Is God Judging Us?

Someone recently asked, “Ron – things seem pretty bad with wacky weather patterns, the Coronavirus, and ridiculous politics. Is God judging us?”It is an interesting inquiry considering all that’s happening these days. But is God judging us directly? Indirectly? Or are we just suffering from the stuff that happens in a fallen world?

My response. I don’t believe that we’re under God’s direct judgment. Stuff happens. We are no longer a Christian nation as I’ve written about recently. Americans often oppose God’s ways as a people. So we can’t expect Him to intercede in our broken, rebellious world. Also, things are better than you might think. What is the basis for my answer?

Our fault. Humans rebelled against the Creator near the beginning of our time and left His provision, protection, and partnership (Genesis 3:1-21). To make sure the rebellious people and their offspring couldn’t live forever, He removed their access from the Tree of Life by kicking them out of the Garden (Genesis 3:22-24). Human death then became a thing, as did perpetual human rebellion and trouble in the world not directly attributable to God.

Not God’s fault. As I presented a few weeks ago, the covenant with God requires commitments, and there are consequences for rejecting the partnership – walking away from His protection and provision or not honoring and loving as commanded (e.g., Matthew 22:34-40 and 25:31-46). Add to that the fact that evil abounds and Satan still attempts to corrupt God’s creation (1 Peter 5:8), and you’ve got quite a mess, none of which is God’s fault or direct judgment.

Not so bad. Finally, things are pretty good these days. We aren’t suffering from the mini-ice age of the 17th – 18th centuries, nor are we dying in droves from the famines and plagues that killed about half of Europe’s population in the Middle Ages. We’re not in the middle of either world war, and even the poorest people in the U.S. likely live better than most of the world’s population. And if you don’t like the state of American politics, remember that you live in a democracy and enjoy freedoms not realized by many citizens of other countries.

Hope. The good news is that God wants us back and has provided a way through the one we know as Jesus, who came from heaven, lived as a perfect human, died to pay the price for human rebellion, and was raised. Anyone devoted to God in response may suffer the things of this broken world but get something others don’t: His Spirit to guide and teach in this age and partnership in the one to come.

Next week, we’ll continue this train of thought by exploring why bad things happen to seemingly good people.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

Covenant: Part II (New Covenant)

This week, we continue exploring the two-way relationship with the Father through faith in the Son and holding up our part of that relationship.

Quick review: the Old Covenant relationship was modeled after the human suzerain-vassal (lord-servant) treaty in place at Abraham’s time. The New Covenant connection to the Father by way of the Son is a continuation because Father, Son, and mission are the same in both, and so are the terms.

Terms. God’s obligation was to send a savior and love humans (John 3:16; 1 John 4:19). He has honored the terms and continues to keep close to Him anyone who chooses to remain (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:38-39). Jesus expects devotees to profess Christ to others openly (Matthew 10:32), confess sins, and bear each other’s burdens (James 5:13-16). They are to honor the Father with everything they are and have in complete devotion and charitably love one another (Matthew 22: 37-40).  Loving actions born of faith prove allegiance to the Father through Christ (e.g., John 14:15 and 21; 15:8).  Finally, Christ-followers are obligated to grow in spirit and make disciples who, in turn, create more disciples (e.g., Ephesians 4:11-16 and Matthew 28:18-20).

Blessings. Blessings by way of God’s knowing Christ-followers include receiving His Spirit, eternal life, and partnership in the age to come.  However, curses also exist for those whom God does not know—anyone who has rejected Him, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Knowing of God isn’t enough – He must ‘know’ us by our obedient love (1 Corinthians 8:3).

Curses. Negative consequences exist for refusing or walking away from a relationship with God. For instance, Jesus teaches that anyone who does not obey the call to be charitable to others will suffer judgment and destruction (John 15:6; Matthew 25:41-46). The same fate awaits those whose practices oppose God’s standard.  The Psalmist David calls for the unrighteous to be removed from the Book of Life (Psalm 69:28). Similarly, Jesus tells John that He will not remove the name of the righteous from the Book (Revelation 3:5). Finally, the names of the people who will choose poorly and align with the end-times Antichrist will be absent from it (Revelation 13:8 and 17:8).

Remain. A fruitful and continuing relationship demands that both parties remain in, and true to, the agreement. The covenant with the Father through Christ is no exception. The language used to denote the need to stay in a relationship with the Father refers to remaining or staying put. In scriptures like John 15:4-10, Jesus explains the need to stay with Father and Son, sometimes using conditional statements that insist people can choose to remain or leave.  The apostle John continues the theme in 1 John 4:16.

In summary, your Creator has called by giving you a way back to Him through Jesus. It’s your turn: devote, love, and stay.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley

The Covenant with God: Part I

Last week, I presented an exciting riddle about 3,000 souls lost, gained, and then lost again (on American soil). I also mentioned the related relational framework (covenant) that may dictate the presence or absence of God’s provision and protection. We’ll unpack it further in this and next week’s articles.

