It was Ruth Graham (not Billy) who once said, “If God doesn’t
soon bring judgment upon America, He’ll have to go back and apologize to Sodom
and Gomorrah!” The issue of divine
judgment frequently arises whenever cataclysmic or catastrophic events happen
in rapid succession somewhere across the globe.
Whether its tsunamis, earthquakes, genocide, serial killings, mass
murders, or political or economic meltdowns, the question of divine retribution
almost always rears its head soon thereafter.
It is quite understandable that those outside the context of
the Bible in general and Christianity in particular would find the idea that
God judges the sinful activities of humanity both now in this world as well as
a future judgment in the world to come to be primitive, fanciful, and even
preposterous. I understand an unbeliever’s
incredulity and hostility because I was once one of them. But what I find most alarming is the general
sense of animus about this coming from within the community of faith known
collectively as the Body of Christ and the Church.
I realize it is easy and convenient for those who are
spiritually immature and lazy to blame every bad thing that happens as God’s
response to someone else’s sin(s). When
human misery reaches its limit, declaring the source as a manifestation of
God’s judgment is a coping mechanism.
Thoughtful and faithful Christians are very aware of the tendency of the
shallow-minded among them to scream embarrassingly loud at the worst times that
the calamity that just happened is punishment from God. All that that seems to accomplish is a
general undermining of the credibility and significance of the evangelical
Christian message. How can anyone know
so soon after a devastating event that it was judgment from God?
However, we should know better than to throw the baby out
with the bath water. Even a cursory and
superficial reading of the Bible reveals many instances of divine judgment
worked out through natural and human disasters.
Noah’s flood, the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews, the earthquake that
tore the curtain into the Holy of Holies in the Temple when Jesus died on the
cross, and the plagues and disasters written about in the book of Revelation
are just a few acts of divine judgment visited upon people in the world that
come readily to mind. To suggest,
therefore, that no catastrophe or tragedy may have divine implications is,
quite frankly, uninformed.
When something horrific happens it is not my place as a
Christian to declare that it was a judgment from an angry God. I don’t get emails from Heaven or messages
from angels telling me what God has on His mind and why He just poured out His
wrath (if it even was an act of
God). Conversely, however, it is not my
place to assume God had nothing to do with what just happened. Here is one thing that Scripture teaches:
“For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household” (1
Peter 5:17). Sometimes, terrible things happen in this world because God’s
holiness has been offended one time too many or one day too long.
When tragedy finds me or my countrymen my task as a
Christian is neither to declare it an act of divine judgment nor automatically
assume it was just a random evil event that befell a fallen world. My job is to search the Scriptures, bow in
prayer, and ask God to inform my soul about what just happened. And if I feel in my heart that it was an act
of judgment from on high what is God looking for from those who call Him
Father? Usually, that answer is
repentance. Repentance for personal and
corporate apathy. Repentance for failing
to stand for righteousness in the presence of evil. Repentance for disobedience.
Graham’s statement about God apologizing to Sodom and
Gomorrah may be a bit extreme but if the intent of it was to suggest that
America’s overt animosity to God and all things holy may have devastating
consequences in the future, then I would have to agree based upon my knowledge
of Scripture. The people of God cannot
continue to sit idly by humming “Amazing Grace” while
evil not only continues to find acceptance in culture but legitimacy in
government. The heartbreaking thing
about divine judgment is that it always seems to come because of the failures
within the community of faith. We are
not supposed to be the cause of suffering but such is the cost, very often, when
we choose to turn a blind eye to sin and evil.
Ray Rooney, Jr.