1.10.2006

Stepping in it.

Contrary to what many may think, I don't necessarily blog every thought I have. In fact, normally, I blog the spare ones. The excess. The ones I would normally leave on the kitchen counter but for whatever reason decide to move to the ethernet. This morning's thoughts are not spare ones. They are thoughts I've been holding in my pocked for a long time. Some times, when fishing around for my keys, I find my fingers curled around these thoughts. I've just never pulled them out before.

I see Pat Robertson has come under what seems to be his bi-monthly hailstorm of criticism for declaring the judgement of God on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for Sharon's surrender of land in Israel.

Let me preface this by saying these thoughts are not about defending Robertson. He has said things like this a number of times and often recants or insists he was taken out of context when the transcript would indicate otherwise. I don't know Pat Robertson, have never heard him speak, and to use the Texas colloquialism, I got no dog in that fight.

My thoughts this morning are more centered around our ability or inability to percieve a God who breaks into time and space to judge wrongs in a way that we are likely to perceive has offensive or unnecessarily harsh. I'm not asking if Sharon's illness is God's judgement. I'm asking if there is room in your thought process for something like that to happen...because my gut says that a lot of backlash towards Robertson has very little to do with his abysmal track record and everything to do with the fact that we object to a God who judges sin.

I've been ruminating on passages like Isaiah 26:9, "With my soul I have desired You in the night, Yes, by my spirit within me I will seek You early; For when Your judgments are in the earth, The inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." that would indicate that God does judge the earth in a way and at a time when men can turn their hearts towards him. This understanding doesn't come easy.

People object to a God who judges sin in a real way based on a few arguments:

It is not in our experience.

It's hard for us to conceive of what we have not experienced. We can't imagine a God of judgement because we know our own hearts and have yet to experience anything that might be termed appropriate judgement. It is hard to believe God would judge anyone with the knowledge that He's given us a fairly long leash of free will and we have yet to have gotten too tangled in the chain. Nevertheless, lack of experience is a weak place from which to argue.

Early in the 1800's, Lewis and Clark made their way westward through uncharted territory. They had heard stories of a great bear, but not having experienced the great bear, they made their way with little fear. At the confluence of the Yellow and Missouri rivers near the present North Dakota/Montana border, Clark shot an elk and failed to reload his rifle. You can imagine his immediate concern when, after turning around, he saw the largest bear any white man had ever seen. Suddenly he was terrified with what had, only moments ago, not been a part of his experience.

Our experience is a partial indicator of God's character, but certainly not the whole ball of wax.

It's contrary to our sentiment.

While in DC, we often attended National Community Church, pastored by blogging machine Mark Batterson. Mark recently wrote that most Americans get their theology from books and movies. I think this has contributed in a large way to our warped perspective of the identity of God.

We have a rediculously sentimental perspective of God. We see Him as an absentminded grandfather completely consumed with our happiness. In our minds, he's somewhere between George Burns and Cupid. We have a difficult time understanding a God of judgement because we can't imagine him...leaving open the possibility that there's a whole lot about God that we don't know, because He is far beyond all we imagine Him to be.

We think it is contrary to scripture.

Once our sentiment is exposed for what it is, we fall back to it's not Biblical! Odd how we go with our gut before we go with the Word, isn't it?

Even then, we don't have much to stand on. The passage in Isaiah speaks about what we could only describe as instructive judgment. Countless other passages do the same. Once in a while, someone will tell me "But those things were already fulfilled!", and some of them may have been, at least in part, but certainly not all. Consider Zechariah 14, which describes a strong period of judgement - a horrible plague on the people who come against Israel. Then, in verse six, it says:

Then all the survivors from the nations that came against Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to celebrate the Festival of Booths.

Unless I missed something in my college classes, this has not happened. In fact, nothing close to this has ever occured. Even if you spiritualize the chapter, you can't find a record of it. There are huge gaps in what the Bible says will happen and what we can find in history - so the logical assumption is that they are in the future. To dismiss these passages is to take your own run at the Thomas Jefferson approach to Biblical study, cutting out the parts you don't like.

It doesn't fit in our philosophy.

I think this is usually the case. It is hard for us to conceive of a God of judgement because we are allowing what we think God should be like to rule over what we are told God is like. We form theology around feeling, project it on a wall of belief and stand back and say "look! This is God! Fuzzy-warm and fully consumed with your creature comforts!" when everything in the universe would declare otherwise.

