On wishing someone else dead
“We should rejoice that this dictator is dead” said the preacher, to audible gasps from the congregation. “My daughter prayed that he would die at our family prayer time yesterday, and it has happened.” He then went on to explain his reasoning. The dictator could either die to himself and live to Christ, or if there was never going to be change in his heart and change in the lives of his people, then he was better off out of the way.
If you gasped at the sentiment expressed as you read that then it perhaps suggests that you are not a regular consumer of social media, particularly of the political kind. Whether it has been people rejoicing and saying they will dance on Margaret Thatcher’s grave or more recently the reaction from some to Boris Johnson getting COVID-19, it seems to be okay to say on twitter that you wish someone dead. This weekend with the news of Donald Trump’s hospitalisation for COVID-19, there has been a certain level of glee, schadenfreude is the dominant mood.
Yet, despite what the preacher said, I cannot see any Biblical justification for this kind of view. I think we can understand and excuse the emotional response of someone who has been deeply scarred and harmed by their abuser but that is different to the carefully chosen words someone chooses to write about a political opponent that they don’t know.
Indeed, we might argue that such a response cheapens the feelings of those who have experienced real abuse and harm. Furthermore, it suggests that we don’t get the seriousness of death. The Bible is clear that we die once and after that there is judgement. There will be no reprieves, no second chances.
At the heart of why this is wrong with the attitude are these words.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[c] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[d] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[e] of fire.”
Jesus takes our thoughts and our words seriously. To have murderous thoughts and to say murderous words about someone is to give away the state of our heart, it demonstrates a murderous heart. In reality, the only thing stopping me from being an actual physical murderer is opportunity. Whatever eternal judgement I wish on the person, Jesus says that I am worthy of the same.
The final problem with expressing these types of sentiments is that we are stepping into God’s shoes, particularly when we try to justify them with the iffy sort of theology I described at the start. The preacher and his family had decided what was best for the dictator and his country when God may well have had a very different plan. We cannot second guess whether or when someone will turn to Christ or at least have a change of heart about their actions. We cannot predict the different ways in which justice could be brought in this life.
So, returning to today. We have a president of the world’s most powerful nation in hospital battling a disease that is potentially fatal to a man of his age and in his physical condition. He is also someone incredibly unpopular around the world. So how are we to respond? My view is that we wish him well, we pray for him, we tell him that we are praying for him, not just concerning the immediate physical danger to his health but even more that he will come to faith in Christ. We say this without prefixing anything we say about his health with a virtue signal along the lines of “although I fundamentally disagree with…” Everyone knows that most of us fundamentally disagree with the guy. The point is that a man is ill in hospital, a man who has a wife and children, a man who has responsibilities for the government of a nation and a man who desperately needs Jesus. So, we pray for him and we wish him well.
 Matthew 5:21-22