Home > Current Affairs > The Death of Osama Bin Laden: A Teaching Moment on the Doctrine of Vocation and the Two Kingdoms

The Death of Osama Bin Laden: A Teaching Moment on the Doctrine of Vocation and the Two Kingdoms

May 3rd, 2011
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I’ve been struck by the reactions to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. On the one extreme, we hear triumphalistic theocratic rhetoric, falling into the error of assuming, or thinking, that somehow America is “God’s chosen nation.” On the other extreme are the pacifistic, hand-wringing comments made, sadly, yes, even by some Lutherans who should know better. Why should they know better? Because we know and understand the doctrine of vocation and the doctrine of the two kingdoms.

The doctrine of vocation teaches us that all callings and stations in life are honorable and noble, from the person who changes the bed pan in a hospital, to the person who drives a taxi cab, to the soldier who does his duty in service to country and neighbor. This is why Martin Luther wrote in his treatise, “Can Soldiers Too Be Saved?

…In the same way, when I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love. But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish…

…The office of the sword is in itself right and is a divine and useful ordinance, which God does not want us to despise, but to fear, honor, and obey, under penalty of punishment, as St. Paul says in Romans 13 [:1-5]…

…Self-defense is a proper ground for fighting and therefore all laws agree that self-defense shall go unpunished; and he who kills another in self-defense is innocent in the eyes of all men…

…When the battle begins…they [soldiers] should simply commend themselves to God’s grace and adopt a Christian attitude…everyone should also say this exhortation in his heart or with his lips, “Heavenly Father, here I am, according to your divine will, in the external work and service of my lord, which I owe you first and then to my lord for your sake. I thank your grace and mercy that you have put me into a work which I am sure is not sin, but right and pleasing obedience to your will. But because I know and have learned from your gracious word that none of our good works can help us and that no one is saved as a soldier but only as a Christian, therefore, I will not in any way rely on my obedience and work, but place myself freely at the service of your will. I believe with all my heart that only the innocent blood of your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, redeems and saves me, which he shed for me in obedience to your holy will. In this faith I will live and die, fight, and do everything else. Dear Lord God the Father, preserve and strengthen this faith in me by your Spirit. Amen.” (American Edition, Vol. 46)

The other doctrine to keep in mind is the doctrine of the two kingdoms. We know that God works to save souls from hell through the “right hand kingdom” that is, within and through the Church via the means of grace, given to her to proclaim the Gospel for the salvation of sinners. This is the calling of the Church, not the state. On the other hand, it is to earthly government, the “left hand kingdom” that God gives the authority to protect and defend life, by giving to it the power of the sword, as Paul explains in Romans 13. It is this duty that our government discharged in hunting down and killing Osama Bin Laden, for the sake of defending us and our families and our nation. Bin Laden has demonstrated, for many years, a clear desire and intention to do our nation harm and proved it many times over, most dramatically on Sept. 11, 2001. We do well to remember that pacifism is not a Christian teaching. The Bible does not support it, and it is therefore indefensible.

Do we rejoice in the death of a wicked man, who from every human perspective, is facing now nothing but eternal torment and punishment in hell? No, of course not. Do we however rejoice that justice was carried out and a man who wished to kill us all is now dead? Yes, of course we do. This “no” and “yes” response is incapable of being understood without the doctrine of vocation and the two kingdoms clearly in view.

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Categories: Current Affairs
  1. May 3rd, 2011 at 06:40 | #1

    I cannot find any fault with most of what is written above. My concern remains how we as Americans, and we as Christians, RESPOND to this event.

    • May 3rd, 2011 at 06:44 | #2

      @Scott: This post is not about you, but thanks for your comment.

  2. May 3rd, 2011 at 08:11 | #3

    I entirely agree with your analysis. Also, thanks for the picture of the beautiful Viking sword.

  3. May 3rd, 2011 at 08:39 | #5

    Simply excellent.

  4. Mike Woolery
    May 3rd, 2011 at 08:41 | #6

    Well said. This helps me wrap my head around this. Would it be correct to view this also as a first article blessing from God?

