I admit it: I gave this a sensational title, but not for the obvious reasons. I didn’t do it to attract more readers or to present a unique and controversial approach to our current emotional state as a nation.
I ask the question to introduce the concept of God’s judgment and how we can wrestle with the implications of it. I don’t think many people know what the word “judgment” means and how God intends to apply it. (And yes, I can hear the words of Inigo Montoya from Princess Bride saying “I don’t think that word means what you think it means”).
As is always helpful, allow me to present my personal beliefs about God’s Judgment before delving into my question:
- I believe God is a righteous judge
- I believe God will judge every man for the good and evil each has done
- I believe the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ provides enough grace to eliminate Judgment for anyone who believes in him and entrusts themselves to His mercy.
With those theological underpinnings, I want to present the real difficulties behind answering the above question. To do that, let me show you an important meme that came out right after the Supreme Court ruling legalizing Gay marriage.
I believe the composer of this meme is addressing a common theme in the past few decades: as America legalizes and normalizes actions which most conservative Christians consider sinful and unbiblical –abortion and gay marriage–we should expect to see God judge us as a nation. I am not exaggerating when I say I have read or heard that sentiment expressed several hundred times in the past few months.
The above meme takes a clever and poignant approach to questioning this concept. The writer notes that many Christians believe we are about to be judged for abortion and gay marriage; but apparently America was not judged for attempted genocide against native Americans, horrific slavery, rampant selfishness and greed and many other atrocities. Without asking the question, with sly sarcasm, the writer is suggesting that if those actions did not provoke God’s judgment, then recent activity won’t either.
I realize that both sides of this particular debate may have misunderstood how judgment works. Because of this, both sides are partially wrong in their conclusions. Abortion and Gay Marriage are not going to bring God’s Judgment the way people think they will. But neither did America escape judgment for all the other sins we committed.
First, let’s determine what the word “judgment” means. Most people who hear the word think it means to enact punishment upon someone for their actions. When we think of “judgment,” our minds might picture the words of the civil war hymn:
“My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, He is trampling out the vintage where his Grapes of Wrath are stored.”
But is that what the word Judgment means? Partially. To determine what the biblical word judgment implies we should look to the original idea behind the Hebrew and Greek words.
Hebrew: Mishphat. There are three different Hebrew words for judgment. But this is by far the most common one. And the others have a similar meaning. Mishphat refers to the process of deciding the merits of a case. The final verdict is not as critical as the process. It is what the judge does as he seeks to decide the truth of a matter to render the verdict.
Greek: Krina. This word, and all its variations, means almost exactly the same as the Hebrew word. It is the word that Jesus uses when he says “Judge not or you will be judged”. A person who spends most of their days trying to decide what everyone else is doing wrong will find the rest of the world does that back to them. It is a “live by the sword, die by the sword” idea. Krina almost always focuses on the process of determining blame or fault. To judge someone is to examine their life to determine if they are guilty or innocent.
Here is the main point. The word is almost always followed by a proclamation of the findings of the judge. The period of judgment is not over until the judge both declares the verdict and announces the consequences. Judgment thus involves three stages:
- Presentation of the facts of the case.
- Declaration of the verdict.
- Carrying out of the sentence.
The Christians of the modern era perhaps believe God has finished the Judgment process–or at least the first two stages. Based on that belief, one could say that the execution of judgment is about to begin.
Here is how it sounds among Evangelicals. The bible is clear about abortion and homosexuality. And since the Bible tells us that abortion and homosexuality are always wrong, anyone who admits to doing either is already convicted on the facts. The declaration of the verdict has already been made, and we are just waiting for the carrying out of the sentence.
But there are serious problems with this. Let’s use abortion as an example.
First, does this mean that if a nation has any abortions that nation is about to be sentenced to retribution? How many abortions would result in Judgment? Or do the leaders of the nation have to endorse an act for the sentence to be carried out? And can we say that Roe v. Wade represented the wishes of this nation’s leaders at the time, or the general population? Or are the decisions of nine people–the Supreme Court–enough to trigger an attack from God? Are all nations going to be judged the same for their practice of abortion?
The answers are not easily forthcoming. And what if the abortion rates start to fall dramatically; does that mean that God will partially commute the sentence?
I am not going to suggest answers to those questions in this first article. But the questions show that the presentation of the “facts” of the case may not be done yet. In the case of gay marriage, is it marriage that God will judge or acts of homosexuality? Does it matter what percentage of the population takes part in this? And since the Bible never imagined a nation would legalize gay marriage, can we assume legalizing gay relationships and calling it marriage is worse than the acts of homosexuality in God’s eyes.
These are also questions that have to be answered. I am not going to attempt those answers here.
But let’s assume that God has already decided that abortion and homosexuality in America are acts of guilt and must be punished. There are some huge questions to ask. Among them are these:
- What will that punishment look like?
- When will it happen? How long does God delay?
- Have previous national sins been declared sinful? If they were, did God execute his judgment on them already? If he did not, why?
- What other current sinful acts will God also declare worthy of punishment? Adultery, divorce, greed, taking advantage of developing countries, enslavement of youth for sex, not paying of tithes, violence against children, sexual abuse, prescription drug abuse, alcoholism (a right guaranteed by the 21st amendment), unwillingness to care for homeless, mentally handicapped, injured soldiers, ignoring the needs of soldiers with PTSD….on and on.
- How long will the punishment last? Is there a chance for reprieve?
- If there are 50 righteous people in a city, will God enact punishment (actually we know the answer to this one. Abraham prayed to God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there were fifty righteous people. Actually, God was willing to spare that city from destruction if there were ten righteous people).
- Has judgment already started? Would we know what it looks like if we saw it?
In the remainder of the articles, we will break down the answers to these questions and deal with some of the specifics of both the Old and New Testament teaching about Judgment.