Is God Going To Judge America?
Is God Going To Judge America?
Jeff VanGoethem, Senior Pastor
The short answer to this is maybe or the perhaps a little more decisively, I don’t know and neither does anyone else.
But there is much more to say and so the longer answer is below.
What about these threats?
From the time I was brought into the evangelical church movement in 1975 I have heard threats from pulpit, pew and pen that God was on the verge of judging America. What that actually means always seems a bit obscure, maybe we will be conquered by another country? Maybe terrible natural disasters will kill all of us? Maybe all the believers will be locked up and executed? Maybe an economic collapse will come? What does it mean? Did the Lord judge the Soviet Union in 1989 when the wall fell? Maybe. But it seems that Russia has picked up the pieces and reverted to its old self successfully, with a former KGB man now running the country and using neighboring countries as his own personal playground. Were they judged or not? What do we mean when we say, “God is going to judge America?” Is it economic collapse, military defeat, religious persecution, all of the above? What?
There is a long history of this kind of rhetoric, going back as far as the Puritan era. There was for example a great deal of judgment talk in the church in the civil war years, was the nation and church being judged because of slavery? Was the war the judgment of God? Well it was certainly a terrible time in our nation’s history, however there was also mercy. There was a great revival during those days and many souls were brought in. This is hard to interpret. What was God doing? So this kind of judgment rhetoric and speculative interpretation of current events is nothing new. But it remains very problematic.
What does the Bible teach?
This has come to mind again because of studying and preaching through the book of Isaiah, where the judgment of the kingdom of Judah is in sharp focus. Many draw out the warnings to ancient Judah and apply them to our own country and society, observing similar parallels of moral and spiritual decline between the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and America today. Some have seized upon the events of 9/11, stock market crashes and other events as evidences of impending national judgment, prefigured in Old Testament passages.
However, these “prophetic” interpretations often violate the original context. For example, I would argue that the most proximate parallel to ancient Judah is not America, but rather the church. Our application should flow firstly to the church (being much more analogous to ancient Israel) rather than America. Applying such texts to modern countries is much, much more complex. Such Old Testament passages are directed to the kingdoms of Judah or Israel and not in any direct way to current events in America.
Perhaps we have to think more clearly about Old and New Testament biblical theology. God is not dealing principally with the world through nations today, but through the church. It is primarily the church that must heed the warnings of God’s circumstantial and temporal judgment (1 Corinthians 11:27-32, 1 Peter 4:17). Let us judge ourselves before God judges us.
That is not to say we do not preach judgment to the lost world around us. More on that below
My point so far is that we must be very careful in applying the national judgments of the Old Testament to modern countries. First of all, the ancient lands of Judah and Israel had a special agreement (covenant) with God. He was their king. Those nations were meant to be theocracies. No such agreement prevails today between God and America. Some have suggested that the early founding fathers of America intended some kind of covenant with God when our nation was founded. But the Old Testament covenants were initiated by God, revealed in inspired Scripture, repeated in successive generations and stemmed from God’s Messianic purpose in the world. No such thing can be said of America, not even close, nor any other modern country, whatever the founding fathers intended. You cannot have a one way covenant with God, it has to be initiated and revealed by God. Saying that a country has enjoyed certain blessings from God is not the same as saying they are a chosen people as Old Testament Israel was. The Old Testament covenant flowed downward from God. It was a revelatory, part of God’s Messianic purpose. God’s relationship to Israel was and is absolutelyunique, never to be repeated. The only close parallel is the church (which is also called a chosen nation), not any particular country or government.
A second point to make is this: when a nation was singled out for judgment by God (and there are frequent examples of this in the Old Testament), they were given clear, certain, detailed, and inspired explanations (usually in advance). The Word of God came through the prophets to each nation by name. It was recorded in the inspired and infallible scripture for all to see. No such warnings exist for America today. America is not even named in biblical prophecy. Hence any pronouncements on the judgment (whatever that means) of America is remains speculative. We simply have no certain, sure word of warning or explanation of this in scripture
Thirdly this issue must be informed by the New Testament understanding of grace. We are in the age of grace. God has proclaimed Himself to be patiently merciful. He is patient until the time of the end, when in fact His judgment will fall on all the nations of this world. I have no trouble at all preaching doomsday and the final judgment of sin and unbelief, which is explained throughout the New Testament. I will preach the final judgment of this world every day and twice on Sunday. It is totally biblical and we have ample biblical material to survey and teach.
