One of the arguments which the church has largely stopped even trying to defend is the claim that God actively judges nations today. This is a common-place of the Old Testament: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is the most blatant example of this, and it is a passing theme in all the major prophets. Amos (cpt 1) starts with a series of judgements of the nations surrounding before bringing his focus onto Israel; a softening up exercise, but one recording God’s condemnation, and plans to punish, gentile nations; it is ironic that many liberal Christians love to quote Amos about social injustice, but would be very twitchy at engaging with the idea that God actually does do judgement.
At first sight the New Testament is less clear on the issue; it’s worth remember though that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD is foretold as a punishment for the Jews’ rejection of Israel. The book of Revelation presents the judgements on the world as an attempt by God to get their attention; the refrain is ‘they did not repent despite these punishments.
On the whole modern Christianity is allergic to the suggestion. In part this derives from bad theology: ‘how can a God of love bring active destruction on those He loves?’ – a question which the Old Testament struggles with and yet ultimately has no doubts about (e.g. Hosea 11). And it is better for people to hurt now than to end up permanently separated from God. However the bigger problem is that naturalistic explanations of the events that the bible describes as the judgements of God make it problematic to ascribe them to God: the earthquake / drought / invasion happened because of processes that we now understand so it can’t have been God’s work. This is, of course, to miss the way that God works through natural effects, as well as dismissing the ‘butterfly effect’ that means that a minimal intervention by God may have caused these events without it being visible to the outside observer.
The effect however is clear: suggest that a specific event is God’s judgement and you will be laughed at. So we don’t try. Of course part of the problem is that when you turn up AFTER the event and announce that it was God saying something, you have minimal credibility and will be seen as merely trying to pursue your particular agenda; add in a propensity to try and interpret the event as part of an eschatology and you’ve totally lost it.
Biblically the perfect example of the opposite is Elijah’s announcing the drought beforehand, and ending it when the people had changed. Modern attempts are generally unsatisfactory: David Wilkerson’s ‘The Vision’ is a mixed bag, Clifford Hill’s ‘Towards the Dawn’ and ‘The Day comes’ lack specific statements, and what was specific is now painfully long in the tooth, whilst David Pawson’s prediction that the UK will become an Islamic state, whilst still on track, is hard to focus on. Perhaps the biggest problem for the pessimistic prophets is that on the whole things are getting significantly better; internationally poverty is falling rapidly, and in the UK crime levels have declined steeply and in general there have been few major disasters.
Which brings us to the present drought in Cape Town. Amos seems to be unambiguous:
If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?….
I also withheld rain from you,
When there were still three months to the harvest.
I made it rain on one city,
I withheld rain from another city.
One part was rained upon,
And where it did not rain the part withered.
So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water,
But they were not satisfied;
Yet you have not returned to Me,”
Says the Lord.
Amos cpt 3, 4.
On the basis of that, are we justified in following the atheist assumption that the Cape Town situation is just coincidence, or is God trying to get their attention? Is it easier for us to avoid discussion of the truth that God CAN intervene in this way because it can make other arguments about God harder to sustain – or should we be willing to take the hit because people have a right to know? James 3 warns us: ‘let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.’ And note of course that the Cape Town situation DOESN’T imply that they are any worse sinners, given Luke 13’s warning on that.
So where do we go on this? It appears there is a substantial hole in the ministry of the church in warning the world of the judgements that God is proposing to bring:
‘Surely the Lord God does nothing,
Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.’
Of course we’ve had this hole so long that we don’t know what we are missing, but as the passage in Ezekiel about the watchman that is usually applied to evangelism reminds us: if we fail to warn people and they die in their sins, then God will require their blood of us. (Ezekiel 33).
Ultimately we need to hear from the Lord so that with Amos we can say:
A lion has roared!
Who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken!
Who can but prophesy?
May God provide us with the prophets that we need to see the church healthy and the world rightly warned.