Judgment and Mercy

John ArmstrongDivine Providence

As cultures fall further and further away from God and his righteousness we should expect them to experience divine judgment. Several have suggested, in the past few days, that New Orleans was ripe for judgment last week. I have some sympathy with this view, at least up to a point. But I also have some questions. Let me explain.

First, there is no doubt that nations and peoples are raised up, and taken down, by God. Acts 17:24-31 is clear on this point. And the Old Testament provides us with abundant evidence that God judges wicked people and their cities. New Orleans is a wicked city. Make no mistake about this at all. Its crime and murder rate are exceptionally high and its celebration of gay and lesbian lifestyle is infamous. It has boasted of its decadence openly for years. But there are far worse cities than New Orleans. And there were many righteous people in this city as well. And what about the other gulf cities that were also struck by Hurricane Katrina?

Second, all of us deserve judgment since all of us have sinned (Luke 13:1-5). The tower of Siloam fell on eighteen people. Jesus noted that these eighteen who died were no more guilty than all others living in Jerusalem at that time. The point he makes is that such an event happened in order to call all people to repentance (Luke 13:5).

Third, a time will come when "a filling up of unrighteousness" is reached. Only God knows when this occurs in each instance. When such judgments do come the wicked and the righteous suffer through the same tragic events. (The righteous, of course, are taken into the presence of Christ through their death, regardless of the circumstances.) But why do the righteous suffer right alongside the wicked? So that all may seek God for mercy. And so that his purposes might work out for the accomplishment of his glory, which is often to be openly connected with the renewal of his church and the awakening of multitudes of sinners to the Savior’s love and grace. Isaiah 53 indicates the principles that a remnant will suffer so that redemption might be accomplished. Though Christ is plainly in view in Isaiah 53 we, as his people, often do share in this redemptive suffering so that many might be saved.

Finally, we need to understand that the sufferings of the righteous on behalf of the unrighteous find their completion in the life, death and resurrection of Christ alone. Judgment, under the new covenant, falls upon Christ ultimately. The suffering One undergoes deep pain and trial for the saving of many. And if the Savior suffered, so shall we. Do not be suprised at the fiery (or watery) ordeal that impacts us all when events like Hurricane Katrina hit.

Leaders in New Orleans would be a wise if they sought the face of God at this time. At the end of the day FEMA can only do so much. God alone can heal both body and soul. Let us pray for a renewed church in the region and for the salvation of many. And let us do our part to love all men, especially those of the household of faith.