However we see almost nothing about national judgments in the New Testament. It is interesting that when the modern day preachers of God’s judgment of America go to scripture they are often found drawing out and applying Old Testament warning passages, which have nothing to do with modern nations, and deal with events that have long since passed into history. I grant they have some parallels. However, the extrapolation of these parallels into a certain word that God will and must judge America is a perilous step of Bible interpretation. It presumes to speak for God when in fact God has not spoken. So we must be very cautious about such pronouncements
What about the age of grace?
Moreover, God has said something about the nature of our present age:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. – 1 Peter 3:8-10
We are living in the age of patience now. We are living in the age of grace. This age will end suddenly and climactically in judgment. But for now God is postponing judgment to allow more to come to salvation. God’s dealings with the nations of the world today are tempered by gospel grace, represented by His clear statement that judgment is delayed by divine patience. Thanks be to God for that.
The Lord Jesus outlined how things were going to go in this age through the use of a parable in Matthew 13:24-30, in which He clearly taught that the wheat and the weeds would grow along together throughout this age until the time of the end. And that the harvest or judgment would be postponed so that the wheatwould not be taken away with the weeds. In this age, belief and unbelief, sin and righteousness will be allowed to continue together unto the very end. We do not see anything in the parable that suggests sudden judgments of some of the weeds.
So in our day, although we will have wars and rumors of wars we should take care not to jump to conclusions about who and what is being judged or should be judged. We have no specific scripture on that point. Meanwhile we have mighty promises of grace and patience. We should major on this and use this day of grace and patience to zealously evangelize as much as we can. In God’s economy, our present age is characterized as an age of gospel preaching much more than an age of national judgments.
Should we warn of the judgment to come? Absolutely. Can we confidently tell our fellow countrymen that they should repent? Absolutely. But so does every other nation and every single solitary person, born under Adam (Acts 17:30). We note that even when Paul stood before Roman officials, he did not say, “Rome is going to be judged.” Rather he warned of the general judgment of all men and nations, speaking of “righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). That is the coming judgment.
As wicked and oppressive as the Roman Empire was (it eventually executed Paul), we find nothing in the New Testament writings which says, “God is judging Rome or God will judge Rome” as we hear it today about America. The fact is Rome eventually imploded by means of weakness from within and pressure from without. Did God judge Rome? Maybe. Some might say that what happened to them was a judgment and they could list many reasons and many parallels to America. But all kinds of empires, kingdoms, and nations have come and gone over the centuries. We do not have a clear word from the Bible on how to interpret all of this. Regarding Rome, we at least have some biblical prophecies that outline its demise and subsequent return in the last days. Bible scholars have interpreted these things in various ways. Concerning America, we have nothing in the Bible. In this day of patience we would be wise to be very cautious about making claims of temporal judgments or interpreting certain events as God’s judgment when we have no certain, inspired Word on these matters. Meanwhile, rather than speculating (which we have no call from God to do), let’s preach the gospel (which God has clearly called us to do).
What can we affirm?
Does God work sovereignly and providentially among the nations of the world, raising some up and bringing some down? Of course. Who would deny such a thing? There are general truths in the Old Testament which proclaim this doctrine (Psalm 66:7, Isaiah 40:22-24). There are specific examples of such nations in the Bible. But the point is that we, in the New Testament era, have no inspired word which grants us certainty about what God is doing in the world and why He is doing it. We may see certain events unfold before our eyes, but who is willing to say they know for sure what heaven’s meaning and purpose is? Are we flawless interpreters of God’s sovereign dealings? Can we fathom God’s dealings without any mistakes or misunderstandings? I think not. I certainly do not consider myself able to do this.
