Horton gives a historical primer on the distinction between the city of God and the city of man. Eternal and infinite justice is meted out only in the city of God. From Augustine’s work came our understanding of just war theory. In addition, the Reformation “sought to distinguish between the kingdom of Christ, which conquers by Word and Spirit, and the kingdoms of this age that are given the divine authority to defend temporal justice.” Horton writes:
Cultures are the most dangerous when they invoke holy texts for their defense of holy land through holy war. However, Christians have no biblical basis for doing this in the first place. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus clearly abrogated the ceremonial and civil law that God had given uniquely to the nation of Israel. Now is the era of common grace and common land, obeying rulers—even pagan ones—and living under constitutions other than the one that God gave through Moses. As Paul reminds us in Romans 13, secular rulers are given the power of the temporal sword—finite justice—while the gospel conquers in the power of the Spirit through that Word “above all earthly pow’rs.”
And then draws three conclusions:
1. We can rejoice that even in this present evil age, God’s common grace and common justice are being displayed through secular authorities (Rom. 13:4,7).
2. But we cannot rejoice in the death of the wicked any more than does God (Ezek. 18:23).
3. The mandate to believe and to proclaim the gospel to every person is all the more urgent.
Mohler’s post similarly reflects on the inappropriateness of celebrating the death of Bin Laden and the limitations of justice in this present age. Mohler argues that the death of Bin Laden was “fully justified as an act of war, but not as an act of justice” and that “we were robbed of the moral satisfaction that comes by means of a fair and clear verdict, followed by a just and appropriate sentence.” I think that is absolutely correct, though I imagine Bin Laden preferred direct combat to arrest and capture.
Horton and Mohler both helpfully distinguish between the sober satisfaction of a human government taking a significant and appropriate measure to bring “a terrorist to justice in the court of the temporal city” and the inappropriate, sinful gloating over a deceased enemy, which suggests an attitude of vengeance, an attitude which can only fuel further discord and distort the message of Jesus Christ, and His kingdom which advances invisibly through the power of the Holy Spirit.