God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. “Do I actually delight in the death of the wicked, declares the sovereign LORD? Do I not prefer that he turn from his wicked conduct and live?” (Ezk 18:23; cf. 33:11 NET).
He does destroy, however, those who oppose him. “[T]he wicked man will die for his iniquity” (Ezk 33:8).
He tells us to take care how we view the fall of the wicked. “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and when he stumbles do not let your heart rejoice, lest the LORD see it, and be displeased, and turn his wrath away from him” (Pro 24:17-18).
At the same time, “The godly will rejoice when they see vengeance carried out; they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked” (Psa 58:10).
If someone objects that this is Old Testament, let us have recourse to the New: “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has pronounced judgment against her on your behalf!” (Rev 18:20).
What appear to be two strains of contradictory sentiments in Scripture is actually the difference between personal and divine vengeance, as expressed in Romans 12:19, “Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
The people of Israel stood on the banks of the Red Sea and watched the destruction of the Egyptian army. They rejoiced and sang a song of triumph (Ex 15:1-21).
It’s a given that the U.S. is not God’s people, as was Israel in the day. The church now is God’s people. At the same time, justice and judgment are concepts wider than the church, and God’s people may rejoice in God’s judgment when justice, in any form, is done. That justice was done in this case there can be little doubt.
A Jewish saying rightly claims that when we try to be more just than God, we will be unjust. To deny justice by criticizing the removal of heinous men like bin Laden, or to disallow the proper expression of relief and joy at the victory of God’s cause, however broadly that may be interpreted, seems an attempt to be holier than God. (Let critics note: this is not an identification of U.S. interests and God’s cause, but the simple act of justice of removing a murderer.)
There’s an old saw — and a wrong one at that — that we can’t ever get mad because we don’t have enough smarts to know when wrath is righteous and when it’s not. We ought always to assume that it’s not, therefore, it’s said. By the same token, it appears some would judge others as incapable of joy in the judgment of God. That some rejoice in a personal vengeance is not to be doubted. But neither should all rejoicing in the death of a murderer be deemed as wrong.
The Scriptures teach it and in fact call us to rejoice in God’s judgment of the wicked. Neither he nor we are glad that someone failed to repent, but the demonstration of God’s sovereignty is always a glad event for his people.
Whether your rejoicing hints at personal revenge or find satisfaction in the vengeance of God, only you and God know.
Next, and perhaps more importantly: Bin Laden and the Mission of God. Sign up to the site to ensure you get the second installment.