by Rod D. Martin
December 31, 2001
So was September 11th God’s judgment on America or not?
It’s a good question. In the immediate aftermath of the horrors of that day, Christian commentators fell all over themselves to join Bill Clinton in pronouncing just that. And in the shock of the moment, it certainly seemed right: America’s sins are many, and repentance is surely the greatest need of the day.
But then the impossible happened. In just a month and a half, America (supposedly in the hands of an angry God) romped and stomped and did what no one had ever done in all of history: completely defeat and overrun Afghanistan, with no casualties to speak of and hardly any ground troops at all.
“Now who did you say was getting judged?” the outside observer might ask. And the prophets of America’s doom seem to have no reply, especially the obvious one, which is: “Oops, wrong country. Our bad.”
Now don’t misunderstand: America’s sins are many; the pastors who called us to repentance are absolutely correct in so preaching; and we certainly live only by grace. Given the holocaust of abortion alone, it is amazing that we continue to live at all: the number killed on September 11, 2001 was less than the number murdered in America every day by abortionists. (Enough said, right?)
Except that it isn’t enough said. Not quite.
First of all, a rather large part of the church’s mission is to disciple the nations, a task which notably includes those weaker brothers around us who couldn’t tell exegesis from an Xbox. If only for their sakes, shouldn’t we try to avoid looking really, really dumb? None of us are prophets: why, then, insist on playing Hal Lindsey, breathlessly pronouncing God’s Certain Judgment Right Now? So we can seem “smarter,” or more “spiritual”? Many pay an eternal price for such indulgences of false humility.
And sure, the doomsayers may prove correct: our enemies’ next move may be an atomic bomb in New York, and after that no one’s going to think Afghanistan a great victory. But why assume this, instead of preaching a more balanced message of repentance and righteousness, without the parochial hysteria? Must we always shoot from the lip?
Second, there is a deep presuppositional issue here. There has arisen, particularly among Reformed Christians, a kind of odd mirror of the most radical dispensationalists, a sort of “Judge America First” crowd, certain that the world will go on but that America is and ought to be immediately doomed.
There are some serious problems with this position, the most obvious being (particularly for people who believe in God’s sovereign election) that, whereas the rest of the Western world has apostatized in the past two centuries, America continues to have vast numbers of Christians, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of total population. Moreover, the American church is growing, and many previously “squishy” portions of it are embracing sound doctrine: the trends are in the right direction.
Besides, if God wants us ruined, what’s He waiting for? Just in the years since Roe, He could have annihilated or enslaved us by the hand of the Soviets, wiped out our modern technological society in an instant through Y2K, killed us all with AIDS, destroyed us in any number of ways. He didn’t. In fact, He preserved us while destroying others. Whole nations in Africa are being wiped out by AIDS, but not us. The Soviets collapsed, but not us. The empire of every apostate Western country is stripped away, but we remain.
And within America, who actually benefits from our major national sins? We return to abortion: does abortion require national judgment, or is abortion itself the national judgment, targeted very precisely at the darkened minds and hearts of the people most in rebellion, maiming and killing their own flesh and blood (which is to say, their posterity). If the wicked continue to murder their own for another generation or two, and the righteous continue to have huge home-schooled families and propagate their faith as they go, where exactly is the need for any additional wrath? And what will the demographics be — righteous vs. reprobate — at the end of that time (a time, by the way, when an overwhelming majority will certainly vote an end to abortion)?
The “Judge America First” crowd sees none of this. And maybe they’re right. Maybe God wants not merely to chasten America, or reform America, but to destroy America. Maybe that is His plan: maybe it’s even the only righteous course He could possibly take.
But if Afghanistan has shown us anything, it’s this: men who don’t want to look foolish don’t call the game in the first quarter. Pastors: take heed.