For the past couple of months I've been leading a Bible study of Proverbs, a book that I read often (and memorized much of) when I was in my teens, but had never studied carefully (or methodically) as a whole until now. Tonight's study included this verse, from chapter 11:
When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices; and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness. (Prov 11:10)
Which, of course, brings to mind the question: how should one respond to the news of the death of Osama bin Laden? Mark Brumley, on his Earthly City blog, writes:
It seems clear enough that a Christian ought not to rejoice in a man's death as such. But may a Christian rejoice in a wicked man's death, insofar as he did wicked things and one is pleased that such wicked things will cease? Praying for our enemies does not seem to preclude such a thing.
Read his entire post and answer. And then perhaps ponder the fact that Proverbs, in chapter 24, states:
Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the LORD see it, and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him. (Prov. 24:17-18)
How to explain the seeming contradiction? First, the Wisdom literature is fascinating in many ways, not least because of how it wrestles with apparently competing and contradicting positions, often without arriving at a clear solution or even attempted synthesis. There are obvious tensions that aren't always resolved. Bruce Waltke, in his impressive commentary (Eerdmans, 2004), writes, "The proverb [11:10] must be held in tension with 24:17. Over a personal fallen foe one must not gloat but show love, for he is a fellow human being (cf. 25:21-22). The next proverb pair (vv. 12-13) cautions against despising anyone." But Proverbs, as a whole, makes it clear that one can surely rejoice in justice, the victory of good over evil, and the downfall of those who would kill, harm, or do violence to the innocent.
Also, it seems to me that Proverbs 11:10 is more descriptive than instructive, and the events of the past couple of days bear that out. But Proverbs 24:17 is indeed instructive; it is a call to humility and a recognition of the thin line between giving thanks for deliverance from evil and giving into the sort of pride that is itself the root of sin. Yes, we should rejoice in justice, but be soberly circumspect when it comes to the killing of those who are evil. God desires that all men be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), but he also judges justly and "will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury" (Rom. 2:6-8).
• The Judgment of God | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
• Hell and the Bible | Piers Paul Read
• The Brighter Side of Hell | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
• Are God's Ways Fair? | Ralph Martin