Every once in a while, someone will make the news by declaring that some event is God’s judgment on, well, fill in the blank. The immediate reaction in the media is outrage, often well deserved. Unfortunately, such dustups obscure an important fact: God’s judgment must come upon America. Let me approach the subject with three stories that, at first, will seem wholly unrelated.
Tom, a friend of mine, once told me about the first car he ever owned. To make a long story short, he never thought to change the oil. Of course he never read the owner’s manual. He never even got curious about all the oil change places he drove past.
In other words, whatever oil was in the crankcase when he first bought the car was all it ever got until, eventually, the engine froze up and he couldn’t drive it any more. And he had no idea why.
You’re making a judgment about him, aren’t you? You ‘re thinking about how stupid he was. He wouldn’t argue the point, but let’s use the incident as a metaphor for the way people nowadays think when the subject of God’s judgment comes up.
According to divine law (as represented by the owner’s manual), “Thou shalt change the oil in thy car at regular intervals.” Failure to do so is sin. (Seriously: “sin” comes from a Greek archery term that means to fall short of the target. Tom certainly fell short of the requirements for taking care of his car.)
And so God, looking down from heaven (or, perhaps the Ford Motor Company, looking down from Detroit) became offended. He decreed that Tom, that sinner, must be punished. So he destroyed poor Tom’s car.
Now that’s stupid, too. At least it’s no stupider than the loons that proclaim that, say, a hurricane is God’s judgment on homosexuals or some such. After all, the “punishment” in the car story at least has some clear relationship to the “sin” of not changing the oil.
But neither God nor the manufacturer singles out the cars of negligent owners for destruction as a means of punishment. The engine broke down as a natural consequence of not putting oil in it. At the same time, your judgment is entirely accurate. Tom was stupid and destroyed his car through his stupidity.
Darrell Scott’s testimony before Congress
Darrell Scott, whose daughter Rachel was murdered in the Columbine High School massacre, testified before a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee on March 27, 1999. That testimony has been circulating through email ever since. I recently received such an email and wanted to check it out.
Every transcript I have found online is on a site that has an axe to grind. I have no particular interest in what other people make of Mr. Scott’s very brief comment about gun control, the quality of media coverage, or any other strictly political issue. After some hunting I found a government-issued PDF file of his testimony.
Here are a couple of brief excerpts that highlight what he had to say that’s relevant to divine judgment.
What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence. . . The real villain lies within our own hearts. . .
We do need a change of heart and a humble acknowledgment that this nation was founded on the principle of simple trust in God!” “As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes, He did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right!
Nowadays, some people have no understanding of the distinction between church and religion. There is no constitutional requirement to separate religion and state.
No one could keep Craig Scott from praying under that library table, but the whole array of godless lobbying groups loudly applauds whenever school children are punished for expressing their faith in book reports or art projects. In their willful contempt of what the constitution actually says, they actively campaign to have all levels of government infringe on the right to speak the name of Jesus in public as something other than a curse word.
As Mr. Scott points out, our educational system, in fact our entire political system, was open to “spiritual influences,” or to be more explicit, Christian influences throughout most of its history.
He rightly points out that expelling Christian influence from society opens us to violence and all manner of evil. Is that because God has become offended and has decided to punish us? Or is it, like Tom’s ruined car, simply a predicable consequence of our society’s poor choices?
King Manasseh of Judah
2 Kings 21 tells of the 55-year reign of King Manasseh, Judah’s most wicked king. His father Hezekiah was one of the godliest kings.
His grandfather Ahaz was perhaps the weakest and most foolish. He inherited an independent kingdom and through cowardice made into a vassal of the Assyrian empire. Every subsequent king struggled to regain independence.
Manasseh and his advisors evidently thought they would be safer if they did nothing to anger the Assyrians. They also evidently thought that Hezekiah’s insistence on worshiping the God of Israel made the country stand out too much from its neighbors.
For whatever reason, Manasseh restored the pagan shrines that Hezekiah had torn down. He even offered one of his own sons to be burned alive at one of them. He met opposition with violence. According to legend, he ordered Isaiah, one of his father’s close advisors, to be stuffed into a hollow log, which he then ordered sawed in half.
God responded with a promise of stern judgment.
Now the Lord spoke through His servants the prophets, saying, “Because Manasseh king of Judah has done these abominations, having done wickedly more than all the Amorites did who were before him, and has also made Judah sin with his idols; therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am bringing such calamity on Jerusalem and Judah, that whoever hears of it, both his ears will tingle. I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria and the plummet of the house of Ahab, and I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will abandon the remnant of My inheritance and deliver them into the hand of their enemies, and they will become as plunder and spoil to all their enemies; because they have done evil in My sight, and have been provoking Me to anger since the day their fathers came from Egypt, even to this day.’”
Moreover, Manasseh shed very much innocent blood until he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another; besides his sin with which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the Lord. – 2 Kings 21:10-16
Did Manasseh think that cooperating with and imitating Assyrian religion would keep him safe? He had second thoughts when the Assyrians dragged him to their capital with a hook in his nose!
His name, by the way, means “causing to forget.” After 55 years of violent repression, he caused the nation of Judah to forget God and worship demons instead. Only one later king (Josiah) even tried to restore traditional worship. The following generation apparently blamed him when the international situation went from bad to worse.
The Bible speaks of God acting in anger, but the working out of divine judgment against the Kingdom of Judah happened by completely natural means. It would have been impossible by such means to predict the divine protection Hezekiah experienced. It hardly required a prophet to predict the eventual exile of the entire kingdom under later kings’ indifference to both God and simple justice, who cared only for saving their own skins.
How it all fits together
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and entrusted care of the earth to human beings. The devil immediately came to take away God’s word and seduced humanity to obey him instead.
By willfully committing high treason against God, the humans cut themselves (and their posterity) off from receiving both divine love and divine wisdom.
Human stewardship of the earth has not gone well. People do not understand natural processes well enough to work with them instead of against them. People selfishly seek what feels best for themselves and therefore have always been incapable of living in a society based on love.
How can we take care of the planet if we can’t even muster the wisdom to take proper care of the machines we build? Isn’t every industrial accident a consequence of some combination of lack of wisdom and lack of love? And doesn’t everyone but the guilty parties swiftly render that judgment?
Manasseh was not the first ruler to try to evict the living God from government and society. Nor has he been the last. The violence he perpetrated in the process is merely typical. Recent centuries have seen the same pattern repeat in the aftermath of the French Revolution and in the Soviet Union, to mention but two instances.
Of course, it does not require explicitly godless people for a society to turn to evil and violence. Probably anyone who knows or cares about history can find instances where people turned away from God’s influence by violently trying to force others to “honor” God with some prescribed doctrine or ritual instead of some other one.
As Darrell Scott pointed out, the expulsion of Christian values from society results in evil and violence. The religious wars of the 17th century happened after Catholics and Protestants turned their back on love and justice and expelled God’s values in order to kill each other over institutions and labels. That resulted in little-c “christian” violence.
If anti-Christian American groups get their way, it can only result in “progressive” violence, no matter what they consciously intend before it starts.
Meanwhile, God has already ordained that his program of love and grace will ultimately defeat the devil. God will eventually destroy all sin, including all foolishness and lovelessness. And what more is divine judgment than the working out of that gracious promise?