judgment

Last week my family and I were able to get away to the beach for holiday. Early in the week, Hurricane Isaias made landfall just north of where we were staying. Everything was ok where we were staying, though I know other coastal areas experienced quite a bit of damage. Upon returning to our home in Wilkesboro, we experienced an earthquake on Sunday morning. The epicenter of the quake was in Sparta, just a few miles from where we live. And of course 2020 brought us the global pandemic that is Covid-19.

Questions arise: “Are we experiencing the judgment of God? Are we living in the last days? What might take place next? How should we respond?”

Let me offer some answers that I hope are biblical, theological, and practical.

Question: Are we experiencing the judgment of God? Answer: Yes. For millennia God has judged wickedness and depravity through supernatural, natural, and geopolitical means. God sent supernatural plagues on Egypt as judgment for their enslavement of his people. God sent a storm and a great fish after Jonah when the prophet ran from God’s command to preach in Nineveh. And God used kings and armies all throughout biblical history to bring judgment upon his people and even the wicked nations around his people as a means of judgment. I believe we are experiencing the judgment of God for our wickedness. But we need to remember something about God’s judgments. They are mean to be restorative and redemptive before they are meant to be permanent. The reason God sent the prophets to Israel and Judah in the OT to warn them of coming judgment was to encourage his people to repent. Our experiences of 2020 may or may not be direct judgments of God on specific people for specific things. But most certainly they represent the general judgment of God on a world full of wickedness and rebellion. The bigger question we should ask ourselves is this: “Does God have our attention?”

Question: Are we living in the last days? Answer: Yes. Jesus taught in Matthew 24 that false messiahs, earthquakes, famines, wars, tribulation, and persecution are signs of the last days. We are seeing many of these things take place around us. There is a caveat. The first disciples experienced some of these things during their days on earth as well. Every generation since the ascension of Christ has believed that Christ might return during their lifetime. Many theologians over the 2000 year history of Christianity have identified different individuals as the Antichrist (from medieval popes to Adolf Hitler). The last days are the days of the church. Does this mean Jesus will return soon? In our generation? He certainly could. We should be ready. But he might not. There might be hundreds of years before he returns. Yet we must remember we are living in the last days. God’s judgments and chastisements are meant to turn our eyes to him. They are meant to shake us from our apathy and motivate us to preach the gospel and live the love of Christ to a hurting and sinful world.

Question: What might take place next? Answer: It would be foolish to speculate on details, but we can expect more judgments, trials, difficulties, tribulations, and persecutions. Many Christians over the ages have experienced persecution for their faith. For the most part, Christians in America have been spared persecution. That might be changing. With gubernatorial overreaches that have banned churches from meeting as well as the cancel culture, Christianity is being marginalized. We now live in a culture that celebrates depravity and idolizes immorality. All this is taking place in a nation whose foundations were built on the Judeo-Christian worldview. Our national rejection of God will most certainly spurn further judgments. Writing on this subject more than forty years ago, Francis Schaeffer articulated the judgment of God:

“Unlike Zeus whom men imagined hurling down great thunderbolts, God has turned away in judgment as our generation turned away from him, and he is allowing cause and effect to take its course in history.”

Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City.

Question: How should we respond? Answer: Repent, Pray, Preach the Gospel. It is fascinating sometimes how enamored we as God’s people are with the end times, tribulation, and judgment of God. Yet what should convict us deeply is the fact that the majority of God’s judgments and chastisements in the Bible are aimed not at the depraved nations, but at his rebellious people. Church, judgment begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Our circumstances should drive us to self-examination, confession, and repentance. We must reject any idols we discover and turn to Christ fully and completely. We must also pray. Our hope is not found in politics, financial security, or scientific advancements that provide a vaccine for Covid-19. Our hope can only be found in the sovereign and living Lord. We connect with God through prayer. If we are not doing so already, we must pray for revival, awakening, and the salvation of sinners. Finally, we must be unashamed to preach and share the gospel. If nothing else, natural disasters, diseases, wars, and conflicts remind us how fragile and temporary life on this earth is. The only hope for people around us (family, neighbors, co-workers, friends, the nations) is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Church, it is time to wake up and preach the good news.

Photo by Srikanta H. U on Unsplash.

Significant themes run as threads through the entirety of Scripture (God’s Sovereignty and holiness, mankind’s sin, redemption, grace, forgiveness, and numerous others). One important biblical theme is judgment. Judgment is necessary because of human sin. Had sin not entered the world, neither would judgment. And the reality is that we all deserve judgment because we are sinners who have rejected God’s right to rule over us. But have you ever considered God’s judgment as an act of grace?

God does not judge to be mean. God does not judge to destroy. God judges and chastises to reveal his holiness, our sinfulness, and drive us to repentance. In the book of Judges, the people of Israel were supposed to conquer and inherit the land of Canaan. Yet the people of Israel did not conquer all the land. Many nations and their Idolatry remained. Israel became tainted in their worship because they adopted the gods of the land. They broke the first two of the ten commandments by not worshiping Yahweh alone and worshiping idols instead.

So, in response to Israel’s idolatry and sin, God left the nations in the land. Scripture records that God left the nations in Canaan for two reasons. First, God left them to test Israel’s faithfulness (2:22-23). Second, God left them to teach the people of Israel how to war and engage in battle (3:1-2). God allowed the nations to stay in Canaan because his chosen people did not obey him in conquering the land. In other words, God let Israel face the consequences of her own sinful choices. Part of God’s judgment on Israel during the period of the Judges was to let her experience the difficulty of her own sinful choices. Yet, and this is striking, God sovereignly purposed two important reasons for allowing the idolatrous nations to stay in Canaan. God was actively working within and in spite of Israel’s sins. He offered gracious purposes in the midst of his judgments.

The cycle prevalent throughout the book of Judges also reveals God’s grace as a part of his judgement. Israel’s cycle was: sin cycle

While God allowed Israel to sin and face judgment, he responded graciously when they cried out in repentance. He sent a judge to rescue them. God is no different today. In his sovereignty, he is not intimidated by our free will and our choices to sin. In his holiness, he will chastise and judge our sin. In his grace, he will hear us when we cry out in repentance. And he will and ultimately has provided us deliverance from our sin. In the person of his Son Jesus Christ, God both judged our sin and rescued us. Even his judgments are gracious. And that my fellow believers should inspire love and worship for our great and gracious God.