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[see, for necessary background information: “Judgment of Nations: A Collection of Biblical Passages”]
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God used (among others) the Babylonians and Nebuchadnezzar to judge Israel when they had strayed:
. . . Behold, I will bring upon Tyre from the north Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon . . . He will slay with the sword your daughters . . . I will make you a bare rock . . . (Ezekiel 26:7-8, 14; cf. Jer 27:6 — where God calls him “my servant” — Jer 46:26; Ezra 5:12; Isaiah 9:11-17, many others)
The fact that God used them doesn’t make everything they did right. Babylon was eventually judged, after being used by God to punish Israel for its sins. But God can use even objectively evil acts for His own ultimate benevolent ends, over the long term, in His inscrutable Providence (see, e.g., Gen 45:4-8; 50:15-20). The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses this:
311. “Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. [Cf. St. Augustine, De libero arbitrio I, 1, 2: PL 32, 1221- 1223; St.Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 79, 1.] He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it: For almighty God. . ., because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself. [St. Augustine, Enchiridion II, 3: PL 40,
“312. “In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: ‘It was not you’, said Joseph to his brothers, ‘who sent me here, but God. . . You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.’ [Gen 45:8; Gen 50:20; cf. Tob 2:12 Vulgate).] From the greatest moral evil ever committed – the rejection and murder of God’s only Son, caused by the sins of all men – God, by his grace that ‘abounded all the more’,[Cf. Rom 5:20 .] brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes
God allowed Satan to persecute Job, for His larger purposes: “‘Behold, all that he has is in your power’ . . . “(Job 1:12). The most rebellious nations (by definition), and the most worthy of judgment, are the most Judaism- or Christianity-saturated nations. They are all the more accountable for their rebellion, just as ancient Israel became an abomination to God time and time again because she was given so much, and rejected it. We know from revelation that God clearly judges nations in direct proportion to how much moral truth they know and deliberately reject.
One might argue that mass media (now including the Internet), literacy, centuries of further development of moral and theological teaching, more awareness of the gospel and Christianity; more familiarity with its good fruits and blessings resulting therefrom; revivalism, stated belief, and any number of additional factors would be criteria for determining which countries today might possibly be “ripe” for judgment. having rejected so much true knowledge of the faith and of God and His teachings and moral laws. It is the contrast or relationship between how much of Christianity a nation knows and has rejected, which is the key factor, and what that nation has done or permitted (legally or otherwise) since having rejected it as a culture.
Better for a nation to not even claim to be Christian than to pretend it is while, for example, slaughtering babies by the millions, or sanctioning legally and culturally a host of sexual sins and other sins not harmonious with traditional Christianity. To whom much is given, much is required. This is utterly obvious, given God’s treatment of His own chosen people, the Jews, throughout history. They knew much more than the Gentiles, so God judged them accordingly. The presence of many good things in a nation would not necessarily comprise any sort of disproof of this opinion. The very fact of undeniable and great amounts of good supports the contention that a nation has been especially blessed by God’s grace (for where else does good come from?). That nations fall so low despite that is their indictment, much like ancient Israel.
Our Lord reasoned precisely in this way, in condemning Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum, in relation to Tyre and Sidon (Luke 10:13-15). There, the idea is that the former places knew more; therefore they were more culpable for rebellion: . . for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon . . . (10:13) In fact, our Lord mentions Sodom in contrast to those towns which reject the disciples’ message, in Luke 10:12 (compare to Ezekiel, chapter 16, and Romans, chapters 1 and 2). All quite biblical, all quite divine, being from our Lord.
Matthew 12:40-42 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nin’eveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
Natural law is also binding on all persons and cultures. The key lies in Romans 1 and 2. Those two chapters refer specifically to individual culpability, rather than national. But they can also be applied by extension or analogy, to nations. It all depends on what one knows of God’s law and/or natural law. All men have the potential for knowing how to act morally, in the main, even without revelation, and they are judged accordingly, as St. Paul explicitly informs us. So the following theoretical/philosophical scenario would apply, I think. I don’t pretend to know how one would quantify degrees of sin in all particulars. That is for God to ultimately determine (in terms of both judgment and individual salvation), not men, but here is my scenario :
1. Nation X has “degree 99” of knowledge about revelation/Judaism/Christianity and has (institutionally, and in terms of societal norms) rejected 85% of it.
