By Brad Hicks
In an American presidential election year, it’s especially common to hear it bandied about, particularly by those of the religious ilk, that America risks falling under the judgment of God if its leaders, laws, and citizens are not aligned morally with God’s laws as revealed in holy writ. I’d like to talk about this. Will America or any nation be judged by God based on how good or bad that nation is? I hope in this conversation that we’ll see that all of us are being called to a greater allegiance than our allegiances to our nations or our families of origin and we face a graver — or more glorious — fate than being included in our country’s possible sentencing by divine judgment if, indeed, nations are judged by God.
But first, what do we mean when we talk about a nation being “judged” by God? I think some mean divine judgment in the present temporal realm by natural disasters (earthquakes, hurricanes, famines, droughts, comet collisions, etc.), economic declines and depressions, wars and foreign invasions, dictatorial leadership, the decline of the democratic era, diseases, pestilences, pandemics, and so forth. Let’s call this type of judgment earthly judgment. Others, when they speak of divine judgment, are referring to the final apocalyptic judgment at the End of Days, eternal sentencing by God based on a nation’s righteousness or wickedness. Let’s call this eternal judgment.
And second, why am I even writing about this stuff? I suppose I’m wearied by hearing religious people (my own folks of faith), in particular leaders in the media or who speak from a pulpit, twisting scripture to support a view that they want to be true. I’m also writing to express what I believe here in a blog rather than engaging in a fruitless argument with certain friends and family, who, either in conversation can’t resist spewing, or on social media can’t resist posting convenient memes of other peoples’ thoughts or out-of-context scripture about the gloomy destiny of America as a result of the way we voted in the recent election.
I’m wearied by hearing religious people (my own folks of faith), in particular leaders in the media or who speak from a pulpit, twisting scripture to support a view that they want to be true.
I’m not a theologian or a biblical scholar. I’m a journalist and a clear thinker, I read and enjoy theological writing, and I’m a lover of the Word of God; I hunger and thirst for it and I believe that by it we, literally, have life. I want to know what the Bible actually says and means and not rely solely on what others tell me about it. I learned decades ago that scripture can’t merely be comprehended intellectually, but that the reading of it should be approached prayerfully, asking God for understanding by the Holy Spirit. Paul supports this claim: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Further, what is revealed in the New Testament about God’s redemptive plan for mankind and nations is firmly rooted in Old Testament revelation, and the writings and prophecies in the Old Testament foreshadow a New Testament reality and fulfillment in Christ. By the Old Testament, I mean the period of time between Adam in the book of Genesis and the crucifixion of Christ in 33 AD, when at least five covenants were established between God and man and later between God and the Israelites. By the New Testament, I mean the present period of redemptive history that we’ve been in since Christ’s death and resurrection, in which God has established, in and through the living Christ, a covenant of faith with all of humanity. And for the Christian, a New Testament worldview is essential to approaching a discussion about existential meaning and divine redemption for individual persons and for nations. With that said, let’s get further into the discussion about God’s judgment on America and all nations based on what I believe scripture reveals about that idea.
Nothing in the universe occurs without its being known by God and permitted by Him to occur. So we can rightly blame God for (or attribute to Him the occurrences of) natural disasters, financial downturns, wars, diseases, plagues, etc. Blaming God for earthly calamities isn’t offensive to Him, in fact, He takes responsibility for them, so says the Old Testament prophet, “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” (Amos 3:6). But it’s not congruent with New Testament thought to claim that calamities today (which aren’t recorded in scripture) are, necessarily, a direct judgment from God on a nation or a people group because of their badness. What is consistent with the redemptive plan of the New Testament is that every form of human suffering can be a divine means of getting the attention of individual men and women and calling us to repentance and trust in Him.
We who claim to have faith in Christ would do better to proclaim a message of hope and comfort to those afflicted by what feels like God’s judgment
In John 9:3, Jesus said that a certain man’s blindness was not God’s judgment on the man for his sin or his parents’ sin but “so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” In Luke 13:1-5, Jesus related two tragic incidents — the unjust murder of local citizens by the government, and a large group of people who were suddenly killed by a tower falling on them — and taught that these incidents weren’t judgments from God because of anyone’s sin, per se, then He added: “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Jesus always deals with the fallen condition of men and women as individuals, showing us that the only way to salvation is through repentance of sin and faith in Jesus himself.
Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that any nation as a whole will face the eternal judgment of God, either for the nation’s righteousness or for its wickedness. The New Testament does claim that individual persons — all men and women in all times — will face divine judgment after we die, saying plainly in Hebrews 9:27, “… it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” So, nations aren’t saved or condemned eternally, individual souls are. People are saved through the atoning work of the cross and resurrection of Christ — by putting our faith in Him, then obeying his command to love (John 3:16, John 13:34). People who refuse Christ, when given the opportunity to believe and obey Him, scripture says, are perpetually under God’s wrath and face imminent eternal condemnation (Romans 2:8, John 5:29).
The divine judgment of nations was certainly a thing in the Old Testament. In the time of Noah, every nation and tribe was destroyed by God in a global flood. A few hundred years after Israel’s golden years during the reign of King David, every nation was severely judged by God, chastised according to how they treated Israel and for their profane idolatry. Many nations were completely destroyed, never to rise again. During this time, God didn’t spare even his own chosen people, the Israelites, judging their actions as being even more sinful than their idolatrous neighbors. In 722 BC the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians and the population deported into slavery. The southern kingdom of Judah was destroyed by the Babylonians in 598-582 BC, and the most influential citizens of the region exiled to Babylon.
Horrible things have befallen nations and people groups since Bible times, including genocide and ethnic cleansing, but it is not up to man to determine if these atrocities, calamities, and woes are a form of divine judgment on the peoples. We don’t know. Let me say it another way: We. Don’t. Know. But God certainly can, if He chooses, judge or destroy entire nations or people groups who are unjust, murderous, and idolatrous, and He has every right to do so. But you or I making the judgment that God is judging a nation (or a person) is purely speculative, as we have no reliable divine word or prophetic record by which to know. Instead, we who claim to have faith in Christ would do better to proclaim a message of hope and comfort to those currently afflicted by what feels like God’s judgment, reminding that Christ is, indeed, with us, carrying us, and that He identifies with our suffering. He is always and forever Emmanuel (God with us) even if we, our family, or our nation seem forsaken.