Judgment

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When we think of judgment on the nations we tend to jump right to those other people. We think in terms of everyone else causing the sin that we have to then wrestle with. This is, of course, not outside the Biblical narrative, for sin is pervasive and those trapped in sin persist with chaos.

However, judgment in the Biblical narrative is not just about Egypt and Babylon. The prophets speak of those nations, and others, but they entirely more speak about Israel, the nation called and covenanted. Because it was called by God it had a specially weight in its responsibilities. God paid special attention to Israel, when it was good it was very good, when it was bad, well, there was suffering all around.

With this in mind I note Wolfhart Pannenberg’s thoughts (ST III, p.516):

The history of the church is not just a history of the missionary expansion of the Christian faith. Nor does it just record the way in which a lasting fellowship has been set up that transcends the frontiers and differences of peoples and races and finds political expression as well ain a a comprehensive order of peace. This is how we might have depicted it in the age of the Constantinian transition. Eusebius viewed it thus.

But already in his day the rift of the Arian controversy was taking place that would have momentous consequences for years throught the conversion of important Germanic tribes to the Arian form of the Christian faith, not to that of the orthodox church.

Then in the 5th century came the schisms resulting from the christological controversy. These developments contributed considerably and perhaps decisively to the breaking apart of the Roman Empire and to the collapse of the Western half in the storm of barbarian incursions, but especially in the 7th cnetury to the loss to Islam of Christianity’s original territories in Syria and Palestine, along with those in Egypt and North Africa, with the loss of Spain to follow.

We cannot integrate these events into a concpt of church history in terms of the thought of mission alone. They cut right across this thought.

From the standpoint of a theology of history they come only under the category of judgment. As regards their connection with the dogmatic divisions of the church, and especially with the attempts at purification by force, we might indeed regard them as the expression of a historical judgment of God on his church.

The category of judgment is essential also if we are to understand theologically the history of the church in the medieval West. It applies to the part played by the East-West schism in the loss of Asia Minor, Constantinople, and the Balkans to Islam. The inner decay of Western Christianity as a result of the swollen claims of the papacy, which shattered the concept of a harmony of the spiritual and secular powers in the life of Christendom, and later made the Reformation divisive, can also be evaluated theologically only from the standpoint of God’s judgment on his church.

We are also to see as an expression of God’s judgment in history the alienation of the modern world of Western culture from Christianity inasmuch as its secularism is ultimately derivable from the results of the church’s 16th century divisions and the Wars of Religions that they occasioned in the late 16th and 17th centuries.

The shattering of social peace by the intolerance associated with confessional differences, as more recent historical investigations of the 17th-century history tell us, was the decisive reason for the abandoning of what had hitherto been the prevailing view that the unity of religion is an essential basis of the unity of society. The emancipating of society with its political, economic, and finally its cultural forms of life from all ties to relgion has produced teh secularism of the modern world of Western culture. But the results of the schism in the Western church were the starting point.

With this then may be the tendency to throw the whole of Christianity out, as many are apt to do either in action or in watering down the theology. This isn’t quite the response. For as with Israel, judgment was not an act of abolishment but one of refocusing. When the unified nation could not be a reflection of the Divine to this world, God split the kingdom. When this didn’t work he abolished the kingdom, making the people no longer unified under a king, but rather a nation in the diaspora, spread about all the nations, unified only by their renewed faith.

When looking at the mess of Western society we, after two thousand years of efforts, have only ourselves to blame for that which we so heartily condemn. And in this is also the hope and solution. It is not to recover the power and influence which incited societal rejection and God’s judgment, but to instead restore in each of our lives the qualities of the faith that is affirmed by Christ and empowered by the Spirit to become a domain of holy resonance which encounters each person, not with judgment or control, but with love and transformation.

It is to God we must turn with all our being, and seek the power of the Spirit for the transformation we, apart from the Spirit, only bring to ruin.

Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and have pity and leave behind a blessing.” (Joel 2:12-14)

In this blessing is the hope of the Nations, which has already been left, but so often entirely forgotten. We are, as a Church, restoring the walls having been reminded by judgment the nature of God, and in this we are like King Josiah, able to take a new stand as a people and take an approach to this world which forsakes our commitments to our own powers and begins anew to rely on the power of the Spirit which formed the Church, and maintains the Church, under the headship of Christ.

May peace truly be with us from now on.

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