2. Nation Y has “degree 0” of knowledge about revelation/Judaism/Christianity — therefore it cannot reject it (insofar as revelation goes beyond the moral knowledge achievable through natural law).
3. Nation X has “degree 50” of the sins of abortion, materialism, oppression of the poor, racism, lack of piety, sexual sin, etc.
4. Nation Y also has “degree 50” of the sins of abortion, materialism, oppression of the poor, racism, lack of piety, sexual sin, etc.
Now which nation is more worthy of judgment? Clearly, Nation X, because it knew more, having received and accepted more of God’s revelation, therefore incurring a higher culpability, than Nation Y, which received none. The sin and hypocrisy is proportionate to how much the nation knew and rejected. One can argue, of course, over degrees and culpability, as it is a largely subjective matter, but the bottom line principle of to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48) stands, I think.The context of this saying of our Lord was the parable of the faithful and wise steward (Luke 12:41-48). Here is its conclusion: verses 47-48 (RSV):
And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required; and of him to whom men commit much they will demand the more.
The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) makes a very similar point. It is noteworthy that the servants received different amounts of talents: 5, 2, and 1, to each according to his ability (25:15). The servants with 2 and 5 talents multiplied them by the same amount (25:20, 22), while the servant with one did nothing. He was damned (25:30), while the others were greeted with well done, good and faithful servant (25:21, 23). So they were judged by what they did with what they had, just as those with and without the law are judged by what they know and (more importantly) do (Romans 2:12-16).James makes the same point in another fashion:
James 3:1 Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. (cf. Romans 2:17-24)
Jesus echoes this same thought in his conversation with the Roman centurion, where he contrasts his strong faith with the spiritual hypocrisy of the disobedient among the Jews who knew more but who would be damned (Matthew 8:5-13; cf. 21:28-32).That said, I believe there could indeed be (and often have been) nations which were so exceedingly wicked, even never having received or accepted any significant knowledge of revelation (but still being responsible for moral law and conscience), that they are worse than a nation receiving revelation and rejecting part of it. So e.g., I would say that the ancient Aztecs, with their human sacrifice, were worse as a society than Rome in 430, or America in 1960, or even France in the throes of “Enlightenment” tyranny in 1795. No contest.
But once (particularly) the millions of slaughtered babies start adding up in so-called Christian countries, with legal and societal sanction (“all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing” — Edmund Burke), then I say that the latter countries are far worse, according to Scripture, just as an individual who truly didn’t know what abortion entailed, and had one, is far less guilty than one who committed this horrible sin, knowing full well what it was, and perhaps even knowing that it is utterly contrary to the Bible and Christianity.
One must think about these matters biblically, as opposed to being a fish wholly contained by the “aquarium” of their own culture and how it predominantly thinks; beholden to the currently fashionable zeitgeist. It is always an ongoing task for Christians to think “biblically” and “Christianly” in the midst of an overwhelmingly secular culture, whose influence affects us all. Oftentimes, unfortunately, people come from a perspective of sheer emotionalism or arbitrary opinion, rather than from a biblical worldview, with regard to this matter of when God might be construed as “judging” or “chastising.”
That is quite understandable (as it is an unpleasant, frightening topic), but at the same time, it is the duty of the Christian apologist to explain and defend a biblical worldview, especially if it is being snickered at, attacked, and dismissed as of little import, or relegated to the sole domain of “fanatics” or so-called “fundamentalists.” God doesn’t change. He judged nations in the past; He still does today, and He will judge the entire world and everyone in it at the End of the Age.
Oftentimes in the Old Testament, the prophets would give a conditional prophecy: “If you act righteously you will win battle X with nation Y. But if you continue in your idolatries [substitute any serious sin], you will be defeated, and led away with hooks in your noses, [etc.]” So repentance was urged, without being thought of as a substitution for military action against enemies. Prophets (as I recall) didn’t say very often, if at all, not to fight, but rather, to repent so that the battle would be successful. The evil nature of the enemy did not change, whatever Israel decided to do with regard to its own sins:
