A QUESTION OF DIVINE JUDGMENT – II
by Bob Wheeler
America, of course, is not ancient Israel; and even the church, for that matter, is not under the Mosaic Covenant. In that sense we have often heard the famous verse in II Chron. 7:14 (“. . .if My people who are called by My name . . .”) misapplied to America. But, as we have seen, global pandemics do not happen by accident. Ultimately the hand of God is in them. What, then, are we to make of them?
When we turn to the New Testament we find Jesus making it very clear that “Nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences* and earthquakes in various places” (Matt. 24:7: NKJV). The Book of Revelation elaborates. There are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the fourth one of which is riding a pale horse, “And the name of him who rode on it was death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth” (Rev. 6:8).
Later on a trumpet sounds in heaven, the bottomless pit is opened, and locusts emerge to torment those human beings who have not previous been sealed. “In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them” (9:6).
Another trumpet sounds, and four angels are released to kill a third of mankind. And yet such is the hardness of the human heart that the survivors “did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood . ..And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts” (9:20,21).
The question is, why does this happen to human society, and why does this happen to the church? On the first question the Book of Revelation gives us a vivid picture of “Babylon,” the symbol of worldly, corrupt human civilization. It is materially prosperous, and through its prosperity and its extensive international commerce it corrupts the rest of the world. “For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wealth of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury” (18:3). George Eldon Ladd, commenting on this verse, says that the word translated “luxury” (strenuous) suggests “self-indulgence and luxury accompanied by arrogance and wanton exercise of strength.”
This, in turn, led to pride (“she glorified herself” – v. 7), and exploitation of others – her cargo includes “bodies and souls of men” (v. 13). According to the majority of Greek manuscripts, “her sins have been heaped up to heaven” (v.5).
God, then, will render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her” (v. 6). “Therefore her plagues will come in one day – death and mourning and famine. And she will be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord who judges her” (v. 8).
But what about the church? Why should the church have suffered through all of this? Part of the reason is that we are called to suffer with Christ. But part of the reason is also that the church is not always as it should be. In Revelation chapters 2 and 3 there are the letters to the seven churches of Asia, and in them the Lord is sharply critical of some of the churches. The church at Ephesus, for example, was doctrinally sound, but “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (2:4). The church had a dead orthodoxy. Likewise the church at Sardis had “a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (3:1). But perhaps the most scathing criticism was directed to the church at Laodicea. “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish You were cold or hot” (3:13). “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked –“ (v. 17). Of this church Christ actually said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock” (v. 20). He was outside!
So how does all of this apply to our current situation? We are faced with a global pandemic, which would make it impossible to point to a single action by a single person at a specific time and place that would have occasioned the outpouring of God’s wrath and judgment. But the pandemic has hit Europe and America especially hard, and these are places which were once nominally Christian but have since departed from the faith and have sunk into practical atheism and moral decay. Most of these countries have legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, the same kinds of sin that brought the wrath of God down upon the ancient Canaanites. Israel was warned, “Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all of these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants” (Lev. 18:24,25).
To make matters worse, Western society tries to rationalize its immoral behavior with a kind of radical skepticism that denies universal truths and moral absolutes. It is not wonder, then, that God would bring judgment down upon the corrupt and decadent Western world.
But what about the church? At a time like this we need to engage in some honest sour-searching. As Christ told the church at Laodicea, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Rev. 3:19). Measured by God’s standards, are we the churches that we ought to be? Are we the individual Christians that we ought to be? Can we honestly say that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength? Do we immerse our souls in God’s Word? Are we devoted to prayer? De we honestly love the brethren? Do we sense the presence of the Holy Spirit in our gathered assemblies? Does our worship reflect the sense of mingled awe and joy that we ought to feel when we are in the presence of the infinite, holy and loving God? If we are honest with ourselves, and our churches are typical of what we see so often today, the answer is probably “no.”
A day of prayer and fasting was long overdue. Let us fall on our knees and humbly confess our sins, and plead with God for spiritual renewal. And let us be earnest in praying for the conversion of the lost. They are our fellow human beings. But for the grace of God there go we. Apart from Christ they face an eternity in hell. In times like these we need to pray for revival!
“Lord, take my life, and make it wholly Thine;
Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine.
Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;
I now surrender, Lord – in me abide.
“O Holy Ghost, revival comes from Thee;
Send a revival, start the work in me.
Thy word declares Thou wilt supply our need;
For blessings now, O Lord, I humble plead.”
J. Edwin Orr
*Most modern English version omit the word “pestilences.” It is in the majority of Greek manuscripts, however, as well as the Latin Vulgate, although the Vulgate reverses the order: “pestilences and famines.”