In the famous story of Noah, we are confronted with divine judgment which is a problem for many people. Modern people often find the notion of divine judgment distressing and even primitive.
Miroslav Volf is a Croatian. As you can imagine, being from the Balkans, he is intimately familiar with injustice. Volf writes this, “Violence thrives secretly nourished by belief in a God who refuses to wield the sword.” If we don’t believe in a God who enacts justice, we will be tempted to take matters into our own hands. If you get rid of divine judgment, how does the cycle of violence stop? If you long for the cycle of violence to end, then you need a God of judgment.
This is what led Scott Sauls to conclude the following:
“…we need a God who get angry. We need a God who will protect his kids, who will once and for all remove the bullies and the perpetrators of evil from his playground. Those who cannot or will not appreciate this have likely enjoyed a very sheltered life and are therefore naive about the emotional impact of oppression, cruelty, and injustice. To accept that God is a lover but not a judge is a luxury that only the privileged and protected can enjoy.”
Let me come at the necessity of divine judgment from a different angle. Isn’t all violence the enacting of “justice" from one person or culture’s perspective?
Let’s take 9/11. To us, September 11, 2001, was an atrocity; a grave injustice. But what was 9/11 to the Middle Eastern Muslims who carried it out? It was “justice" - justice as defined by them.
What about Charlottesville this past year in Virginia? To many that was ravenous oppression. But what was it to the racial supremacists? It was “justice” - justice as defined by them.
The same could be said of the horror that took place in Las Vegas this past week.
When justice has as many definitions as there are perspectives or worldviews or cultures in the world, there is going to be a cycle of violence to contend with. What is unjust to one is just to another. The only way the cycle ends is if there is only one definition of justice that all are made to abide by. This is what Volf and Sauls are saying. We need God to be a God of divine judgment. We need his justice to be definitive and final. That’s the only way the cycle of violence ends.
For me, this doesn’t neatly button-up God’s justice into a nice, tidy, easy to understand package. God’s justice still presents us with problems we can’t solve. But you know what it does do for me? It shows me that without divine judgment, I have a much bigger problem to deal with. The necessity of divine judgment is the only way the cycle of violence ends.
The world is yet again numbed by the senseless atrocity of Las Vegas this week. Shock, horror and grief have gripped the U.S. Inevitably cascading from this deluge of killing are the questions: “Why?” “How?” “Who?” There are no shortage of Christian reflections on this, so this one isn’t intended to be all-encompassing that accounts for every nuance. But one angle is worth considering because the biblical account parallels the one we’ve witnessed.
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Jesus recounts two stories likely well-known to his audience. One would fit under the category of “natural disaster”; the other under “deliberate evil.” There are two takeaways for us in Jesus’ short teaching.
The first is the victims of Las Vegas weren’t being punished because they were worse sinners than all the rest. Some “Christians” appallingly make this accusation every time something like this happens. Not only is this pure hubris, but it is also a contradiction of Jesus’ words to us.
The second takeaway is that this event occurs for the benefit of those who survive and the watching world who witness this from afar. Jesus used both the natural disaster and the deliberate evil to call the living to repentance. Events like the one in Las Vegas remind us of the fragility and brevity of life. Human beings only get one life to repent from sin and turn to Christ in faith.
Where appropriate, Jesus’ way should be the Christian’s way as well. We should be quick to say this shooting is not God judging a group of people as worse than all the rest. And, this is opportunity to call the living to repentance and faith in Christ.