Let’s be careful. Let’s be cautious. Many have been tempted to speculate, and normally this is done with their own biases intact. You end up with a religious/political mishmash, with all the name calling and blaming that goes with it, especially in election seasons, when the elections and the direction of the country is not going the way one desires. Is this motivated by the gospel or are we reacting because we see the country and its politics going the wrong way? What is our motivation? Let’s be motivated by the gospel of grace, when properly understood, is a sufficient motivation for all we do.
We can affirm final judgment. We can warn souls of hell. We have every right to do that, based on the Bible. Let’s not threaten people with temporal judgment if the vote does not go our way. We have no biblical foundation for that. We risk serious error when we attempt to give heaven’s interpretation of current events and/or confidently warn of national judgment, when in fact we have no sure word from scripture on this. Some good advice for all: let’s stick with the Bible, soundly explained and stay away from speculative, quasi-prophetic utterances.
Summarizing then, given that we live in the age of grace and patience, given the absence of any mention of America in the New Testament or the prophetic scriptures, and given the absence of a New Testament emphasis on national and special judgments on specific nations, we should exert an abundance of caution in the use of “God is going to judge America” rhetoric. If we take the nations of the world one by one, we can probably find sobering, judgment-worthy crimes for each of them. Should God not judge Somalia and Saudi Arabia where one is not even allowed to form a church or build a church building? Should God not judge China (which officially bans God) which has a far higher rate of abortion that our own country? Should God not judge several of the African regimes and countries where corruption and abuse of the poor is a way of life? Should God not judge European nations for their empty churches and dismissal of biblical morality? We can point out these sins and crimes and urge nations to repent without proclaiming that certain temporal judgment is right around the corner
Sure we can all see moral and spiritual decline in America. I am glad to talk about this until the cows come home. I will point it out and hope it provokes some thought and repentance. And certainly such sins as we see growing stronger today are going to have consequences. And they can have national consequences. That in itself is a form of God’s judgment. We reap what we sow. I am willing and ready to point this out too.
However I am a careful not to join the “God is judging America” crowd who like to say that God will soon have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah if he does not judge America. Are they really thinking that God is going to send down fire from heaven? What are they saying? Has such a thing happened in the age of grace? Countless nations and kingdoms have come and gone over history, but there are no events which parallel what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. So let’s be careful about our rhetoric.
Here are some things I think we can affirm:
God judges sin, has judged sin, and will continue to judge sin in His own ways, until the final judgment when all sin and sinners will be permanently judged and sin shall reign no more. God is the judge of all the earth.
God supernaturally oversees the nations of the world in providence and judgment. And He can do as He pleases with what He sees, whether sovereignly directing events or in vengeance punishing men and nations. Certainly this opens the door for robust prayer in the church. The prayer of God’s people can touch God’s providence for the sake of our sin sick world.
The clearest word we have on judgment is final judgment. We should relentlessly warn all men and nations of this. Read the Bible. The final judgment is a thousand times worse than any temporal judgment and is mentioned far more often than any temporal judgments in the age of grace.
Regarding today’s current events, we lack specific, inspired revelation on what exactly God may be doing or will do. And thus we should display caution in our language and rhetoric because any one of our potential pronouncements could certainly turn out to be mistaken.
The Word of God calls all men everywhere to repent. We can confidently state we need both individual and corporate repentance, a turning to God, the crushing of pride and the humble solicitation of God’s mercy, in salvation and blessing. This applies to individuals, churches, ministries, nations, and peoples. God is ever so patient with humanity, but let us use that patience for repentance.
We are in the age of grace and gospel preaching. God has postponed the time of the end to allow for repentance. Therefore we must highlight the mercy of God and the opportunity to come into salvation. Let’s preach the gospel. In doing so we should not fail to mention God’s kindness, grace, mercy and patience even as we proclaim final judgment. As the scripture reminds us, we are to know both the kindness and the severity of God (Romans 11:22).