God has sought partnership with His creation from the beginning of human time when He charged the first man, Adam, with caring for what He had made. Adam cultivated the garden and named the animals (Genesis 1:26-30 and 2:15-20). From then, a relational God who endowed humans with the ability to choose Him has regularly sought “I will if you will” engagements.

Probably the earliest example of a covenantal relationship (two-way partnership with terms and conditions) with God was what He shared with Abraham. In Genesis 15:1-21 and 17:1-14, God engaged him to fulfill a promise to provide a way back and redeem creation after Adam and Eve’s rebellion.  The relationship was based on an ancient Hittite suzerain-vassal framework that outlined the arrangement between the lord of the land and its occupants. The lord demanded complete devotion and allegiance and a tithe (10%) of what the land produced. His subjects received, in return, protection and provision. It was the standard arrangement in place at Abraham’s time, and it had a preamble that listed affected parties and a historical prologue providing the “basis of obligation.” 

Furthermore, the covenantal agreement listed stipulations (terms and conditions), blessings for obedience, and curses for disobedience.  Regular readings of the treaty to keep it first and foremost in the participants’ minds was necessary.  That God used it should come as no surprise considering that Father and Son have always employed human language, practices, idioms, etc., in communicating with people.  The lord-servant arrangement was what Abraham knew. It would have made sense to him. God continued what He had started by reaffirming the agreement through Moses 500 years later.

God remembered His covenant with Israel when the people were captives in Egypt (Exodus 2:24). Upon their rescue via Moses, God confirmed the treaty using the same suzerain/vassal framework:

1.         Preamble/Title: “I am Yahweh your God . . .”          

2.         Prologue: “. . . who brought you up out of the land” (provides obligations and motive).

3.         Stipulations/Obligations: “You shall have no other gods before me. . . .”

4.         Periodic reading of the treaty.

5.         Witnesses.

6.         Curses and blessings.

Additional covenantal artifacts exist in scriptures such as Deuteronomy 4:32-40, 6:4-25, and chapter eight.

In summary, a God who exercises choice created humans in His image, and He sought reciprocal relationships with willing participants in the Old Covenant (Old Testament). Next week, we’ll see that this is still the case in the New Covenant (New Testament).

3,000 Souls!

Here’s a weird but real riddle: When in human history with God have we seen a single loss of 3,000 souls (human beings), then the additional of 3,000 souls, and then perhaps the loss of 3,000 souls on American soil? The answer hints at the importance of remaining in the covenant (two-way marriage-like relationship) with God.

First, God told the Israelites that He would be their God (King) if they would be His people. The arrangement was based on the ancient Hittite suzerain-vassal (lord-servant) covenant in Abraham’s day renewed through Moses. The Israelites agreed and then committed spiritual immorality by worshiping a golden calf while Moses worked with God to receive His Instructions written in stone. Moses commanded that all who aligned with God join him and worship God as they had promised. The rebellious died for breaking their word to God and leaving the covenant. Guess how many people died that day? Yep – 3,000 (Exodus 32:26-28).

Second, and conversely, 3,000 people gained their lives so-to-speak by embracing the covenant during the post-resurrection Pentecost celebration (cf. Acts 2:36-41). Alright – 3,000 lost souls replaced. Good. But have we then lost 3,000 again at any time on our turf in the U.S., perhaps because we’ve left God’s protection? Maybe.

About 3,000 (2,996) people died in the horrific September 11, 2001 attacks ( You’re probably thinking something like, “But, Ron! Aren’t we a godly nation and in God’s good graces and protection?” Not really. We might have been hundreds of years ago.  After all, our nation was founded on Christian principles by God-fearing people. Schoolbooks used the Bible to teach anything from the alphabet to morality, and Harvard and Yale were Christian institutions. Abortion was not a consideration, and divorce was uncommon. Sexual immorality existed but wasn’t pervasive or acceptable behavior.

Today? Christianity in the United States is declining, and churches are closing their doors at an alarming rate. Abortion is legal and commonplace, and divorce frequently divides families inside the Church and out. Most schools cannot teach about Christianity, allow prayer, or tolerate Christian gatherings. Universities like Yale and Harvard discourage the faith and even teach against it occasionally. And we engage in or condone immoralities, not unlike that of Sodom and Gomorrah or Emperor Caligula’s Rome. Was the loss of 3,000 souls on September 11, 2001, related to a decaying morality and departure from God? Who knows? Still, the 3,000-soul death toll and our nation’s direction make interesting bedfellows!

The Exodus and Acts messages’ thrust is the covenant (two-way relationship) and dedication to the Lord God. Next week, we’ll explore that relational framework that began with Abraham and continues today. Why? So that you too may choose well.

Blessings and peace,

Ron Braley