John Gill wrote: "...philosophy may be useful as an handmaid; it is not to be a mistress in theological things; it may subserve, but not govern."

A key thing we miss about judgement is that it is to lead to correction. Regarding the earlier passage in Isaiah 26, Matthew Henry wrote "..those who have been careless in prosperity, are made wiser and better by afflictions." God's goal is not our pain - it is our wisdom.

Mike Bickle often says "God uses the least severe means to reach the greatest number of people at the deepest level of love without violating anyone’s free will." Seen this way, judgement is not retribution, but rather training of the heart.

All that to encourage you to do what I'm trying to do - wrestle with the texts...daily challenging what I think know...considering what I think and why I think it. To fail to do so is to be as closed minded as many in the blog world have accused Robertson of being.

Of course, it would not be the first time the church has become what she attacked.

13 comments:

chuck said...

Even though I don't agree with Pat on his tact, or lack there of, I believe that God is using him as a glimpse of what is to come for us in the end times.

Revelation 3:19 'Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be ernest and repent' Maybe we should omit that one...It hurts too much..

preach it preacher!

Scott Hodge said...

Great perspective Randy. The thing that I feel about Robertson is that if he is going to say something that he feels God is speaking through him, then he needs to stick by his words! But instead, Robertson says something and then recants it a day or two later. In my opinion, that ruins his credibility and makes him look like he is just speaking emotionally.

I don't so much have a problem with him speaking his mind (even though I'm not sure that I totally agree with his way of thinking), but if he is going to say it - then he should stand by what he believes and not back down. Otherwise, don't say it at all.

christa said...

Thanks Randy for the commentary, I have been rumminating on similar verses, Psalm 7:8 & 11, "JUDGE me, oh Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity.....God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day." and re-establishing a VERY healthy fear of the Lord! Do you think it is weird that my spirit longs for His righteous judgement in my life?

Randy Bohlender said...

Scott - Amen.

Sean The Red said...

Heck, I agree with Pat. He said this COULD be, not that it is.

And it COULD be a 300 pound older jewish man running a country of Jewish people, and fighting several different terrorist groups as well! Any one of those could get my BP going crazy!!

Ive been worried ever since watching TV and seeing Israel actually kicking thier own people out of land God gave them. I remember crying and thinking "What is going to have to happen now?".

And the reality that "fundementalists" or "evangelicals" even debate about PAt Robertsons statement trips me out. Can one call themselves that and truly be one without a firm commitment to Israel, and in fact the Old Testament? Trippy.

Steve said...

Hi,

Interesting post.

My concern with this discussion generally is, that while we may agree in the abstract that God does judge in that way(though I'm not sure I do), it only ever seems to be spoken about in application - God has judged xxx.

I've never heard anyone say 'this is God's judgement', without saying what it's God's judgement on. My point is simply, how do we know, and what is our guess based on other than our own
prejudices?

God's judgement against palestine, against gay people, against liberals. I've never head anyone say, I wonder if this is God's judgement against me for my lack of generosity. We have a tendancy to pick the people we secretly view as 'the worst sinners', which depends almost entirely on our viewpioint, and claim God's judgement on them.

It seems that to claim God's judgement on someone can only ever be fairly random and arbitrary.

You've obviously not done that here - I'm not suggesting that for a second, or critisising your post. It does raise the question for me though of whether this can ever be more than an academic question - Does god ever judge in this way- yes/no.

In application it certainly seems to be a case of planks and specks.

What do you think about the application of it?

Steve

Randy Bohlender said...

You ask good questions, Steve. Short of a clear prophetic word - much clearer than I've ever heard - I can't imagine announcing 'this is God's judgement because of ______". Even then, I'd swallow hard and pray I had the guts to say what I was told to say and then to not recant later when the firestorm hits. I don't know that we've seen a clear example of cause & effect judgment, but then again, there were probably those on the outskirts of Sodom that wondered "What the heck was that for?"

I do think that it's more than an academic question. Perhaps devotional is a better description. The intellectual short cut is to say "God doesn't do this...". Ironically, it's also the devotional shortcut because we don't want to work through the feelings of it. How is our heart positioned before the Lord when He acts in a way that we find difficult to understand? Calling it academic seems to make it acerbic and distant...and we'd probably prefer to keep it that way...but if we don't examine our own hearts' response now, we will fail the test on the day it happens. We have the luxury of examining this rationally now. At some point though, it will be in our faces and the only reaction that will spill out is the one that is hard wired into us.