    • May 3rd, 2011 at 09:18 | #7

      Mike, that’s nice said and I wish I had included that in my remarks! Thanks.

  5. May 3rd, 2011 at 09:04 | #8

    History shows us that most pacifists, when faced as individuals with direct violence and the overwhelming threat of death, abandon their pacifism as folly.

    Pacifist Colman McCarthy once said, “Everyone’s a pacifist between wars. It’s like being a vegetarian between meals. ” Pacifism is a pipe-dream that few pacifists have the courage to test in any real sense. Contrast that with Gen Douglas MacArthur who said, “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

    It is not the pacifist who truly loves peace for peace is all he knows. All the pacifist knows about war is what he has pondered in his head, read about in a book, and been told by others (almost none of them warriors or true statesmen). Instead, it is the soldier who loves peace more than any other for it is he, along with civilian survivors of war, who truly understand the horrible cauldron of war and its consequnces.

    Practically speaking, there are a few different kinds of pacifists:

    1. Pacifists who, by virtue of their time or geography, have never had to make sacrifices to preserve their pacifism. Because there are no villians, murderers, or thugs nearby to truly test their views in a practical sense, they engage in a purely abstract persuit and should remain silent about their theoretical speculations which have no real-world application.

    2. Pacifists who live peaceful lives in non-pacifists countries or near non-pacifist countries and let their non-pacifist neighbors do all the hard fighting for them so that they can enjoy their pacifism and not have to make any messy choices or serious sacrifices. These are pacifists who let others do their fighting for them and reap the benefits of war with a clear conscience, clean hands, and pleasant dreams because others bled and died on their behalf. Most of them add insult to injury by lecturing their neighbors about their bad morals and bloodthirst.

    3. Pacifists who allow horrible injustices and mass killings to take place through their inaction and therefore purchase their pacifism with someone else’s blood. Not making a choice is still a choice. Allowing someone to die is like killing them. Read Luther’s Large Catechism regarding “Thou Shall Not Kill”. Some will even become complicit with the enemies of the very peace they claim to love by allowing tyrants to grow in power, becoming complicit in their attrocities, and even turning a blind eye to real injustice.

    4. Pacifists who are not really pacifists but prefer the title “pacifist” to the name of the real political or social agenda that they are beholden to.

    5. Dead pacifists who have bravely stood in their pacifism and stepped directly into the dreadful path of destruction… and were killed for it: throwing thier lives away to be mowed down as violence steps over them and on to the next objective.

    About the only one of these pacifists that I can muster any respect for is #5… and even then, most of them were nieve fools.

  6. Ben Dose
    May 3rd, 2011 at 09:09 | #9

    Paul,

    Yes this is a great teaching opportunity to share with so many others the way we as Lutherans live in these great tensions all the time, Law & Gospel, Two Kinds of Righteousness, Two Kingdoms–Right and Left, Simul justus et pecattor–simultaneously righteous and sinful and Now & Not Yet. All the while keeping Jesus at the Center!

    Ben

  7. K Mietzner
    May 3rd, 2011 at 11:08 | #10

    I hope that the joy people feel over bin Laden’s killing is an unarticulated version of what you have laid out here, but I fear that much of the jubilation comes from dehumanizing him.

    • May 3rd, 2011 at 11:24 | #11

      My take on the jubilation over the news of Bin Laden’s death is simply a reflection of the innate knowledge we all have via natural law that a murderer like Bin Laden deserves justice and that he received it and is no longer with us is why people are celebrating.

  8. May 3rd, 2011 at 11:26 | #12

    Paul,

    Great thoughts.

