Should Christians Now Rejoice —Thoughts on Fidel Castro’s Natural Death
The essay that follows came to my mind as I read various articles about how this or that prominent public figure responded to the death of Fidel Castro. People otherwise disposed to embrace Castro’s Marxist ideology expressed all manner of grief and admiration for him. Those who reject it reacted with joy and satisfaction. As so often happens these days, people professing Christian faith could be found arrayed on one side or the other of this ideological divide, with Pope Francis, for example, voicing what seemed to some incongruous sorrow and regret, and Donald Trump expressing sentiments of good riddance to a thoroughly bad character.
Each side appealed to Scripture to justify their criticism of the other. Some took offense at what they could reasonably describe as incongruous praise for one they held responsible for evil doing unconscionable evil. Others chided their supposed brethren for a lack of Christian love and charity, rebuking them for rejoicing in circumstances in which, as they asserted, God’s Word plainly condemns such jubilation as unseemly and self-destructive.
Does God’s word forbid us to rejoice in the misfortunes and death of evil doers, or does it encourage us to celebrate when what they have done to others comes back to claim its due? At first glance it seems that, either way, the Bible tells us so:
When thy enemy shall fall, be not glad, and in his ruin let not thy heart rejoice: Lest the Lord see, and it displease Him, and he turn away His wrath from Him. (Proverbs 24:17-18)
The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges the earth.” (Psalm 58:10)
“As I live,” says the Lord, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn back from his way and live.” (Ezekiel 33:11)
After these things, I heard as it were the voice of much people in heaven, saying: Alleluia. Salvation and glory and power is to our God. For true and just are His Judgements, who has judged the great harlot which corrupted the earth with her fornication and has revenged the blood of his servants at her hands. And again they said: Alleluia. (Revelation 19:1-3)
For I desire not the death of him that dies, says the Lord God. Repent and live. (Ezekiel 18:32)
In the goodness of the righteous, the city is glad; when the wicked perish, there is jubilation. (Proverbs 11:10)
Moments like this remind us that is better to form opinions from reading God’s word than to search through His Word simply to justify opinions we have perhaps already formed, without benefit of His counsel. Regarding the question before us, and indeed many others, it is clearly possible to juxtapose seemingly contradictory Biblical passages. So Christ says “Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you.” (Luke 6:27) And yet He also warns
But if that servant shall say in his heart, my lord delays his coming; and he begins to beat the menservants and the maid servants…the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he does not expect him, and in an hour, he does not know and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the unfaithful. (Luke 12:45-46)
Of course, the obvious contrast here has to do with how we are supposed to treat those standing opposed to us, and how we should expect God to treat those whom He finds standing against Him, when the time comes for Him to “destroy them that have corrupted the earth.” (Revelation 11:18) For “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (Psalm 9:9). So, what shall the righteous do but rejoice with those in Heaven, giving Glory to God, Alleluia. In this we do not exalt ourselves, or encourage our own vengefulness. Rather we rejoice in the Lord, taking heart and courage from the living proofs that vindicate our trust in Him.
We are reminded, as well that all that God does is for our good, and that of all Creation as He intended it. His power is therefore never exercised in vain, but always in love. The actions of the wicked make death their fate when He comes, in due course, and finds them wanting. This, for the sake of justice on the whole. But in this wholesome wrath, He takes account of what each one is due. This respect for all, according to God’s intention, is what human governments are advised to observe (Leviticus 19:15) in their ordinances and the judgments made in light of them.
As for me, I take no particular joy in the bodily death of Fidel Castro, which came to him as it will come to all of us. But for the sake of the respect owed to God’s rule, and the common good it makes manifest, I rejoice in the end of Castro’s wrongdoing. I rejoice in the likely vindication of all those whose lives he destroyed because they stood against him. And I decry all he did in the name of an ideology that exalts human events, and the merely human will at work in them; in place of the will of God and the infinite love He exalts in and through the person of Jesus Christ.
Whenever God-despising idolatry, and all the evils it represents, is utterly cast down, I will rejoice like those in heaven, in praise of our God. Meanwhile, I rejoice in the wisdom of God, which sets a term to human wickedness, barring the way to the tree of life from those who despise and/or persecute the love of God in Christ— lest they vainly eat of it, they seek to prolong their unjust ways forever.
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