In the aftermath of 9/11 many were angered by comments from Christian spokespersons such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell for suggesting that the attacks were part of God's judgment upon America.
The majority of Evangelicals were embarrassed, many were outraged. Their anger (or bewilderment) increased when similar comments were made by other pastors in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
While I am also offended by such comments and sentiments, an honest look at Scripture amply proves that God does indeed judge the nations (yet, who promoted TV preachers to the role of "Mouthpiece of God" I am not exactly sure). While Fundamentalism is quickly becoming reduced to nothing more than hate-mongers whose concept of God is of a vengeful supreme being, Evangelicalism is sadly being reduced to 'fluffy-love peddlers' who view God as a benign, gently being who tolerates anything and everything. Scripture forcefully rejects both erroneous conceptions.
At my church, I am currently preaching through the Minor Prophets. I believe the Old Testament book of Amos speaks directly to this issue. Amos was a shepherd from the southern kingdom of Judah. The name "Amos", incidentally, means burden bearer, which is significant because this man who bore physical burdens for so many years was now called by God to carry a spiritual burden (God's message of judgment) to the nations--particularly Israel. In the first two chapters, Amos condemns 8 distinct nations (6 non-Israelite nations, and both Jewish nations).
Aram (Damascus): Merciless & cruel killing
Edom: Merciless & relentless killing
Ammon: Killing of pregnant women & unborn babies
Moab: Dishonoring a dead human body
Judah: Disobeying the Torah
Israel: Disobeying the Torah (expanded)
Notice in the first six examples no reference is made to the Torah (law) anywhere in the prophets accusations. Certainly these nations violated most, if not all of the Old Testament law (with its 600+ laws given by God through Moses). Yet the prophet only condemns them for their "crimes against humanity"---namely, their inhuman treatment of other human beings. This is consistent with the covenant God instituted with all humanity through Noah (Gen 9), where God upholds the sanctity of human life and warns humanity of dire consequences (i.e. death) if they do not hold human life in the same regard. Because these nations--as nations--instituted policies that endorsed and promoted inhumane treatment, God punished them as a nation.
However, God people are held to a different standard. Judah (and Israel, to whom most of the book of Amos is targeted) is condemned for their failure to obey the multiple points of the law.
Our modern day self-appointed prophets of doom simply do not have the right to point to specific cases and claim God's "judgment". However, there is a general biblical principle that God will indeed judge the (pagan) nations based on how they treat human beings. The purpose of a government (no matter which political system: communism, republic, socialist, dictatorship, etc) is to promote justice and curb injustice. When governments neglect their one sovereignly-assigned duty, they open themselves up to the wrath of a justice-loving God. And yes, nations such as the United States open themselves up to God's judgment by our shameful endorsement of abortion and our tolerance of racism.
Perhaps Franklin Graham said it best. When asked if he believed Hurricane Katrina was God's judgment upon a sinful New Orleans (which Franklin described as a sinful city), he replied:
"No, I certainly don't. I would never say that this is God's judgment on New Orleans or any other place. In the scripture Jesus mentioned some men that were killed in Jerusalem when a tower fell. And he asked the question, "Do you suppose they were worse sinners than all the others in Jerusalem because they died this way?" And he said, "No." He said, "But unless you repent, you, too, will perish." (see Graham article here).
I love his answer! He maintains fidelity with the biblical principle that God does indeed judge the nations (and calls them to repentance), while maintaining a stance of humility in recognizing that he is not God's mouthpiece.
God does indeed judge the nations--and as Americans we should be afraid. Yet, I am more afraid for the Christians, because God holds us to a higher standard--and I am painfully aware that, frankly, we just don't measure up. Perhaps we should get our own house in order before we go around condemning Edom.
(See Book & Culture's recent article on this subject).