    I found a couple of great articles that I posted on my blog this morning. One is from Veith on the doctrine of vocation. Without the doctrine of vocation or the doctrine of the two kingdoms it is very hard for one to process the event…. what a great teaching moment!

    http://www.pastormattrichard.com/2011/05/building-theology-for-osama-bin-laden.html

    ~matt

  9. Pr. Mark Schroeder
    May 3rd, 2011 at 12:19 | #13

    A terrible thing to say about someone is, “he doesn’t know his right hand from his left” and especially when we say this about the Lord that He does know not His right hand from His left and the purposes for each that He has set forth in His Scriptures according to His will. He does. In grade school, when a student was a serious misbehaver, I remember the rest of the class would eventually rejoice when the teacher did something, like send him away till he could straighten up. It was a relief. This meant we could get on with learning. 1 Timothy 2: 1-4 must be read in connection with Romans 13: 1-4: there needs to be temporal peace, order, so that the Gospel might be spread. The political use of the Law is the Lord’s way of wielding the sword for temporal peace by upholding the 5th commandment. The devil, who is a murderer, is for disorder and always wanting war so that temporal society is continually in that uproar for the prevention of the spread of the Word. We have been living some 30-40+ years now in the constant state of anxiety regarding terrorism: remember, bin Laden has been around for 3 presidents and Khaddafy for 40 years. The worse thing that a ruler can do is wield the sword in vain. This past weekend it was not wielded in vain. This is good for love of our neighbor (note: Romans 13 is all about loving the neighbor and the ruler’s part in it!) The commonwealth I live in has the motto: Sic Semper Tyrannis, with Liberty’s foot atop a slain tyrant. If we can not so celebrate the Lord’s justice now, then all those people on V-J and V-E day should not have celebrated.

  10. Steve
    May 3rd, 2011 at 13:00 | #14

    I am concerned about those who “rejoice” that Bin Laden is now is hell. For example, Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, said “Welcome to Hell, bin Laden.” While Bin Laden rejected Christ and Gospel and we know that those who reject Christ are destined for Hell, we should never rejoice in this fact since he cannot hear the Gospel and believe the truth of Christ.

    • May 3rd, 2011 at 13:03 | #15

      Steve, since nobody here has rejoiced he is in hell, I’m not sure how your comment is appropriate to this blog post.

  11. Rev. Gary Hall
    May 3rd, 2011 at 14:14 | #16

    I am trying to get my head around why the killing of bin Laden has caused such “wringing of hands” among Christians as opposed to the drone killings of other, albeit lesser, terrorist commanders. Granted prior to me getting fully on board with RSS, at least until I found a really useful RSS feeder, I did not frequent the Christian blogosphere much. Heck what is the difference between killing bin Laden and killing Joe Schmo terrorist, or killing Libyan soldiers in enforcement of the no-fly zone?

  12. Kurt Cockran
    May 3rd, 2011 at 15:03 | #17

    Since he brought it up, and since I myself have been wondering the same based on my discussions, can you teach us about the Christian (Lutheran) view on what our attitude should be towards those destined for hell? In one sense I feel scripture tells me that I should feel sorrow for those condemned to hell, but in another sense I feel like it tells me that I should rejoice that justice (God’s will) is done. However if we rejoice that justice is done on non-believers, that brings us danger in forgetting the depths of our own depravity. But then again if our assurance is in Christ, does that mean that we can confidently rejoice in the justice done on non-believers? Set me straight Reverend!

    • May 3rd, 2011 at 15:21 | #18

      Unlike the Calvinists, we Lutherans do not teach God predestines anyone to hell. See Formula of Concord, Article XI.

  13. Kurt Cockran
    May 3rd, 2011 at 15:55 | #19

    When I said “destined” I didn’t connect that with “predestined,” but rather we as people have knowledge that they have rejected Christ all the way up to their death, so we can theorize then that they would be therefore judged (destined) to condemnation.

    So we should never rejoice in the justice God carries out to non-believers? Why do I feel like scripture paints a different picture at times?

  14. Kurt Cockran
    May 3rd, 2011 at 16:05 | #20

    Nevermind. I see where I’m in the wrong here. Feel free to delete my comments.

  15. ajsorenson
    May 3rd, 2011 at 20:32 | #21

    I find the reaction of the Israelites to the destruction of Pharaoh’s army somewhat fitting. From Exodus 14:31 “Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.” They then sang a song (Ex 15) glorifying God for the great victory He had won and gave thanks for His protection.

