Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Why doesn't God judge the nations today as he did in Old Testament times? Why does he allow evil to continue under 'illegitimate' leaders?
We've been studying the prophets at Bible Study and the message that comes through is 1. You are doing wrong. 2. God will send punishment. 3. Ultimately there will be restoration, and mercy will triumph over judgement.
My group keeps asking the question - why doesn't God do something today?
Yesterday I thought of a pretty unacceptable answer, but it is making me think. Maybe God is judging the nations. Maybe Robert Mugabe is part of God's judgement on Africa. Maybe the wars in DRC and Darfur and wherever are part of God's judgement on Africa.
But how can God use Robert Mugabe? He is not a good guy (so far as we can see). Well, God used the Assyrians and the Babylonians and they were certainly not Godly nations. How can God allow such suffering under Robert Mugabe? Well, you are asking for JUDGEMENT aren't you?
I'm scared when I think thoughts like this, but there is quite a lot of consistency and it almost makes sense . . . What has Africa done? Well, left God. Shut down mission schools and hospitals. Secularised previously Christian institutions. Labelled missionaries colonial, anti-African activists. But surely God would never be so petty . . . Well, why are you asking for judgement if everything is ok?
Imagine if instead of mourning Africa we said - Guys, we in South Africa need to catch a wake-up. God is warning us. He has allowed North Israel of the Old Testament to fall, but Judah still stands. Can we turn to him and ward off judgement?
But we won't, except maybe in pockets of rather odd Christians. Because God is not cruel and cannot be using Robert Mugabe.
Rev 9:20 'The rest of mankind that were not killed by these plagues still did not repent . . .'

Like I said, it is making me think.


John van de Laar said...

Hi Jenny,

Interesting and, as you say, disturbing thoughts. Thanks for your courage in voicing them!

I have really only one response - a thought that I would like to add, that might add a bit of fuel to your own working through of this issue.

My problem with the "why doesn't God do what God did in the Bible" question is that it makes what I believe to be a dangerous assumption about both God and the Bible - that the Bible is a totally clear and objective vision of God all the way through. This may sound shocking at first, but stay with me here :-)

If we believe that the Bible is a complete and objective picture of God on any and every page, then we have a God with a bad case of multiple personality disorder - as has often been noted by readers and scholars of the Scriptures. I don't need to go into detail of what these personalities are - just compare Jesus with the God who drowned Pharoah's armies.

A more responsible reading of the the Bible, I believe, and a better way to access the God represented there, is to take into account the progressive nature of the Bible.

As much as I believe the book is inspired by God, I also believe that it's a human book - written by people who were wrestling with their understanding of God. And this wrestling is what we observe in the Scriptures. So, the early chapters of the Bible reveal a primitive understanding of God, and as the Bible progresses, so the vision of God that we see is more complex and variegated, more compassionate and mature, until we see Jesus claiming to be the ultimate revelation of God (which is why I believe the Bible needs to be interpreted through the lense of the life and teachings of Christ).

What does this mean in terms of judgement? It means for me that the way the people of the Old Testament saw God at work in history, and the way they understood that work was coloured by their view of God - which was still, in many ways, quite primitive. The temptation that I believe we must avoid is to adopt this Old Testament vision of God uncritically, and without allowing it to be mitigated by Jesus.

So, there will be those who will see today's world events in this Old Testment light - who will see Hurricane Katrina as a judgement on the USA and Zimbabwe as a judgement on Africa. But, I don't think that this view of God can be sustained when Jesus is brought into the picture.

So, why doesn't God judge the nations as God did before? Well, perhaps God never did judge the nations quite as the people of the Old Testament understood it - it was just their attempt to understand what they saw happening in history.

Perhaps what they call judgement is simply consequence - if we as human beings choose to live in ways that violate human rights and that ignore the finely balanced relationships in nature, then we can expect the tough consequences of a world in chaos - natural disasters, civil war and violence included.

There is much more that could be said on this, but these are just a few scattered thoughts for now.

For what it's worth.


rebecca said...

this may be a really dumb analogy but have you seen the movie Batman Begins? This was premise behind the major conflict in the movie.

Pure Justice anniliates good and bad so if God were to stop evil many good things would die along with it. Like the parable of the weeds and the wheat--there is a time when God's Justice will reign and I believe we all need to pray for His mercy when that happens.


Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi John
Yes, I do agree with the bottom line of what you say. But it's also nice to sit with a wayout thought for a while - change one's hermeneutical lens if you like - and see what new understandings come.
If the OT was Israel's primitive wrestling God, is the NT not also a relatively primitive wrestling? How can we know that our understanding of Jesus is more correct than the Israelites' understanding of God?
I agree that our sin is often punished by the direct consequences - but we know that life is more complicated than that.
Thanks for the comment - helps broaden my thinking!

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Becky
I'm going to try hire that dvd. That movie has been making me curious already. Thanks for the push in that direction!

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

I think you're on the right track, Jenny (I've just been preaching through 2 Chronicles).