“That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” (Acts 1:25)
Many years ago, I remember being told about the sudden death of a man who, in my opinion, was an enemy of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly he had proven himself to be a personal enemy of mine, and of the local church assembly. He was dead by suicide.
One question I wondered about was this. “Did he go to ‘his own place’ to be with Judas, or did he not?“ The words of Peter in Acts 1 reminds the Church that we all have our own place to which we will go, and that place will be heaven, or it will be hell. But we each have our own place.
This man who died the death of the wicked, for suicide is self-murder, and that is wickedness, was a man who possessed intellectual gifts. He taught physics at a local college until his retirement. He was a religious man, in the sense that he read the Bible, conducted home Bible studies, and could talk about the Christian faith.
When I received the news of his death, I must admit that I was not initially gracious. In fact, what I said was, “Well, that is good.” “I might even have said, “Good riddance.” In other words I did not show a bit of sorrow, let alone empathy for his family, or sympathy.
In this reaction, I was not like Jesus who prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Nor was I like Stephen who prayed for his murderers and said “Lay not this sin to their charge.” (Acts 7:60)
My response was more like Dorothy, and the others in the Wizard of Oz who danced and sang. Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead the wicked witch is dead.”
To be honest, I had been harboring in my heart, the thought of the saints in the book of the Revelation, who cried out to God for justice against their enemies saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:10)
If I had been asked to do the funeral for this man I would have done it, gladly, and I would have been gracious.
If, in the providence of the Lord, I had met any of his family members, I know I would have been socially gracious. I am capable of that. But the lingering question is, “Lord, how should I respond to the news of the death of my enemies?”
It is possible to respond with humor, like Winston Churchill did, and declare that the best revenge upon one’s enemies is to, outlive them.
It is possible to respond with false sorrow, and sympathy, and pretend that the death is a sad occasion for everyone. Yes, so sad.
It is possible to respond with harsh glee, and be openly glad, but is that an acceptable response before the Lord? Probably not.
In considering the question, as a Christian, I would like to argue, that, Biblically speaking, it may not be wrong to rejoice over the downfall of one’s enemies.
Exodus 15 records the great celebration over the death of Pharaoh and his army that was pursuing the fleeing Israelites.
However, just because there is a basis, and even a natural inclination to rejoice over the death of those who have hurt the Church of Christ, care must be taken. I have need to heed my own counsel, and for some good reasons.
First, the teaching of Christ is towards forgiveness of our enemies. Jesus said, “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:15)
The early Church understood, and practiced this far better than the church of the 21st century. Until prayer can be offered for those who have hurt us, there is no genuine forgiveness extended.
Second, there is a fine line between being zealous for God’s glory, as Moses and the nation of Israel was, and being happy at the downfall of one’s enemies. The glory of God must not be overshadowed by personal satisfaction.
Third, every life must be evaluated for the lessons that can be learned. When there is manifest evil, the converted heart wants to be different.
One day the news of my demise will be announced. As I have sown, so shall I reap. Therefore, with that in mind, I want to be gracious to my enemies in their death, though I will not be surprised if those who have hurt the Church come to a terrible, and painful, end.