Apr 28, 2009

Ask the Professor

By Dr. Jeffrey Seif

Jeff, Do you think America is going to be crushed by its financial woes? Are we hopelessly doomed? Is God judging us for our sins? Will this be the end of our way of life?

First, I am not an economist and I can barely get my arms around the sources of our nation’s financial problems. I have trouble justifying the magnitude of the debt being incurred as a supposed solution. Second, my faith-prompted optimism distances me from words like “hopeless” and “doom.” Third, I have always understood change to be the norm in life—along with a resistance to it. While aspects of these questions belong to the discipline of economics, the theological aspect—the one related to God’s judgment—is one that I can address as a Bible teacher, along with its eschatological (end-times) implications.

Israel’s Old Testament constitution embraced the understanding that judgments of blessing and cursing would be visited upon Hebrews, here and now. According to Deut.28:1-14, for example, obedience to God’s ways came with the promise of many blessings. Conversely, according to vv. 15-68, dreaded curses of disobedience were spelled out for the non-compliant. The point is that judgment—good or bad—was understood as being experienced in the moment, here and now.

The New Testament, by contrast, places more of a premium on God’s ultimate judgment being more futuristic—with the better part of rewards and punishments doled out on the other side of the grave. Punishment for sin, for example, is noted with the unfortunates eventually being consigned to an abyss where they’ll get their just deserts. In Matthew 25:46, Jesus notes that some “will go to everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Paul described the reward for the righteous at days’ end saying, “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” ( 2 Tim. 4:8).

With the better part of humanity’s rewards and punishment still futuristic and facilitated by “His appearing,” the question is: Is America receiving God’s judgment now—in advance of the ultimate judgment to come later?

Because America is not mentioned in Scripture, I can’t answer that question with certainty. On a personal and pastoral note, let me remind you that a triumphant and loving God “preserves the souls of His saints” and that He “delivers them out of the hand of the wicked” (Ps. 97:10).

What’s my humble suggestion to you? Love God and serve Him, and do so with the expectation that, as with the psalmist in 121:8, “the Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in.”

Lastly, like Zola, I can assure you that our program ends deliberately with Ps. 122:6—“pray for the peace of Jerusalem”—with a promise on the other side of that verse that says: “May they prosper who love you.” We do this based on our belief in a good God and His promise that there is a good future for those who serve Him.