Also, maybe I'm a loner, but I doubt it - I've wondered more than once if the difficulty I was encountering was related to disobedience on my own part. This may sound a little nuts (like I haven't ran the risk on that already), but I have a reoccuring problem with my knee that I can almost always directly connect with the sin of worrying about a specific area of life. Does it hurt? Oh yea. And it serves as a comparitively gentle reminder of what the natural extensions of this kind of worry will lead to. Judgment? Correction? The lines get blurry for me.

Steve said...

And good reponse!

I see what you mean about a devotional question, and I an agree with that. It's always a struggle, for me at least, when God does something, or more often than not doesn't do something, which I though he would/wouldn't.

My what a complicated sentance. It's hard to let God be god, even though we don't undestand.

I've wondered about stuff like that in my own life as well - though i'm not sure I've foudn a clear correlation.

Asd a church we've found a correlation between stepping out in God, and running into difficulties, that we correlate with being attacked, and I guess they are in some way related.

I wonder sometimes if our lack of prayer is one reason why God allows us to be tested?

You'e not alone with the wondering if I sound a little nuts!

Steve

eric wright said...

I believe God judges. I believe God judges sin. But, I also believe it is very dangerous (and often irresponsible) to stand on national television and proclaim "Thus sayeth the Lord!" Pat Robertson may have used the the phrase, "...this MAY be...," but on the medium of television this becomes a definite pronouncement.

The problem with judgment, at least in our culture and our church setting, is that it is always put in connection with condemnation. What we need are prophetic men of integrity, not pseudo-political spokemen.

We must remember that judgment is a saving act. The Psalmist constantly looks forward to God's judgment. It proclaims who is in the wrong and who is in the right, and the point with God making the judgment is that mere humans have no clue who is in the right or wrong. Even when the prophets stood to say, "Thus sayeth the Lord..." their pronouncement of judgment was against a lack of justice by the people of God.

The verse you chose from Isaiah is a marvelous verse. (The NIV Study Bible incorrectly relates judgments with punishment). Isaiah has just finished prnouncing judgment on the nations for their abuse of power and lack of justice for the underprivileged. And Isaiah says God's judgment leads to the Hebrew word: tsedeq. Translated righteousness, but probably more appropriately translated justice. And when Isaiah speaks of justice he points toward the lawmakers and judges and God worshippers who take bribes, oppress the poor, abuse the aliens, and ignores the widows and orphans.


I believe God judges, but I don't think He would send it through Pat Robertson. I also don't know which God would appreciate more: the attempt at bringing peace to the land or mainting a war over a few acres even if it is the Promised Land.

Just my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

What if Israel gets destroyed in an upcoming war. Im not joking just think about it. That would mess some of our theology up a bit!

Randy Bohlender said...

Only if we confuse a political system with the identity of a people.

Sean The Red said...

All I know is I NEED Gods Judgement.

He needs to judge between the different things I do and say, and if I dont listen to Him, then I need Him to get my attention.

Because He doesnt judge me to get me back for something, He does it to show me the difference between truth and lie. And He also does it because He has wrath against all the things that hold me back from Him. And He shows me how serious it is about what I have done.

I dont want to confuse consequences with judgement. You eat rib eye steaks with compund butter all your life (Gosh that sounds good), and have a massive coronary, you earned it. You judge someone/something or violate something, and God judges what happens and lets you know.

I dont want to confuse Judgement with condemnation. I wont be condemmned by God, but I bet He will judge the things I have done,a nd evaluate the truth and the reality of them.

And I hope that if I was perpetuating error, He would ring my bell enough to get me to stop, or remove me so I wouldnt poison anyone else.

I dont know, it seems like there is an easy biblical precendent for God to visit judgement on those who assault Israel, but if it happens now, there is some debate about it? God heals, God speaks through dreams and visions, God never changes, EXCEPT for judgement? SO I can be Pharoh and get away with it now?

I agree with Randy, I hope I would have the guts to state it. I dont, so I can only hope.

Mikie3toes said...

Randy,

Making one think is one of your gifts. Please continue to pull these things out of your pocket.

Mike