1 Samuel 12:15 but if you will not hearken to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king.
2 Chronicles 7:11-22:11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the LORD and the king’s house; all that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the LORD and in his own house he successfully accomplished. 12 Then the LORD appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer, and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. 16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there for ever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 17 And as for you, if you walk before me, as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, 18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘There shall not fail you a man to rule Israel.’ 19 “But if you turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will pluck you up from the land which I have given you; and this house, which I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 21 And at this house, which is exalted, every one passing by will be astonished, and say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?” 22 Then they will say, ‘Because they forsook the LORD the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods, and worshiped them and served them; therefore he has brought all this evil upon them'”
Nations are as contradictory as every human being is: we are mixtures of radical good and radical evil, due to original sin, the world, the flesh, and the devil. Alexander Solzhenitsyn correctly noted: “the line between good and evil runs through every human heart.” Nations are much the same. Many of the inhabitants of a country could be very righteous and perform many good works, but there is a common motif in the Old Testament, whereby God ceases to even acknowledge the goodness of spiritually or morally good, pious acts, if enough evil is tolerated that even the pious acts become overtly hypocritical:
Proverbs 28:9 If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
Isaiah 1:4, 11, 13, 15-17 Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged . . . “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of he-goats . . . Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and the calling of assemblies–I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly . . . When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.
Isaiah 5:20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Isaiah 59:2 . . . your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you so that he does not hear.
Jeremiah 14:12 Though they fast, I will not hear their cry, and though they offer burnt offering and cereal offering, I will not accept them; but I will consume them by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.”
Amos 5:21-24 “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
See also Matthew 23:1-31 (Jesus’ condemnation of the “pious hypocrisy” of the Pharisees).
The need for self-examination and national repentance in the face of chastisement or judgment (if it is not final judgment) is a strong biblical theme, and one eloquently commented upon by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, in an article in The National Review, dated September 18, 2001, entitled “Amalek & U.S.: Self-examination and counterattack”:
As an Orthodox rabbi I turn for guidance to the pages of that very Book from which our nation’s 17th- and 18th-century founders were most comfortable seeking wisdom and solace. In the book of Exodus we find an apt Biblical model for the situation at hand. I refer to the Amalekite attack on the ancient Israelites shortly after their hurried departure from Egypt. For this, God commanded the Jews to make unceasing war on the Amalekites — but not only that.Jewish tradition points out that the stated location of the attack, Rephidim, is to be read not as the geographical name of any place but instead as a Hebrew word, a plural noun, alluding to the moral turpitude of the Children of Israel at the time shortly prior to the attack. God suggested that Amalek’s attack was to be analyzed as a call to self-examination.
From the Amalek story we may extract two lessons. First of all is the obligation to root out evil . . . Second, not every victimized nation or group is perfectly virtuous. I realize this may sound outrageously insensitive, for many Americans are committed to the view that being a victim, . . . should immediately grant you immunity from all criticism . . . But it is simply wrong to grant moral prestige on the basis of suffering.
It is a core Jewish value, when confronted with catastrophe, to probe broadly and arrive at a detailed moral balance sheet . . . to assess one’s own moral condition. But — and here is the tricky part — while the victim gauges his faults he is also commanded to strike back in devastating force. In short, the strategy is counterattack accompanied by an equally remorseless attempt to identify the flaws that made the attack possible in the first place . . .
The sin of murder, and particularly child-killing (abortion), tolerated by a society on a large scale, would seem to be a prominent reason for the judgment of a nation to occur. No nation that legally sanctions murder can be a “righteous nation,” according to God.
Many Christians today apparently think that God no longer judges, or does in a fashion much different than what He did in the Old Covenant. This is simply false, for anyone who accepts the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible in toto. God doesn’t change. The short answer to this is found in Jesus’ words in His Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 5:17 Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. (cf. 5:18-20).
Revelation 19:11-16, which speaks of Jesus judging the nations at the end of the current age, should disabuse anyone of the “meek and mild Jesus” stereotype, which is thoroughly unbiblical. Does God not love the countries He judges? Of course He does love them. Likewise, we can love our own country even while believing that it might be ripe for judgment, just as Jeremiah did, just as Jesus did as He wept over Jerusalem:
Matthew 23:37a, 38 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! . . . . . Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.
To deny that, one would have to believe that Jesus didn’t love His country, the Chosen People of Israel, because He pointed out their grievous sins and predicted that their Temple would be destroyed within a generation. Jesus didn’t often emphasize all the good things that had occurred in Jerusalem. He dwelt on the bad things (which is the function and purpose of preachers and prophets), thus causing (according to the fashionable psycho-babble of today) irreparable harm to their self-esteem. Jesus spoke of an Israel that featured prophet-killing, hardness of heart, money-making in the Temple, hyper-legalism, and nationalistic pride.
