By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal
The examples can be found throughout the Old Testament: God judging a nation morally deficient and exacting punishment. In the New Testament, the Book of Revelation offers a frightening picture of God’s final judgment.
The great recession, as some have called it, along with military conflicts raging in two countries have got some wondering if God isn’t punishing the United States in a biblical way. What counts as evidence for some is simply meaningless, brute fact for others, and people throughout Northeast Mississippi have widely differing views about divine judgment and what’s happening in the U.S. today.
The Rev. Chad Grayson, pastor of First Baptist Church Tupelo, makes a distinction between judgment and discipline.
According to Grayson, for the unbeliever, ultimate judgment, in the strict, biblical sense, is reserved for after death. Perhaps what the United States is now undergoing could better be described as discipline – particularly for believers in Christ.
“God might be allowing some bad things to happen to this country, and they’re a reflection of the judgment of God,” said Grayson. “We’d call this consequential judgment, and it’s the sowing and reaping of wrath.
You live a certain kind of life and you set in motion forces that will produce judgment.”
To say that God is judging a nation of living believers slightly misses the mark, Grayson said.
He also worries, however, that the United States isn’t the Christian nation it once was. “I love this country, but I’d also be interested to know what percentage of citizens are genuine followers of Jesus Christ,” he said.
“In one sense, I agree with President Obama’s statement, that the U.S. isn’t a Christian nation,” said Grayson, referring to remarks the president made in Turkey last year. “He and I just mean it differently.”
Obama was pointing out that the U.S. is home to people of diverse faiths. Grayson means that too many Christians have lost the courage of their convictions, the counter-cultural posture and uncompromising faith that sets them apart.
The Rev. Larry Goodine sees the country’s plight within the context of the prophetic vision of the Bible. Today’s bad events are punishment, or judgment, per se, they’re simply the “bloom” of what was foretold in scripture. But reaping what we’ve sown isn’t reserved only for the United States, according to Goodine.
“England, Russia, China, no country is exempt from the Bible’s prophetic vision,” said
Goodine, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Booneville.
He believes that mankind is simply growing wiser, developing a deeper understanding of scripture and therefore things that were hidden are becoming clearer.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama received criticism for his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose critical remarks about America’s history were continually repeated on television and radio.
Many understood Wright to mean that God was judging the U.S. for its mistreatment of blacks.
“This is a deep subject, but the only way to explain it in a few sentences is to say that Wright’s comments were taken completely out of context,” said Goodine. “He was speaking Afro-centrically, and you have to understand his words within the larger context of black preaching, and the black experience in America. I don’t think he was saying that God is judging this country or punishing it – literally. He was talking about freedom and social change.”
The Rev. Calvin Gillard shares Goodine’s belief that prophecy, rather than judgment, is the proper context in which to understand society’s ills.
So much of what’s wrong, he said, is manmade.
“When God passed judgment in the Old Testament, as in the flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah, it was something that was beyond man’s ability to set right,” said Gillard, pastor of Gates of Praise Ministries in New Albany.
“The recession and warfare, these are things that we’ve gotten ourselves into and, at least in theory, can get ourselves out of,” he said.
Matthew 24, Gillard said, warns of wars, famine and pestilence, and all of those may yet come to pass. But since Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary the world is now in the dispensation of grace, and the comparison, therefore, according to Gillard, between contemporary hardships and God’s judgment in the Old Testament is inaccurate.
For Sam James and his brother, Austin, whether or not God is judging the country is a matter of perspective.
“I believe that we’re affected by others’ bad choices, and they’re affected by ours, but if a person believes God is judging the country they’re really looking at it exclusively through the lens of their own faith,” said Sam, a student at Mississippi State University.
That kind of perspective, both brothers agreed, amounts to fundamentalism.
Bad things happen all the time, said Austin, but the media and some religious institutions often create a narrative that implies they’re all interconnected, or that misfortunes are part of a larger indictment of the country.
That just isn’t the case.
“Everybody has their own take on religion,” said Sam. “We tend to pick out the things that apply to our situation in life, and conveniently ignore the others.”
Overall, the idea of God judging the country implies a universality of meaning the brothers aren’t willing to accept.
Gloria Springer of Tupelo agreed with Grayson, saying that God reserves judgment for after death and for the end times. Like the James brothers, she also sees the bad things that are happening in the country, like the recession and warfare, as evidence of the evil men do to one another.
“God is doing his job, but the world is just so confused,” said Springer. “We’re punishing ourselves.”
Selfishness, Springer said, is perhaps the country’s greatest sin. The economy collapsed because many within the financial industry acted greedily.
Jobs are hard to find, in part, because companies concerned only about profit are closing domestic operations and moving jobs overseas.
“Look at the value of the dollar,” said Springer. “We’re only concerned about ourselves.”
The idea that God is judging the country, she said, is one more example of passing the buck, blaming someone else for our misfortunes.
“I’ll never speak against God,” said Springer. “If you want something you have to earn it, honestly, and you have to make good choices. I’m enjoying every day God gives me.”