Be Careful Assigning God’s Judgments
A hurricane just demolished a town; it must be the judgment of God. Sickness took the life of this person; God must be judging. Some really bad things happened it seemed all at once; surely God is judging.
Not so fast. We are not in a position to make such sweeping pronouncements. While I would never deny God’s ability and right to bring judgment, we need to remember that, in Scripture, when God did bring judgment through devastating circumstances, He made it known that this is what He was doing. It wasn’t left up to the guesses of those who suffered. When God judged, they knew God judged.
One of the problems with the above pronouncements is that it seems we may not have learned the proper lessons from the book of Job. Recall that Job’s friends thought that God was judging Job for some terrible sins that he had committed. By the third round of speeches, Eliphaz was very specific on his charges against Job as the reason God was judging him:
Is it for your fear of him that he reproves you
and enters into judgment with you?
Is not your evil abundant?
There is no end to your iniquities.
For you have exacted pledges of your brothers for nothing
and stripped the naked of their clothing.
You have given no water to the weary to drink,
and you have withheld bread from the hungry.
The man with power possessed the land,
and the favored man lived in it.
You have sent widows away empty,
and the arms of the fatherless were crushed.
Therefore snares are all around you,
and sudden terror overwhelms you,
or darkness, so that you cannot see,
and a flood of water covers you. (Job 22:4-11).
To the friends, the best explanation for Job’s great suffering was that he was being judged by God. What further proof did they need? Of course, they weren’t just a little off in their estimations; they were terribly in error and needed to be rebuked themselves. Any time we speak for God when God has not spoken, we will find ourselves in deep trouble.
In fact, as Job demonstrates, it is just as possible that the reason for the disasters and suffering is that God is allowing the testing as a means of spurring on greater growth and maturity. James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (1:2-4). Without a word from God as to the exact reasons behind why something has happened that we deem “terrible,” we need to consider that we have an opportunity to grow.
Is it possible that bad things happening can be judgment from God? Of course it is. We see God pronouncing judgment and bringing calamity on several occasions, but here is my point: we know that these occasions are God’s judgments because He said that’s what they were. On the flip side, we know that in the case of Job, it was not God’s judgment on Job for sin because, again, God indicated as much. We know because God made it known. When He doesn’t make it known, we don’t know.
When David sinned with Bathsheba, for example, God made it clear through Nathan the prophet that God’s judgment would be upon his house, which included the death of the child and the sword never departing (2 Sam 11). This was not left up to guesswork on David’s part. He knew what was coming because God pronounced it ahead of time. Does this mean that every such death is directly due to God’s punitive judgment? No, and we are in no position to assert such.
When God brought disaster against a city or nation, the prophets made it clear that He did so as a judgment for their sins (see, for example, Amos 1-2). Does this mean that every disaster is the direct result of God punishing sin? No, and we are no position to assert such.
What, then, shall we make of all this?
First, we do live in a world that has been tarnished and corrupted by the problem of sin, and, being such, we will always see the effects of such corruption. This includes death, illness, and even natural disasters.
Second, we should always consider where we are in our relationship with God (cf. Psa 119:67). We know we live with corruption. We also know that God has promised final redemption and a day of judgment (Acts 17:30-31). Are we ready for this? Are we ready to meet our Maker?
Third, take every opportunity through testing to learn and grow (Jas 1:2-4). That’s on us. We cannot always stop disasters and problems from touching us, but we can control how we react to the circumstances. In whatever situation we find ourselves, like Paul, we can trust that the Lord will help us through and strengthen us to accomplish all that He desires (Phil 4:11-13).
Fourth, always be careful in assigning motives to God in matters for which we do not have His revelation. That is not ours to assign.