The common view of God is a big grandfather in the sky, looking for someone having fun, so that He can shoot lightning bolts at them and yell, “Hey, stop that!” However, this is not the Biblical picture of The God Who Is There. When you consider how He created Adam and Eve, put them in a garden of delights with no rules except ONE, how did we wind up with such a perverse view of His attitude toward us? Well, it says more about our lack of understanding than His, and our lack of communication with Him has resulted in lots of distortions and misinformation about God. However, it remains that the Bible does teach a great deal about God’s judgment.
There are two ways to approach the judgment of The God Who Is There. The first is to recognize there is a difference between personal judgment and corporate judgment. Personal judgment is concerned with what is done about an individual who refuses to submit to His authority, while corporate judgment addresses what He will do to nations or people groups who forget Him.
A second way to approach His judgment is to distinguish between that which is simply the removal of His hands from natural events, that is, to let the effects of sin take their natural course, as opposed to His active arrangement of events or supernatural intervention to destroy works and workers who choose to do that which displeases Him.
Let’s first address judgment on a personal level, how God deals with individuals who oppose His purposes. First, we must remember everything He made in the original creation was “good.” There was no intention on His part of disease, destruction, death, loneliness or emptiness. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.“ (Genesis 1:31)
Then God would walk with Adam and Eve in the “cool of the day” and they could talk with Him and draw on His wisdom and understanding, to what limited degree they could grasp what the Creator wanted to share with them. There was only ONE rule; only ONE THING forbidden: the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But an enemy was allowed into the Garden of Eden who convinced Eve to try that one thing, even though she knew they could “eat the fruit from [any of] the trees of the garden, except [that one].” (Genesis 3:8) And do not think we are blaming Eve, because she gave to Adam, “who was there with her.” (Genesis 3:6) Much has been written about this temptation and Adam’s silence, and these are subjects that warrant special treatment at another time.
In any case, Adam and Eve disobeyed that one simple command, and with all the trees of the garden at their disposal, to enjoy as much as they wanted of all that was good, they chose instead to try to figure out on their own the difference between good and evil. And discover it, they did! In that instant they came under the judgment of God who had told them, “In the day you eat of it, you will die,” (Genesis 2:17) which is exactly what happened.
You see, death is not the end of existence, but a separation from relationship. I have heard some who are weak in their Bible scholarship abuse this saying, “Well even though they did not die immediately, the began to die.” But that is not what the text says: “In the day you eat of it, you will die.” The problem is not with the text, but with understanding the nature of life and the nature of death. On the day they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, they suddenly felt ashamed because they had distrusted God. So they tried to hide, first from each other and then from the Creator. Separated because of their disobedience to God’s one simple rule; separated from each other and separated from Him, they were isolated from the only source of Life in the universe! They had died; they were under God’s judgment.
Now did God do anything actively to pursue this judgment? No, rather it was the natural course of disobedience that took them from their act to the realization that they did not trust Him; they had no faith in Him; they did not believe His words, but chose to believe someone else, the tempter or Serpent. This resulted in hiding because, in Adam’s words, “I heard your voice .. . and was afraid.” (Genesis 3:10) He had died; the relationship of trust and love was broken.
In the same way, much of God’s “judgment” on individuals is less often His active punishment, but rather the removal of His protection. Everyone sins, we all do things we know to be wrong, all of us also make mistakes due to lack of understanding or ignorance. When we make mistakes, and even sometimes when we actively do what we know to be wrong, God continues to protect us and shield us from the natural effects of our sin. However, at some point He will remove His protection and let us experience that to which our sins lead us.
This could be in the way we are treated if we act in pride; people around us become offended and disown or demote us. Or it could be in disease if we disobey His rules of morality or gluttony. It might come as legal action if we sin in areas of greed, envy, sloth or anger. It could be in the crash that results when we ignore speed limits or stop signs. God does not have to actively “punish” us, because our sins carry within them their own weight of guilt and effects that act as His judgment. He is good and has made every provision for good to come to those who choose what is right in His eyes. But if we choose our own way instead of His, be assured we will suffer consequences, just as surely as Adam and Eve died in the day they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Take for example, the man at the pool of Bethesda, who Jesus healed in John 5:1-15. After being healed, Jesus told him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (verse 14) It is unlikely that Jesus was warning him that God would supernaturally take action against him, but rather whatever disease he had been cured of was the result of a sinful life, and if he returned to that sin, the disease would recur.
This does not mean God never brings individual judgment by supernatural means, only that it is usually unnecessary in the case of individual sinners. Mostly He simply allows us to suffer the consequences of choices that oppose His way of life. But in Genesis, He brought specific diseases against the Egyptians for their resistance to His will, and warned His chosen people that if they obeyed His commands, He would not bring any of these diseases on them, suggesting that disobedience would bring those same diseases. (Exodus 15:26) However, this warning was not enough for Miriam, who spoke against Moses in jealousy (envy), and suffered a skin disease as a supernatural intervention to teach her humility. (Numbers 12:1-15) Ahab died by a “random arrow,” directed by God as the prophet, Micaiah, had foretold. (1 Kings 22: 23:38) Later Jehoram was warned by the prophet, Elijah, that he would die in judgment from God. (2 Chronicles 21:12-19) Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, suffered direct judgment because of his sin. (2 Kings 5:20-27) In the New Testament, God punished Herod with physical death for his blasphemy (Acts 12:21-23) and in 1 Corinthians, Paul teaches that sometimes disease and even death is the result of sinful behavior (11:28-32).
Of course not all disease is the act of God’s judgment (2 Kings 13:14; 1 Timothy 5:23), so we must be careful not to assign guilt simply because we see misfortune or illness, as Job’s “comforters” did. Rather, consider that God may allow illness or misfortune to give us the opportunity to show His great love. This is true, even if illness or misfortune is the result of sin or judgment. God’s judgments are rarely final on individuals (obviously, they are if it results in death), but rather to lead those under His judgment to turn to Him and live. “ Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their wicked ways and live?“ (Ezekiel 18:23)
Next week, August 9, 2015 , I will address God’s corporate judgment on nations and what this could mean for America.