    While certainly not as dramatic as the destruction of the Egyptian army, Bin Laden’s fate should be sobering – we regret the death of any unbeliever, and view death properly as our enemy. (Fortunately, it is a beaten enemy.) But likewise, it is right to rejoice and give thanks that God continues to protect and preserve us from our enemies, in this case through the activity of the left hand kingdom.

    Good article.

  16. madson
    May 5th, 2011 at 13:00 | #22

    Perfectly pertinent. Thanks Paul. How about some pertinent words on the Two Kingdoms for the “National Day of Prayer”???

  17. James Prophet
    May 6th, 2011 at 05:40 | #23

    Well wrought! This is eactly what I was getting at.

  18. May 7th, 2011 at 00:22 | #24

    Mike Baker wrote: “History shows us that most pacifists, when faced as individuals with direct violence and the overwhelming threat of death, abandon their pacifism as folly.” Mr. Baker, may I ask you a personal question? Have you ever heard of Easter, the holiday celebrated by Christians for the resurrection of Jesus Christ?? And how did Jesus die?? He died, “faced.. with direct violence and the overwhelming threat of death,” and did not abandon his pacifism as folly. Time to do a little homework, Mr. Baker.

  19. May 7th, 2011 at 08:57 | #25

    Thanks for the article and comments. You quote Luther as writng that soldiers do “precious and godly work” by “killing the wicked.” Margot Kassman in “Overcoming Violence: The Challenge to the Churches in All Places,” writes: “In the 200 wars since 1945, 90 percent of all victims have been civilians..” (Page 60). Chris Heges in “What Every Person Should Know About War” writes: “In the wars of the 1990s, civilian deaths constituted between 75 and 90 percent of all war deaths” (Page 7). Dunnigan and Martel in “How to Stop a War,” report that half of the wars fought never resolve the issues that caused the war. I don’t know what it was like in Luther’s time but today the two main facts about war are: 1. A war is as likely to fail as be successful, and 2. Soldiers, including US soldiers, are primarily killing, not the wicked, but civilians. That changes the picture considerably. Also since the line between good and evil goes throught every human heart, who determines who the wicked are?? Us or them?? By your reasoning the 3-4 million civilians in Southeast Asia killed by the US military during the Vietnam War would put us in the category of the wicked… then what? Should someone be doing “precious and godly work” by killing us?? The pacifist death of Jesus on the cross demonstrated for all time the way Christians are to respond to the threat of violence. We don’t refuse to use weapons of war because they are too strong, but because they are too weak. They cannot accomplish all the good that the Love of God working throught his followers can accomplish. Thanks for your opinion.

    • May 7th, 2011 at 09:04 | #26

      Leonard, whenever I get pacifists commenting here, I like to ask them two simple questions: “Would you have taken up arms to destroy the Third Reich, or not?” and “What are you doing to stop the violent death of millions of unborn babies in this country every year?”

      Care to respond?

  20. May 8th, 2011 at 16:06 | #27

    Of course I’ll respond, even though you didn’t respond to what I wrote. The second question first. I do not support the use of abortion; I’ve never fathered an aborted child, and I don’t encourage women to have abortions. I support policies and programs that enhance the the chances of born and unborn children not just surviving, but thriving. That includes nutrition for mothers and children, education opportunities that make it possible for every child to learn how to read and write. I support child labor laws that make it possible for children to go to school instead of working in a sweat shop. I support keeping the environment clean since asthma is the chief cause of absenteeism in grade school children, and dirty air creates health problem for children, especially those with asthma and other pre-existing respiratory problems. I support universal health care coverage preferably with a single payer plan to reduce cost and overhead. Citizens in countries with universal health care coverage have a longer life expectancy and pay less for health care per capita than US citizens do. I oppose the use of warfare to solve differences with other countries because children are very likely to be victimized by war. I oppose the use of depleted uranium which is a carcinogen and has a half life of a billion years. That means areas in which depleted uranium was used will be poisoning the bodies of born and unborn children, causing potentionally fatal tumors for thousands of generations. (Note that all the things I mentioned have been historically opposed by most conservatives, Republicans, and even some liberals). I’ll try to send this now and respond to your other question later since I’ve written 3 comments here that have not appeared on the list. Thanks.

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