Judgment and Hope

John ArmstrongRenewal

Most of us hear the word judgment and think only of dire and problematic circumstances and a gloomy end. While it is true the Bible portrays a coming day of final judgment, when all will give an account of every thing done in the body, the biblical emphasis more nuanced and developed than this aspect alone. A careful study of the Scripture reveals that judgment comes now to bring about repentance and hope.

The major premise seems to be clear: One year passes to the next and one century into another. Great leaders and nations come and go. Only a few things stand the test of time. God's truth alone remains and will never pass away. When God speaks his word is sealed in heaven and remains alive.

The minor premise follows from the first: There are clear patterns in the Holy Scripture which reveal how God speaks and works in this age of grace. Sometimes he gives messages of warning. Sometimes he sends messages of hope. With his powerful and anointed Word come seasons, epochs of special activity, divine patterns, that all fulfill his sure Word.

If you do not listen to his warnings, and heed them, then you will face a season of judgment. For those persons who do heed his warnings, as well as for those churches and nations who do listen and obey, the Holy Spirit gives new beginnings. These are best seen as "resurrections" rooted in genuine hope.

God's judgment is primarily remedial in this present age since his purpose is to bring the gospel to all people and nations and thereby redeem an innumerable company of people so vast that we cannot number them. His grace is greater than all our sin. (This does not mean he will universally save all people in the end but it does mean he is the one who is "seeking and saving the lost" all over the planet and that the number is immense!)

History has crossroads moments. Judgment always begins in such moments when the people of God are judged first. "For it is time for judgment to begin with God's household; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God" (1 Peter 4:17)?

I believe we are at a crossroads in the West, especially in America. This has little to do with elections and political cycle. Whether we have had Republicans or Democrats, evangelicals or non-evangelicals, in leadership it has made little or no real difference. It is time that we recognized this was the truth. It is so easy for us to become captive to the ideology of the left and/or the right. Both have something to contribute, if we pause and listen carefully to the central concerns in the messages. But the real issue is not our ideology or how such ideology will rescue us.

The real issue is this—God confront his people (first) with their sin in order to bring about hope and joy. His judgment is generally "remedial" and intended to awaken us from our slumber before it is too late.

Throughout my nearly 60 years of life I have heard Christians talk about "the end." Yet we are still here and America is still around. And though we are in a bad economic cycle we have been here before too. It could get much, much worse but the end result will not likely be the worst we dread.

At a crossroads God confronts his people with their sin. We have grieved him deeply by embracing the idols of our age: consumerism, pleasure and entertainment, financial security as an end in itself, etc.

When God judges he withdraws his blessings (cf. Ezekiel 34:26) and the "rains of his righteousness" are withheld (Hosea 10:12). We find ourselves in "waterless pits" (Zechariah 9:11). I believe this describes the scene I find in almost every church I see today. Some are better than others, and many outwardly prosper, but all are in some way touched by the judgment of God.

But remember, this judgment is meant for our good. It is meant to correct us because God still loves us. The "God of hope" (Romans 15:13) is still the God of the covenant. He keeps calling to us to pray, to seek him, to repent, to turn from our idols and unbelief. He desires our complete trust and nothing less.

The summons God is giving to his people in America seems obvious to me: Seek me for hope. I will renew you, restore you, revitalize you and reform you. Our "waterless pits" can become "pools of living water" as the refreshing rains of God's Spirit return to pour mercy and blessing upon us again (Hosea 6:1-3).

God is the God of promises. His promises speak of new beginnings, seasons of renewal and times of grace and blessing. Thus messages of judgment are always filled with words of hope. God remains, forever, the God of mercy and hope. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. What we need is a growing corporate hope for the mercy and blessing of God, not a new man-made effort to build a movement or create a new political course. This is not a Pietism that avoids the world. Every reader of this blog site knows I care deeply about many cultural and political issues and seek to think deeply about them. But in the end our real hope is in the Lord our God. And in the present time of judgment there is hope just over the horizon if God's people—all of them (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox)—seek him and pray for his mercy.