As He said, He “came not for the righteous, but for sinners.”God judges. He has the power of life and death in His hands. Jesus implied that Israel was to be judged because of its disobedience. The Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Now, according to the reasoning of some, it would then follow that Jesus must have positively willed this destruction, and that the Roman troops were therefore “good guys.” But this simply doesn’t follow. God doesn’t positively decree evil. He cannot do so. Such a view is rank blasphemy. He merely uses it for His ends.
Evil is evil. How could God have used Judas to betray His own Son? How could He have devised the plan of redemption whereby the Crucifixion occurred at the hand of evil men? The Roman Emperor Nero was not exactly a Boy Scout troop leader. Plenty of Christians died under him, and this was God’s plan, too, because martyrs’ blood is the seed of the growth of the Church. The Assyrians or the Babylonians (or for that matter, the Nazis and Communists) are no less evil than any agents of judgment today that God might use (in the sense of passively permitting the evil they devise). God used all these stooges and buffoons as shadows in the “screen” of history, in His Providence.
People tend to see the situation they themselves are in as intrinsically different because they are in the midst of it, and often, still grieving and suffering from it. We should no more expect a people to see the overall picture of what may be happening to them, than we would expect Job to understand his sufferings while they happened, or the disciples to understand the Cross while it was happening. Job never was told why he suffered so much. He was told to trust God, who set the universe in motion, etc. All we can go by in such a matter is biblical revelation, example, and precedent.
Again, evil is evil. If one mortal sin can send a person to hell, then there is a limit to how much we can quantify the degree of evil. There are exceptionally, diabolically, demonically evil acts (such as the Nazi Holocaust, or acts of terrorism) and institutionalized evils such as abortion, slavery, religious persecution, or systematic deprivation and economic oppression. Yet God can and does use all of these to bring about good. The saintly and wise Fr. John A. Hardon (with whom I studied in person) used to say: “Everything, repeat, absolutely everything, is part of God’s Providence.” This is orthodox Christianity, both Catholic and Calvinist.
A fellow Catholic discussed God’s Providence on a public discussion list:
A good example of recent times where God has intervened is when the Nazis were invading Russia (USSR)….the Germans were winning the war ‘big time’….until the worst winter in 100 years came upon the continent of Europe. The Germans weren’t prepared and then they were slaughtered from that point on. Yes, God permitted the Nazis to prevail on the Continent for a while, but he helped destroy them with a very harsh winter.
This doesn’t have to necessarily be interpreted as a supernatural intervention. It was probably simply a rotten winter in the usual course of nature (in this case, meteorology). God’s Providence, however, can operate so that it “conveniently” worked out that this was when the Nazis invaded. In the same fashion, God “saw to it” that the Spitfire fighter-planes were superior to the German ones in the Battle of Britain, where the Allies destroyed the Nazi planes at a 4-to-1 ratio and thus were victorious. History is filled with such examples of good “luck”.
Whatever God did in His Providence in the course of World War II, however, it remains true that Britain could have easily prevented the tragic conflict in the 1930s, but they were Utopian socialist head-in-the-sand wimps in those years, and wouldn’t listen to “warmonger” Churchill. So whenever I hear the lament “How could God allow the Holocaust?,” I always say, “how could England [i.e., men, not God] have been so blind as to not see what was happening, after Hitler came to power?”
Finally, it is almost inconceivable to imagine an official Catholic teaching, declaring that such-and-such an act against nation X or individual Y unquestionably constituted divine wrath, judgment, or chastisement. The Church doesn’t even declare that any given individual is in hell (not even Judas). Catholics don’t even believe in the absolute assurance of personal salvation, let alone thinking that we know for sure that God is judging in any particular context. In that sense, judgment is similar to the fulfillment of prophecy. As with the judgment of nations, it is a very tricky business indeed to determine if it is actually taking place in any given circumstance.
The legal structures (i.e., laws) of a nation are most important because they are a reflection of what a nation tolerates; what it will allow to possess legal sanction, which has almost taken the place of theological or ecclesiastical sanction (the ultimate bases of law, along with natural law). The objective criteria of religiosity would be identifiable sociologically in demographic and polling data.
The US has been far more religious on this basis than Europe, with the possible exception of Ireland. Many nations in Africa are far more “Christian” in outlook than we are. But I have always agreed that it is ultimately a very subjective enterprise, known in its completeness only to God, just as are questions, e.g., of who is (or will be) saved, who is in the elect, and so forth. Likewise with nations. It is very difficult to say for sure, and I have been careful not to positively assert (as to judgment or chastisement).
