Now, this isn’t going to be a theological treatise – you you are probably quite glad of that! Rather, a collection of thoughts, hopefully not too random, that coalesced when I was talking to a friend the other night. Feel free to offer your own opinion.
Firstly, it’s not saying anything new that Western culture tends to be an individualistic one. Compared with other cultures, our sense of identity is much more wrapped up in self, and less in family, region, country etc. That does not mean we do not have those layers, but that often we do not recognise them for what they are.
As a result, I believe we are often blinded to our full identity – and as a result do not have a full picture of sin and judgment. What do I mean by that? Well, first, let’s look at identity. It seems to me that we all have multiple layers to what makes us ‘us’. First of all, there is us as individuals. Then there is us as part of a family. Then, perhaps, as part of a town or region. Then, a country. In addition to that there are many other facets that make up identity – workplace, clubs, social gatherings, as a part of a Church – and most importantly for the Christian a citizen of Heaven, part of God’s own family, grafted in though Jesus Christ. All these come together to form ‘us’ – to put it simply no one can be seen as an individual alone.
But I believe it is this cultural focus on the individual (now, there’s irony) that obscures this more full understanding of our identity, and – as I said – also blinds us to the full nature of sin and judgment. For, although we are tenuously aware of these extra layers, we are not aware enough to perceive the endemic sin that also resides in these layers, and more so that we are part of the problem. We may vaguely pray regarding the sins of our country. How much more would we pray if we understood that – as citizens of that country – we all partake together in that sin? That it is not something that can be vaguely put at somebody else’s door – it comes directly back to us.
Now, you may say we are citizens of Heaven. Just so. But we are in a strange place while we are yet here on this earth – something of a time between times – and just as ‘personal’ sin bedevils us at times, so does societal sin also. It is not somebody else’s sin, it is corporately ours.
Ultimately, understanding this requires a shift in thinking. But, if you can make that shift – it can also shift your understanding of judgment. So often when calamity hits a country, some folks will say ‘this was the judgment of God’. Now, that may or may not be true, but the reply often critiques the seemingly random nature of the casualties – utilising the ‘this person was good so why did it happen to them?’ argument. We often cannot wrap our minds around this. However, one you understand identity and sin as multi-layered, then judgments that impact a country (say), start to be seen in a different light. Not that this seeks to explain such things, but certainly it broadens our vista compared to our normal individualistic understanding.
Peter, I guess I’ll go first. I know you said that your article would not be a theological treatise, but you have suggested several things without showing the exegesis you may have done to arrive at your conclusion. It seems that what you are driving at is that parts of the old covenant (God bringing judgment against nations, the idea of societal sin in addition to individual sin, the need to atone for societal sins, etc.) are still in effect. I’m not a Bible scholar and won’t try to refute what you are saying, but it would be helpful to see some scriptural underpinnings for your position. I’m also curious if you are sympathetic to the views of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others who said that 9/11 was God’s judgment on America?
I don’t know if specific large-scale tragedies are the result of God bringing judgment against sinful nations, but I do believe that God is sovereign and that His ways are far higher than our ways. The potter has full rights over the clay.
You raise some interesting questions. I’m not sure I have time to address them all now, but I’ll have a first stab. I confess that I did not use the Bible to arrive at this opinion, at least not in the sense of chapter-and-verse. However, one might like to consider that the Old Testament nation judgments were quite evident in the New as well, vis Jerusalems destruction in AD70, predicted by Jesus. I would tend to argue that there is no ‘smoking gun’ verse to support or refute my thoughts (which are just that). However, I would submit there is a pattern throughout the old and new testaments (I suppose we might consider the warnings to the Churches in Revelation an example of group judgment too).
As far as Jerry Falwell et al re 911, well now that is a place where I would like to be nuanced, if possible! I certainly didn’t support their knee-jerk reactions and I thought it did a disservice to the victims, trivialised and oversimplified the whole thing.
But, to my mind it is possible (and only possible) that we saw a warning there. Note if you like that the symbols of the economy and military were struck. Note also that a plane heading for the White House did a 270 degree turn at the last minute and went for the Pentagon. Why was that, because Bush is such a holy man? I think not, however he does acknowledge a Holy God, and I wonder whether there was some protection there because of that?
Now, I’m aware that this may be seen as a provocative way of seeing things, and I’m not saying in any way that it was so, rather that it may have been so. Certainly, the US, Canada etc are in a dire need of a turn around….
Perhaps this is a callous way of viewing things, though perhaps if it is then so was Jesus regarding the Tower of Siloam.
There’s some thoughts, now I must sign off.
Peter, you have me thinking and I intend to look more deeper into the concept of corporate sin as opposed to individual sin. There is no doubt that God brought judgment against Israel and other nations for their corporate sins, but the substitutionary atonement of Christ and the salvation that comes from through His death is spoken of in very individual terms in the NT. When Christ died for the sins of mankind, did he give His life for the aggregation of individual sins, or did He also die for another category of sin that is more collective in nature (the sum is greater than the simple collection of the individual parts). If each of us, as individuals, bear some responsibility for the sins of our society at large, what should our response be? Although I’m sure we could all point to things in our society that are sinful, there are likely many others that we are not aware of. Do we only repent for those societal actions that we somehow participate in (willingly or otherwise), or should we repent for sins that we know little or nothing of? Also, since true repentance means turning one’s back on sin, are Christians obliged to engage in political activity to change society when they repent?
I’m not expecting you to respond to these questions, nor do I have any good answers myself. I guess I’m just thinking out loud. I hope to take a course on soteriology in the coming months and that may give me occasion to dig more deeply into scripture on this topic. Thank you for raising the issue.
“More deeper”. Perhaps I meant “more deeply” .
The Muse is warning about unprecedented destruction coming in 2008, leading to America’s fall. 🙂
You’re welcome Warren. All I was wanting to do is to make folk think a bit about just those questions you raise. I’m not sure I have all the answers either, but I do have the questions.
Think also of most of Pauls letters – not addressed to individuals but to communities….
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