular ways in order to sow the seeds of chaos and suffering. Were he alive today, he would continue to plot more suffering for the sake of his sectarian agenda. It's difficult to mourn the death of a man like that.

But then again, I'm repulsed by the cavalier attitude toward death shown by some Christians these days. Case in point: Left Behind the video game. (Hat tip: Jeff, via Barzelay. And also Nathan Chapman). A shoot-em-up game where you convert or kill the enemies of Christ. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition, as Newsweek jokes. What were its creators THINKING? I'm embarrassed.....no, ashamed on the behalf of all Christians for this crap.

And I can't ignore the words of Jesus:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

That's the standard I aim to live up to. "Loving" and "praying for" my enemies would seem to rule out rejoicing at their death.

So what's the right response then? Is relief okay? Iraq will probably still spiral into civil war without him, but at least it's less likely now that he's gone. Is it okay for me to rejoice about that?

I ask this not in a spirit of defensiveness, but in soul-searching. Like I said, Barzelay's right. I should not be rejoicing in another's suffering and especially not in his eternal damnation, however natural that reaction may be when considering such a monster.

So what's the proper response? What's the Christian response? (Please, no snide remarks about how many Christians act. I'm talking about the response Christians should have.) I'm asking you, my friends, Christian or otherwise, to help me figure this out.

Your thoughts?


  • Well, you ask a sticky question. And I think the response needs to come down to the ol' "love the sinner, hate the sin" idea.

    You're right to point out that Zarqawi was a "vicious man". But I don't think we are in any place to say that he was a bad man, at least not in the "eternal justice" sense of the word. I was a little troubled by your original post on the issue, but I'm even more troubled by your present assertion that Zarqawi met his eternal damnation. The truth of the matter is, we don't know his eternal fate. When it comes to the souls of others there is no such thing as reasonable speculation. Because it's not for us to judge. We are utterly incapable of the task.

    Oh sure, we can say he was a sinner. But no more so then we can say that about ourselves and everyone else.

    But even more importantly, just as we are all sinners, we are all loved by God the same. God loved Zarqawi just as much as he loves anyone else. And just like God forgives our sins, so too could he have forgiven Zarqawi's.

    So what's the proper response? Be happy that the sin is gone, but pray for the sinner. Rejoice that the pain itself is lessened. Your hate of the suffering need not extend to its cause, and your joy at the cessation of suffering need not extend to the death of this man. Because we hate the sin and pain we rejoice when it ends. Because we love the sinner we must pray for him, and hope that in God's love somehow he will become our brother in Christ.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 6/10/2006 12:52 AM  

  • I think it is appropriate to rejoice in all the lives that supposedly will be saved by Zarqawi's death. But not in the death itself, nor any associated pain or suffering on his part.

    But what was so troubling about the last post was that you were assuming the role of God by granting yourself forgiveness even while still committing the sin. You were taking God's grace for granted. If that's okay, then what is to stop anyone from doing any craven act whatsoever, as long as he can say to himself before doing it, "What does it matter, anyway? God will forgive me."

    Surely you know that I wouldn't suddenly start thinking that you're a bad person because of this. In fact, if I didn't have such a high opinion of you, I probably would have disregarded your post entirely. But it was quite out of character for you, and you know that I rarely stay quiet when I have even the slightest opinion about something.

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 6/10/2006 1:40 AM  

  • And as for what the ideal response would be, I think it is this:

    You should lament the death of another human. You should lament that he may have died without having accepted God's grace. You should lament that the efforts of you and other Christians on this Earth are inadequate to the task of evangelism that God has set before you, so that there are people out there who stray so far from God's moral structure. You should pity Zarqawi for the spiritual turmoil that must have caused him to act the way that he did. You should rejoice that other lives are expected to be saved through Zarqawi's death. You should rejoice that other souls might not be induced to a wayward path by such a misguided man. You should rejoice that, whatever other issues and uncertainties surround the event, it was in God's plan for Zarqawi to die. And you should rejoice that every passing day and every event that occurs brings the world a little bit closer to Christ's return.

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 6/10/2006 1:50 AM  

  • Matt, you're right that I can never know for certain the state of another's soul & that it is for God, not me, to judge. Nonetheless, I find it highly unlikely that he repented of his horrible deeds. The Bible, and common experience, teaches that people can reach such a hardness of heart that they entirely shut out God & love (since "God is Love" that's kind of redundant). That's a very difficult state to reach (if even someone like the apostle Paul could be converted) but it seems clear to me that it does exist. And I find it quite believable that Zarqawi reached that point.


    But that is a side-point which I would rather not get drawn into. Matt and Barzelay, thanks for the responses. There is much profound Truth (and no falseness that I can see) in them.

    It's a lot to think about and I shall have to spend a lot of time mulling over it.

    (any other responses are of, of course, appreciated)

    By Blogger Ben, at 6/10/2006 8:26 PM  

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