Spirituality or “discerning the signs of the times” is never an exact science. That doesn’t make it less potentially or actually true. It just can’t be viewed epistemologically in the same way that more exact forms of knowledge like natural science or engineering or geometry can be. That said, I think it is far more than “gut-level” though. The objective basis of my viewpoint on the judgment of nations is found in Holy Scripture, whose teachings are quite objectively discernible, even while not all that easy to apply to the particulars of concrete history and current-day events.
In any case, it is far more biblically correct to say that God still judges nations and to speculate (with all due self-reflection and willingness to repent) on which nations might be so liable, than to deny that God still does this (with little or no biblical basis) and to say it is illegitimate to talk about at all, simply because we can’t achieve philosophical certainty of the highest order (which can’t be attained in most fields of inquiry, anyway). Therefore, I think this line of thought leads to a rhetorical and philosophical dead-end.
This undue demand for certainty is a hallmark of secularist, post-Enlightenment thought. It is not (strictly speaking) a biblical (Hebrew, Semitic) mode of thinking, which is, rather, far more practical and concerned with concrete obedience to God and justice and charity, than with abstract philosophical questions. We are all influenced by many things, and Lord knows, any educated person has been bombarded with secularist modes of thought and theorizing.
The rejection of an undue demand for certainty does not mean that the discussion therefore descends to a mere “gut-level” subjectivism, akin to the classic example of the Mormon “burning in the bosom.” And that is because Scripture speaks to the issue fairly clearly. My analysis is based on both that and sociologically determined “facts” as to the level of stated adherence to Christian or traditional moral teaching.
Instances of God’s mercy do not mean that He can’t execute “strict” or “severe” justice (from a purely human standpoint) in other instances. We know from revelation that He does do so, so one exception to the rule (I’ve seen this reasoning often used with regard to possible judgment of America) is not conclusive in and of itself.
These are very deep, complex subjects, and people come up with all sorts of warped understandings of God and how He operates. The very fact that God is always blamed for every catastrophe proves that the rebellion potentially inside all of us, and original sin, give us a cast of mind which always seeks to blame God first, rather than look at ourselves.
It is undeniable that more knowledge creates more culpability, per the explicit words of Jesus. We make this distinction as Catholics concerning mortal sin. Three things must be present: sufficient knowledge, grave matter, and full consent of the will. So yes, people are less guilty if they don’t know something is wrong. Fornication, contraception, or masturbation would be examples today where people are massively ignorant as to the objectively grave sinfulness of these acts. The difference in knowledge means, in Catholic theology, quite possibly a difference between going to heaven and winding up in hell.
But ignorance (or invincible ignorance) itself is a very tricky thing to determine (for us, but not for God). The evil of child-killing, for example, is, in my firm opinion, very obvious to one and all who know anything about the development of a preborn child. Natural law is sufficient for a person to know the evil of abortion (and, I would argue, fornication and adultery and homosexuality and even – to a somewhat lesser extent – contraception).
I knew what developing fetuses looked like at 9 years old, back in 1967 or whenever the famous Life Magazine article with those incredible, beautiful pictures came out. I knew this even before I learned the facts of life, if I recall correctly. What I didn’t know was that these creatures were being legally slaughtered. I thought abortion involved putting away a few cells, which were not yet human (as one would expect from a product of our secular schools and media and the radical feminism of that era, and before having been exposed to any great amount of traditional Christian thought).
It is very difficult to be that ignorant today, unless one chooses to deliberately ignore the issue out of convenience or fear of what one might find out. And that degree of deliberate ignorance or refusal to attain knowledge would itself be culpable. But the evil of abortion itself is obvious. It is obvious to 8 out of 10 women who refuse to abort upon hearing the heartbeat of their child, etc. And this guilt applies whether a nation as a whole has received revelation or not, being part of natural law.
I don’t claim to understand why certain nations seemingly worthy of judgment have been spared (including my own). I can imagine, however, any number of reasons why they might be spared, in theory, in “God’s mind.” For example, they might be needed to judge other, more wicked nations, or someone might be born there who would cure cancer, or help cause a revival which would have far-reaching, positive consequences (a guy like John Wesley). Only God sees all things, and the whole of history, being out of time.
