As most of you have heard Fred Phelps has died. Fred Whelps was the founder of the Westboro cult that centered around protests and a message of hate. Sadly, they functioned under the name of “church” and claimed they were doing the work of Jesus. Thankfully, everyone recognized them as a cult and no one seriously put them in the same group with evangelical churches.
A lot of Christians are wrestling with a difficult question in light of his death, “How should we feel about this?” Unless there was real repentance on his death bed (which we haven’t heard of anything like this) than our beliefs tell us that Fred Phelps will spend eternity in hell. While we believe all men deserve hell we do not wish anyone to go there. We get this from God’s very own heart in 2 Peter 3:9.
At the same time, we know that he was a very evil man. This is the same question we asked when Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden died. How should Christians feel and respond when very evil men die, bound for eternity in hell?
Typically, when this question is asked I see a lot of verses on the “we desire none to perish” side. What about the other side? Normally I read a lot of sentiment of, “Well, I can’t help but to be a little happy that he is dead. He was exceptionally evil and the world is much better off without him.”
I think there is a little more biblical precedence for our feelings of relief when a man like Fred Phelps dies. Think about imprecatory psalms: several psalms use the phrase, “may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.”
In Revelation 6 we get a picture of people who have been martyred for their faith crying out to God asking when he will avenge their blood and judge those who killed them. They were then given white robes and told to “rest” a little longer. It is clear they are anxiously waiting for justice to be carried out against those who did evil to them.
2 Thessalonians 1 tells us that God will grant relief to the saints from their suffering by making those who afflicted them suffer with eternal punishment. This passage even has this feel that the saints won’t feel full relief until that full justice has been carried out, when the Lord returns.
Why do I walk through that? We need to feel the freedom to have a sense of relief when God takes away evil men. There is no need to feel guilty for feeling relief in these situations. I think those biblical passages give us a strong precedent for these emotions. No, we do not want any man to perish and spend eternity in hell. We also do not want evil men to continue to inflict suffering on the saints and the world.
Let me be clear here: feeling relief and boasting exuberantly are two very different things. I do not think it is righteous to dance in the streets in celebration when someone like Hussein is killed. I do think it is righteous emotion to feel relief when God chooses to remove such evil men.
What I pray for in these situations:
- While such evil men are alive (North Korea anyone) I pray for a radical salvation or that God will remove them swiftly and end the suffering they bring.
- In light of their deaths I pray God will use it to display his goodness to humanity by displaying his perfect, righteous justice.
- I pray that the church can use the opportunity to share the radical mercy of Jesus that no one is beyond saving and that even Fred Phelps could be justified by God through repentance and faith.
- I pray that through the death a new day can dawn in whatever void is left by them. In Fred Phelps case I am praying the Westboro cult loses its fervor and starts getting out of the spotlight.
- I pray for real, genuine salvation for his family and those most immediately affected by his death.