Written in 2002 with the subtitle: Some Comments on the Tragedy of September 11, 2001
For just as “the whole world lies in wickedness,” so too is it also under judgment, even when through divine grace, judgment is postponed to give greater space for repentance (John 3:36). There is a common grace that daily supports the unbelieving world that is wholly undeserved. We might say that the world hangs by a thread of divine forbearance and mercy. It is certainly judgment anytime the hedge of covenant protection is sovereignly removed. We may thank God for any salutary effects that issue from calamity, as is often the case, but this cannot dismiss the component of judgment. However, there is much more to judgment than punishment. There is the sobering reminder of human vulnerability, frailty, and helplessness. Anything that weakens false security, and humbles the pride of the flesh is always a mercy, a temporal preview of eternity.
Jesus’ reference to the tower of Siloam (Luke 13:4) reflects a unique view of divine judgment. Jesus does not diminish the component of judgment in divine providence, but raises the question of moral equality. The judgment that came to the eighteen was not an index of greater moral defection than any in Israel, but a token of the judgment that is coming to all who remain impenitent. In this sense, it would be a mistake to interpret this judgment on America as a sign that our nation has excelled all others in iniquity and rebellion. I do not see this when I read history, nor now when I travel, quite the contrary!
That America is suffering for a right thing at the same time that she is suffering for her own presumption and idolatry is not mutually exclusive. Throughout Israel’s history, God would sometimes judge His people’s covenant neglect by raising up against them a fierce and inhumane power of a much lesser moral conscience. What is fearful for America is the greater jealousy of God’s very love. God has a different kind of standard for a people that have been the recipients of the greater blessing of truth and light. So in one sense, though certainly relative, a greater evil is raised up to judge the lesser because of the greater privilege and responsibility of the latter. It seems rather that the greater divine jealousy in judgment is a sign of the greater covenant affection, as seen paradoxically in Israel’s historical judgments, and now more recently in the Holocaust.
God “put” into the heart of Israel’s enemies to hate His covenant people and to bring judgment upon them. This is sovereignty and predestination, the highest affront to our frail and hopelessly humanistic perspectives. His holy wrath will yet be revealed in the rage and hatred of demon possessed hordes that are destined to destroy two thirds of the Jewish race, and yet in such severity, there is the glory of divine love – mysteriously perhaps, but it is there! This pattern can be shown again and again. King David prays “in wrath, remember mercy.” Both are true, they are not mutually exclusive; they are true at the same time. Are there heroes during times of judgment? Are innocent children trapped in the seemingly indiscriminate disaster? Of course! And it was so in Israel when the righteous remnant would suffer with the nation who had brought down judgment on itself.
The church should see the writing on the wall. If it costs a secular nation this much to be identified with Israel, what will it cost the church? As for our beloved nation, I have to say with scripture that the only righteousness that God accepts is the righteousness of Christ; every other kind, however seemingly noble is ultimately wicked if it substitutes itself for this. God is revealed in no other place but “in Christ.” And this is as true in the Old Testament as in the New when the unique character of Hebraic faith is distinguished from all types of humanism. The faith of Abraham is the faith of Christ, and the faith of God’s elect in every age. All other “would be” faiths are doomed for all the reasons an infallible Bible makes clear. There is a veil of morality that humanism hides behind that will be stripped away and exposed in the coming crises. “Crises reveals, and ultimate crises reveals ultimately” (Art Katz). The die is cast. We are on collision course with Islam that reaches to the end of the age, and though I believe that the “Jack will be momentarily stuffed back in the box, it will soon enough spring out with a fury that will take Israel and the humanistic West by tragic surprise. “For when they shall say, ‘Peace and safety; the sudden destruction will come upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.’”
Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!