My “thesis” is not intended as an instance of the philosophy of history. It is much more so an attempted application of biblical theology to nations, with particular emphasis on the example of ancient Israel. It is not in any way, shape, or form, an elaborate, sophisticated historical theory such as Cardinal Newman’s development of doctrine, and suchlike. I’m simply trying to grapple with the biblical data and anomalies such as a country like ours — admirable in so many ways — which can live with 44 million deliberately-inflicted executions, while mourning, weeping and wailing and achieving extraordinary unity over some 7000 deliberately-inflicted executions [9-11].
The current casualties are a mere 0.000159% of the legal deaths in America at the hand of abortionist “doctors.” Yet we as a nation have a hundred, a thousand times more grief over that than we do about the mountains of dead babies, now over seven times as large as the number of Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust. We look down our noses at the terrorists, who deny the “sanctity of life” (as if we don’t, as a society). We despise Hitler, while we have murdered five, six, seven times more than he did (depending on how the casualties of WW II are figured in).
We are even approaching Mao’s estimated 60 million murders of his own people. He killed his own without Christ and Christian revelation. We kill ours with those spiritual benefits. We even allow mothers to kill their own children. God help us. This is the sort of utter, abominable moral hypocrisy that I have been trying to point out. I know it is difficult to see, but it is undeniable.
“Religiosity” in a demographic or sociological sense can be discussed, but we can never make any sort of compelling determination as to exactly how “wicked” a nation is, or if in fact it is being judged. What we can do is say that a nation has institutionalized evil, and to that extent it is clearly liable to divine judgment, based on its espousal of that which is against God and therefore (by that fact alone) worthy of judgment (whether said nation possesses revelation or not: because natural law and the conscience of persons made in the image of God exist universally). Stated another way, such institutionalized, legalized evil endangers the nation which espouses it, subjecting it to quite possible judgment or chastisement (based on the clear biblical data).
I shall now re-state my “thesis on judgment” briefly and more precisely, and draw some additional distinctions which might be helpful to promote further discussion and thought on this issue:
1. Significant amounts of institutionalized evils or illegitimate, immoral social norms in a nation/society (whether “Christian” or pagan) render it worthy of judgment, according to biblical teaching.Nations which possess relatively more revelation and reject it, will tend to be more spiritually hypocritical and rebellious in degree (thus more worthy of judgment, according to “to whom much is given, much is required”) than nations not possessing revelation which also have institutionalized evil and illegitimate, immoral social norms, though there may be exceptions to the rule in the case of extraordinarily wicked nations which had never been Christianized or “Judaized.”
2. Being worthy of judgment is determined by lack of adherence to biblical and natural law morality, whereas a possible scenario of being in fact judged by God cannot be determined with certainty, since many other factors with regard to Providence and the “timing” of God’s actions must be taken into account, and man doesn’t have enough information to render such a conclusion beyond all doubt (and no biblical information, excepting some extraordinarily clear prophecies).
3. Given #1 and #2, it is altogether permissible and proper to believe that it is plausible or possible that a given nation is in fact being judged or chastised, based on its disobedience to moral law and/or spiritual hypocrisy (which God clearly disapproves of in the strongest terms in Scripture).
4. Repentance on an individual level and in a corporate sense (e.g., as the Ninevites did in response to Jonah) is consistent with either an acceptance of moral failure, based on #1, or belief that judgment may in fact be taking place, as in #3, or both. Belief that judgment is indeed occurring (like a belief that the End of the Age or the Second Coming is near) often produces deep repentance among those in the society who are still spiritually “reachable.” Even if that belief is mistaken, the repentance based wholly or in part on that belief is still a positive social good. And of course it is good (at all times) for a nation to examine itself and its laws and norms and moral teachings. History teaches us that this usually doesn’t happen unless and until some serious calamity occurs.
Addendum: One might also possibly argue (I’m basically thinking out loud and exploring this notion) that since whole nations do not usually repent unless serious calamities occur (and/or revivals), that therefore, the presence of widespread repentance and self-examination might be taken as evidence (given what history teaches us) that indeed judgment or revival had occurred. The purpose of judgment (unless it is final) is to purify a nation, so increasing moral purity in turn might lead one to reasonably suspect that the judgment that usually produces it was present.
“Discerning the signs of the times” is a quite-biblical notion, right from the lips of Jesus (Matthew 16:3; “interpret…” in RSV). Following that, He said:
Matthew 16:4a An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign [the Pharisees had asked for a “sign from heaven” – Mt 16:1], but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah.
