For more info about Dr. R.C. Sproul, please visit his website at www.Ligonier.org.
When Worlds Collide, Pt. 2
By R.C. Sproul
Founder of Ligonier Ministries
WAS IT GOD’S JUDGMENT ON AMERICA?
One of the things that took place in the early days of reflection about the events of September 11 were comments from some well-known preachers. Some of them made the observation that the why for this tragedy was that it was God’s act of judgment upon America for our immorality. They claimed it was judgment for abortion, the destruction of the human family, and other moral issues of our day. This opinion was met by a firestorm of controversy. There was a negative backlash from the press against these Christian leaders. To suggest that the events of 9/11 could be remotely connected to an act of divine judgment was deemed to be the nadir of political incorrectness.
If someone would say to me, “Why did this happen? What was God’s purpose in all of this?” the only honest answer I could give would be, simply, “I don’t know.” I can’t read God’s mind. If you were to ask me, “Was God involved?” my answer, of course, would be yes. Because I’m committed to the Christian doctrine of providence, I’m convinced that God was involved in this act, that it was according to God’s purpose. But what His specific purpose was in this event, I do not know.
I cannot jump to the conclusion that God’s purpose on 9/11 was to send judgment on America, but one of the things that disturbed me was how confident the commentators were that it was not an act of judgment. Let me say again, I don’t know that it was an act of judgment, but I cannot think of anything in the Christian worldview that would rule out the possibility that it was an act of judgment. We understand that God does bring calamities from time to time upon nations as acts of judgment. It is to struggle not only with that particular event but with the tragedies that befall people throughout the ages that the question why is raised.
HUMAN TRAGEDIES, DIVINE PURPOSES
Let us turn our attention at least briefly to a discussion Jesus had with His disciples, recorded in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John. We read these words:
Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth (John 9:1).
Let’s stop right there for a moment. Let’s say you are a mother. You carry your baby to term. You’re excited in anticipation of the birth of this child. But soon after the baby is born, you discover that he is blind. Few people would respond to such an experience with joy or would react to that experience as a visitation of divine blessing. In a word, the parents in their disappointment, in all probability, would see that event, at least for them and for their child, as a personal tragedy. And certainly people would be inclined to ask, “Why, God, did You let this happen?”
The disciples of Jesus met a blind person when he was a grown adult. They knew that he had been born blind, suffering total blindness for many years. If anything seems senseless, it is the experience of a man born blind. So the disciples came to Jesus and asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v. 2).
Jesus immediately recognized that the question posed to Him committed a logical fallacy, for which we have a technical name. It is the fallacy of the false dilemma, some- times called the either/or fallacy. The fallacy is committed when a person reduces possibilities or options to two and only two, when in fact there may be more possibilities. There are situations when the possibilities can legitimately and rationally be reduced to two. For instance, either there is a God or there is not a God. There’s no third alternative. It’s one or the other. You are either going to die or you are not going to die. But in this case, the disciples rushed to judgment and reduced the options to two when there was a third option they hadn’t considered. So Jesus, when He heard the question stated this way, answered by saying, “Neither.”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him” (John 9:3).
This man had been born blind so many years before, so that, on this particular day, God’s kingdom could be manifested through his healing. God’s purpose here was to demonstrate who Jesus was. And to this day, 2,000 years later, that blind man, who presumably is in heaven today and perhaps has been joined by his children and grand- children, sits with them and talks about how God used his blindness to demonstrate the identity of Christ. He discovered that his tragic condition was by no means senseless. It had a divine purpose that has borne witness to Christ through all history.
THE GOD OF WRATH AND MERCY
One of the things that we learn about God in Scripture is that He is the Judge of all of the earth. If a judge eternally tolerates wickedness without exercising judgment, he is not a just judge; he is an unjust judge—he himself is part of the context of evil. God, on the other hand, is not indifferent to the way people commit violence against each other. God is not a passive spectator to all these things. And yet we are tempting Him day and night by our unrestrained wickedness, and He has promised to bring judgment to the world. (As we will see in chapter 5, He also promises a way of escape from that judgment.) We think of September 11, 2001, as the greatest day of calamity in the history of the United States of America, but that day of calamity is not worthy to be compared with the day of calamity that God says will come in the future when the grapes of wrath are thrown into the winepress and are trampled by His judgment.
Notice that the celebration of this event in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is a celebration that is extremely foreign to our cultural way of thinking today. It is a celebration not of the nastiness of God, not of some dark, shadowy, demonic element within God, but rather of His divine glory. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” His coming in judgment is a manifestation of His divine glory, of His divine perfection. We often see the wrath of God as somehow being an impediment to our view of God’s character. That’s because, in present-day America, our view of God’s character is an idol. It is an idol of a God who has been stripped of His true attributes. He’s a God who is defined in terms of love and mercy and grace, but we have thrown out any idea of His being just and holy and wrathful. If we are going to be faithful to the biblical under- standing of God, we have to understand that He is, among other things, a God of wrath. To be sure, He is also a God of mercy. But the idea of mercy is an empty concept if He has no capacity for wrath.
The only way to understand mercy is against the back- ground of the reality of wrath. When God holds back His wrath, when God circumvents His wrath, then we under- stand true mercy. If God is incapable of wrath, there can be no mercy because there is nothing from which to be saved.
I recently heard a radio commentator proclaim, “I’m going to say it. In this war against terrorism, God is on our side.” He continued, “I know that God is on our side because God is good, and we are good. We are good people.”
Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a best-selling book titled Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. The real question is, “Why do good things happen to sinful people such as ourselves?” The Scriptures tell us that there is “none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). We need to be very careful when we assume that God is on our side, particularly if we make that assumption based on our evaluation of our own goodness. The Scriptures tell us that if the Lord would “mark iniquity,” none of us could possibly stand (Psalm 130:3). Salvation is about rescue from the wrath of God, which is a just wrath, a wrath that is deserved.
Let me repeat that at the heart of a Christian world- view stands our understanding of God and our under- standing of mankind. If we understand humanity as being essentially, basically, incontrovertibly good, then of course there is no room in our thinking for the wrath of God. For God to be wrathful toward good people would indeed indicate a demonic, dark side to His character. But as we have seen, when the Scriptures speak of God’s wrath, it is not a wrath that is revealed against innocence, righteousness, purity, or goodness, but a wrath that is revealed “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).
If God were to examine my life, He would find enough ungodliness and unrighteousness to be inclined to pick me up, use His sickle to cut me from the earth, and throw me into the winepress of His wrath. That would be completely consistent with His perfection, His holiness, and His glory. But thanks be to God that He has given us a way of salvation by which we can escape His fury. That’s what the gospel—and our final chapter—is all about.
Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder of Ligonier Ministries and the author of more than seventy books and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul has produced more than 300 lecture series and has recorded more than 80 video series on subjects such as the history of philosophy, theology, Bible study, apologetics, and Christian living.
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