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.