Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Does God Judge the Nations?

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
Gaza: Slave-trading
Tyre: Slave-Trading
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).


  1. (continued)...There may be a number of possible explanations for the events that unfolded in those days leading up to 7th July, 2005- and I fully accept that these are extremely hard things to encounter and make sense of - but this is my witness, my testimony. I spoke out what happened to me 5 days before the bombings and recieved no response at all from my pastor or fellow congrgants. There was an embarrassed silence, if I am honest. Speaking things out like that is costly, I discovered. It was not an uplifting experience but a deeply perturbing one. I had not previously embroiled myself in the literature of doom and gloom and would have said it was quite contrary to my natural mindset. WHen the Prime Minster first spoke about the events of that day he echoed the words I had heard on Oxford Street "This is not an attack on the British but on the nations of the world". One of the daily papers covered their front page with tiny photos of the victimes with their country of origin underneath to demonstrate the phenomonal diversity of of those who died. I know if I ever receiev such a thing again I will hope that I will do better than I did.

  2. Hi Josh,
    An interesting post on a thorny subject. I agree that it is not our place to allocate explanations from our own opinions for disasters that nations encounter - even if those opinions are seemingly supported in some way by scripture. However, I ask you to consider this. On July 2nd, 2005, I was staying in London for one evening. While there I had a terrible encounter. As I tried to go to sleep, I was literally paralysed by fear. I could only cry out in my heart for the blood of Jesus to deliver me. After what seemed an immense period of time the terror gave way to sublime peace. However, shortly after, the terror came upon me again and, again, I resisted it. As I emerged into peace saw in my mind's eye a scene in which I saw two men stood like statues before an elderly woman. I heard distinctly heard the words "There is a terror poised over London". The next day, as I walked along Oxford street, I was musing that the 'entire world' seemed to be represented' here. At that very moment, I heard in my spirit the words "Yes, and in this place I will judge those nations." Somewhat perturbed, I continued along the road and within five minutes I heard two men proclaiming that the Lord had sent them to warn London that judgement was coming. I spoke to them and they seemed very earnest and reasonable men who were as surprised as anyone to have been called to do this. We stood and prayed together that, in His judgement, God would remember mercy.
    I prayed and asked where I should go and what I should do next. I felt a distinct call to go to the British Museum. As I entered the museum I was drawn to the massive Egyptian exhibition that was being held but as I approached to enter that part of the museum, to my disappointment, I felt a check in my spirit and so walked past and on until I reached the Near East/Middle East area of the museum. Eventually I stood before an exhibit entitled the Tiles (aka Letters) of Lachish. These are believed by most scholars, archeological/biblical or otherwise to factually underpin the book of Jeremiah. Iasked the Lord why, in light of my earlier experiences, should He direct me here. The reply that came to my heart was quite shocking to me "Because I want you to know that my judgements are a reality". A few days later, as I drove up the A1 to Berwick-on-Tweed at the far end of the nation of England, I heard an interview on the radio in which a man was explaining about his book which had just been published in which terrorists blew up trains. Into my spirit came the words " This man does not know it but he is being prophetic". The following morning I awoke to the news that bombs had gone of across London on the Underground. I was terribly shocked and upset because I felt, even though warned, I had done very little to intercede. Now, I will have to render an account for the words I have spoken and written and so I have strived to say only what I really believe to have happened.