As I’m writing this, 49 people have just been murdered in Orlando by a lone jihadist. The report was only a few hours old when some Christians began calling the murders God’s judgment. Let me get this straight. A Muslim commits murder and it is God bringing judgment, but when Muslims in the Middle East slaughter Christians, this is not God’s judgment. Is there something wrong with this picture? Here is my question: how does one know when God is presently judging sinners in a specific event?
Let’s begin with the basics. First, we know for a fact that God judges. You could say it goes with his job description. He is the standard of goodness, purity, rightness, and beauty, so anything that doesn’t measure up to him is by definition broken and condemned. Goodness (God’s character) stands in judgment of evil, right judges wrong, and beauty judges ugliness. Think about it. How do you know something is evil unless you know what is good? How can you understand what is wrong unless you know what is right? How can ugliness be perceived without the reality of beauty? Therefore, since God is perfect and right and good and pure and loving and compassionate and merciful and transcendent and immanent, he is, therefore—again by definition—judging. In other words, God’s judgment comprises all his characteristics. God’s existence is judgment.
Second is the nature of judgment. Here I’m asking, how does it come about? It’s simple: God condemns the evil person and his deeds. Sometimes this judgment is swift (Genesis 3:8ff), and sometimes delayed (1 Thessalonians 1:1-7). It seems unfair on the surface, but there are times when the wicked prosper and seem to evade God’s judgment in this life (Psalm 73:3; Jeremiah 12:1). Nevertheless, judgment divides between good and evil, right and wrong, beauty and ugliness. Judgment is a simple process whereby a standard, a measurement, a canon, a norm, a principle, etc. determines the acceptability and worth of all behaviors. In this case, the standard or the norm is God’s character; judgment illuminates the chasm between good and evil.
Third, is the administration of judgment. God’s condemnation of evil may come at the hand of an angel (2 Samuel 24), by means of an army (Joshua 6), through natural phenomena (Exodus 7-11), by means of an individual (Ehud killed Eglon, Judges 3) or by the death of messiah (Romans 5:1). And remember that God judged the nation Israel by the hands of the Egyptians, Babylonians, and a cast of a thousand other nations! God even judges us by allowing us to wallow in our sin, thus judging ourselves (Romans 1). But we are still left with the question: how can we know if an event is God’s judgment?
One way to know if an event is God’s judgment is to look at the effects of that event. Does it bring about the renewal of godly behavior? That’s called revival. “For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9). As a result of the event—be it violent or peaceful, brief or enduring—is there revival among believers and a turning to Jesus among unbelievers? Is this what is happening as result of the murders in Orlando? Has the general population been made aware of their own sinfulness in light of what took place? All I see is pontificating (“We need better gun laws”); and shoddy thinking (“The Christian agenda against same-sex marriage creates a climate of hatred toward gays”). Where are the Christians with access to the media? And why aren’t they announcing the good news of Jesus as the singular means of combating hatred, fear, cowardice, and the evil that resides within Islam?
The only sure event to which we may say, “this is the judgment of God,” is the final Day of Judgment. Romans 2:6-8 says, “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.”
Do you call yourself a Christian? If so, please leave judgment to God. It is not our job to assign the cause of an event as “the judgment of God.” Instead, we are people who proclaim reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). The Day of Judgment is God’s work. We look foolish when we usurp God’s authority.