So He thought that the Resurrection was sufficient proof, but of course it was not for many people (see Luke 16:30-31), and it continues to be argued against on hyper-rationalistic and skeptical grounds to this day. All we need to know in order to repent and reform is that we are in disobedience to Scripture (if a Christian nation) or natural law (if a pagan nation).We certainly can know what nations are particularly worthy of judgment, based on their sins. America is worthy, I have little or no doubt, based on legal abortion alone, as well as a host of other evils, including soon-to-be-institutionalized homosexuality (which reminds me just a wee bit of Sodom and Gomorrah).
If we know “what” makes a nation worthy of judgment (immorality), then we can know “which” nation is worthy, at least on a purely objective basis (as we know, the subjective element of culpability is another issue), based on what it is doing. Surely, abortion in this day and age is a deliberate act of savagery, which is inexcusable for all but the most ignorant, head-in-the-sand dolts or the most temporarily-insane due to stress or whatever, and therefore a sin sufficiently serious to make a nation which permits, extolls, and sanctions it worthy of divine judgment, per the many biblical passages on shedding innocent blood.
Also, God may choose to exercise His mercy at any time, even if a nation is worthy of judgment. He did that with Israel repeatedly; so I believe He continues to do (as He does not change). Determining actuality, on the other hand, is a quite different proposition, due to the complexity of Providence and the place of evil in it. I think it is every bit as hard to determine as fulfilled prophecy, if not more so. Hypocrisy is surely a prominent motif in Scripture, for those who know more of revelation, and it is by no means confined to nations possessing revelation. God is not mocked. The scales will be made right in due course, whether in history or at the end of it.
The Christian must incorporate natural law into his biblical worldview, since it is taught in Scripture itself (notably, in Romans 1 and 2). I have done so, and have always done so. But a Christian cannot use a natural law analysis to the exclusion of a biblical approach. Many Christians appear to be minimizing Scripture (in effect) at every turn, when it comes to the discussion of America possibly being judged. They act as if not knowing the exact level of hypocrisy of a culture or person somehow overturns the undeniable maxim “to whom much is given, much is required” or liability to judgment. It does not.
We have more than enough scriptural data to ponder the question of possible judgment, as a function of Jesus being Lord of all of life (including geo-politics, ethics, and history). Doing so fosters more awareness and the need for repentance and continual reformation and revival (the three R’s). For heaven’s sake: ancient Israel committed far less heinous sins than we have, it seems to me, and the prophets railed endlessly to her about it (and were, of course, despised as naysayers and unpatriotic for doing so).
But in this day and age, the “prophetic function” (i.e., speaking in the same sorts of ways that prophets spoke, as opposed to, e.g., a “pastoral mode”) or what might be called “speaking truth to power” seems to have become so unfashionable that even hinting at such a thing is considered abominable (rather than the sins themselves). Yet I have heard Scott Hahn refer to the statement by Ruth Bell Graham that “if America isn’t judged, God will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” I’ve now heard Karl Keating and Mother Angelica and Johnette Benkovic talk about the possibility of judgment here, and the need to repent. The prominent evangelical magazine Christianity Today published a similar article by Frederica Mathewes-Green, a well-known Orthodox writer and pro-life activist.
Nor do I accept the proposition made by some Christians that God no longer judges, and has changed somewhere in the period between the Old and New Testaments.
We don’t dare mention abortion in a public, national context, because there is too much division, and it is impolite and uncouth to do so. Even Billy Graham wouldn’t dare do that — not in a setting which isn’t merely the Christian cultural ghetto (like one of his crusades). George Bush certainly won’t. After all, his wife and mother and sister (so I hear) are all pro-aborts. But the pope does so. He opposed Clinton to his face. Mother Teresa did so whenever she pleased, at the United Nations and other secular settings.
We are already far beyond worthiness for judgment, as far as I am concerned. What does it take (I ask anyone who denies this)? I haven’t seen anyone who denies this possibility arguing as to how 44 million savage executions of children are somehow not serious enough to merit judgment. Would 100 million be? Would one billion? Or maybe blowing up the whole earth and killing 7 billion or whatever it is now? We rightly detest the evil of 6 million Jews being killed in the Holocaust . . . Obviously, little people are placed out of the category of people (even by many Jews, who ought to know better, one would think), just as blacks and Indians and Jews and other groups were placed historically. Otherwise, our culture wouldn’t think in these radically contradictory and absurd terms.