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The Death of a Tyrant
December 30, 2006
“Saddam Hussein, among the world’s most brutal dictators, struggled briefly after American military guards handed him over to Iraqi executioners. But as his final moments approached, he grew calm. Dressed in a black coat and trousers, he clutched a Qur’an as he was led to the gallows, and in one final moment of defiance, refused to have a hood pulled over his head.
After a quarter-century of remorseless brutality that killed countless thousands and led Iraq into disastrous wars against the United States and Iran, Saddam was executed before sunrise Saturday.” (link)
I sat almost transfixed last night, waiting for the news to be released—news that Saddam Hussein had finally been executed. I was struck by the thought that it is easy to see men like Hussein as somehow more than human. Or maybe less than human. It is interesting to watch the video footage taken shortly after his capture by U.S. forces. A doctor is poking and prodding him, peering into his mouth and looking through his hair. His beard is long and untrimmed, his hair wild and askew. And then there is the footage of him being led to the gallows (footage that is available at any major news web site). It is easy to feel a bit of sympathy watching another human being forced to his death. Suddenly this tyrant appears so human, so frail.
It is difficult to know how to react to something like this. How is a Christian to react to the death of a man such as Hussein? As I thought about this, it seems that we have cause both to mourn and to rejoice.
We can rejoice in the fact that justice has been done. Hussein’s atrocities are horrendous (you can read a list of them here) and impacted countless millions. He made a mockery of the position of power he was given. The Bible tells us that it is God who assigns leaders to the nations and Hussein violated the position of authority, using it to enrich himself, to enslave others, and to reign with brutal terror. The moniker “the Butcher of Baghdad” was well-earned.
We can also rejoice in mercy. It is in mercy that God has given the power of the sword to governments so they can act in restraining evil. These governments are charged with punishing those who do wrong so they can restrain further acts of sin and violence and so they can bring to justice those who have forsaken the laws of God seen dimly in the laws of the lands.’
We can rejoice in God’s goodness. It was God’s goodness that allowed a new government to take the place of Hussein’s and to bring an end to his reign of terror. And it was justice that caused them to end his life. God’s justice is never in conflict with His goodness. Tozer says, “To think of God as we sometimes think of a court where a kindly judge, compelled by law, sentences a man to death with tears and apologies, is to think in a manner wholly unworthy of the true God. God is never at cross-purposes with Himself. No attribute of God in in conflict with another.” To rejoice in the death of Saddam Hussein, to rejoice in the execution of justice, is to rejoice in the justice of God, the goodness of God and the mercy of God. When the Iraqi authorities, having weighed the evidence and proven that Hussein was guilty of crimes deserving death, brought an end to Hussein’s life, they imitated God in these attributes (though they surely had no idea they were doing so).
And so we can rejoice in the execution of this tyrant. We can rejoice that justice has been done. At the same time, we must not rejoice wrongly. We must take no wrongful pleasure in the death of another person. Death is an unnatural state for humans and one that should always remind us of our state of fallenness. Were it not for our sin there would be no death. And always we must remember that the sin that filled Hussein is the same sin which lives within all of us. Were it not for the restraining hand of God, were it not for His grace, any of us could commit acts equally horrific.
We must never make light of the fact that Hussein is, in all likelihood, in hell now. And, as difficult as this may be to believe, all the pain and torture and devastation Hussein caused in his life, either directly or indirectly, is as nothing compared to what he is experiencing now and what he will experience for all of eternity. We must never, ever make light of hell as the eternal destination of any man.
Hussein’s death is a testament to the depravity of humans, but it is also a testament to the justice, mercy and goodness of God. It is a time to mourn at the state of mankind, but also to marvel at the power and sovereignty of God.