What do you think of when you think of the Judgment of God? I suspect most of us imagine scenarios in which God releases calamity on the earth. When we think of the Judgment of God we think of the earth being shaken, bombs going off, crashing thunder, and other spectacular blasting apart of kingdoms and of lives.
Certainly such thoughts are biblical, but I don’t think they capture the full picture of the Judgment of God. A couple of decades ago my thinking was challenged, informed, and changed when someone asked me what I thought the Judgment of God on America (or any other nation) might look like. The question prompted me to search through the Bible and see what it said about this. I was startled by what I discovered.
Usually the Judgment of God is NOT a catastrophic event obvious to all. Here’s my conclusion about when the Judgment of God begins: The Judgment of God begins when He allows a person, a community, a nation, or a culture to do whatever it wants and seemingly get away with it. There are no catastrophic consequences. Life continues as before. That pattern repeats itself: doing something wrong, but with no negative consequences. With each repetition there is less sense of guilt and less apprehension about a negative aftermath. This continues until all sense of guilt is gone and the future looks as rosy as can be.
Now, when people ask me if I think God is going to judge America, I reply that God already is judging America. How do I know this? Because He’s allowing us to do whatever we want and we’re still prospering.
The reason I mention all this is because sometime during this month of June the US Supreme Court will release its ruling regarding gay marriage. Almost everyone expects the majority of Justices to find in the US Constitution the right for gay marriage. If the Justices do rule in favor of gay marriage, what changes? Everything. Nothing. Here’s what I mean:
Everything changes because God’s created order will be denied. Humans did not design or invent marriage, God did. Part of His purpose and design in marriage can be seen in how He makes each individual.
Each of us comes with marvelously complex and complete systems. Think of it: your nervous system: complete; your cardio-vascular system: complete; your digestive system: complete. There is only one exception: the reproductive system. Each human being only has half of the complete human reproductive system. To make a complete reproductive system one must be paired with a complementary system. That is, a male reproductive system must be paired with a female reproductive system and vice-versa. That’s the created order.
What if we want to violate or change that order? Can we do so? You betcha! In fact, there is a concerted effort to do that very thing. Here’s a quote articulating our current cultural mood:
We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else’s home and therefore obliged to make our behavior conform with a set of pre-existing cosmic rules. It is our creation now. We make the rules. We establish the parameters of reality. We create the world, and because we do, we no longer feel beholden to outside forces. We no longer have to justify our behavior, for we are now the architects of the universe. We are responsible to nothing outside ourselves, for we are the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. [Jeremy Rifkin. Algeny, Viking Press. p. 244]
We can do whatever we want! It is our creation! We are now the architects of the universe! These are the thoughts of a culture under God’s judgment.
Nothing changes, though, since God’s created order cannot ultimately be denied. Regardless what the Supreme Court rules, the ruling will not change the created order. Just as we cannot change the law of gravity and other laws of physics, so we cannot change God’s established laws of ethics. We do live in “someone else’s home.” That someone is God, and He is the architect and owner of all that exists.
Well, someone asks, why don’t we experience immediate negative consequences when we break God’s ethical laws as we do when we break, for instance, the law of gravity? Simple answer: The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. [Ps. 103:8] If someone were to jump off a mile high cliff to prove he was not subject to the law of gravity, he would have about 18 seconds without negative consequences. After that, though, things would go downhill fast! If that person jumped out of a plane about 10 miles high he would have almost four minutes with no negative consequences.
In the ethical sphere, that time between jumping off the cliff and meeting the ground is interspersed with God’s lovingkindness. He calls erring and rebellious individuals, families, cities, and nations to repent and turn back to His way. He helps them by giving them a conscience and by sending faithful human witnesses of His truth. If they persist in their erring rebellion, fighting against the goads of guilt and the call of the truth, that is a sign of God’s judgment. It is the beginning of God’s judgment.
Regardless how the Supreme Court rules on gay marriage, we remain a nation that has all the signs of being under the Judgment of God. We must live with the awareness that as much as everything is changing, yet nothing is changing. We cannot deny what’s happening, but neither can we deny what is true reality.
The idea of God’s Judgment being catastrophic is true in the long run. How far away it is, we don’t know. Yes, we’re under judgment, but it’s the beginning of judgment, not the final judgment.
Like Israel of old, we could experience a crushing defeat at the hands of a foreign power which God uses as the “rod of His anger.” [see Isaiah 10:5] ISIS or North Korea or several other nations would be more than happy to serve that purpose.
Or, like Israel of old, we could experience a national season of repentance, revival, and restoration as was the case with King Josiah. [see 2 Kings 23:3 and 2 Chron. 34:31]
There is a final judgment, when the trumpet of God sounds forth, Jesus returns, and all peoples and nations that ever lived are called forth to stand before God’s judgment throne. In that day everyone will know whose house this is and whose rules reign.
In the Joy of the Lord,
John H.C. Niederhaus