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"I have never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." I will confess that this witticism, attributed to Mark Twain, was the one to which I nodded a "yes" last night as I scrolled through my Twitter feed upon discovering that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. Navy Seals in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Moments later this reminder followed on Twitter, from someone quoting Proverbs 24:17, giving me pause: "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles" (ESV).

I have no doubt that in this military killing the United States' government exercised its divinely ordained task, wielding the sword to administer justice and constrain evil. I believe this to be so largely because I am one of those Christians for whom the question of the proper task and character of government cannot be answered without reference to Romans 13: "Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. … [The ruler] is God's servant for your good . … [H]e does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer."

Because of this conviction, I resonate with the statements by President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, former President Bush, and former New York Mayor Giuliani, when they say that in this killing, "justice has been done." It will be important in the days (and years) ahead to learn more about the prudential judgments that informed this military action. What were the immediate intentions with the action: to capture or assassinate? What are the military purposes that this action will advance? Beyond just retribution, what are the proper political purposes that this action will serve? But as ...

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May 2011

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