What God’s Word says of Israel’s destruction may be something that we should consider when pain and hardship come into our lives. Just because we no longer like to assign the law of cause-effect to behavior doesn’t mean that God’s law is suddenly inoperable in the modern age. The writer of 2 Kings was not shy about saying “this happened to them because of that.” On a personal level, it may just be wisdom to consider the possibility with contrite hearts and corrective steps.
Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 17:7-9,18
This disaster came upon the people of Israel because they worshiped other gods. They sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them safely out of Egypt and had rescued them from the power of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. They had followed the practices of the pagan nations the Lord had driven from the land ahead of them, as well as the practices the kings of Israel had introduced. The people of Israel had also secretly done many things that were not pleasing to the Lord their God. … Because the Lord was very angry with Israel, he swept them away from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah remained in the land.
Assigning responsibility to God for the hardships that befall us is a practice that has fallen on hard times in modern generations. We think it poor form to blame God for bad things that happen in the world. If a highly visible Christian takes to the media to proclaim that the latest hurricane is God’s punishment, or that an earthquake came because of sin, or devastating flooding can be traced back to a region rejecting God, the intelligent world goes nuts. And I tend to agree.
But not too many generations ago, the folks kind of believed that. If the crops failed, the people repented of their sin. If sickness ravaged the community, they believed that fasting and prayer would reveal the reason for this divine displeasure. When bad things happened, people assumed they were bad and God was simply punishing their waywardness.
Now I am not promoting that we return to that approach. I don’t think we need to blame God for every bad thing that befalls the earth. God is not responsible for evil; the devil is. Yet sin—stubborn, un-repented, in-your-face sin among God’s holy people—will cause the blessing and protection of God to lift from our lives. So, then, are hurricanes and earthquakes and floods God’s judgment against the sinful world? I don’t know; that’s a few steps above my pay-grade. But I kind of doubt it. For sure, there will be devastating judgment some day leveled against the unbelieving world, but I think God is holding off on that until the end.
But when it comes to Christians, what we do know is that the Lord disciplines those he loves in order to bring them back to full devotion to him. The writer of Hebrews calls us to “endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children.” (Hebrews 12:7) In order to redeem our souls, break us of sinful patterns, and reposition us to a zone of bless-ability, God will allow pain to get our attention. C.S. Lewis’ profound observation in his book, The Problem of Pain, is worth noting:
We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities, and everyone who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
My point in all of this simply is a call to consider that what God’s Word says of Israel may be something that we should consider when pain and hardship befalls our lives. Just because we don’t like to assign a cause-effect consequence to behavior doesn’t mean that God’s law is suddenly inoperable in the modern age. The writer of 2 Kings was not shy about saying “this happened to them because of that.” Israel fell, the northern nation met its end, and the reason why is very clear: they stubbornly persistented in flagrant sin.
On a personal level, it may just be wisdom to consider the possibility of a cause-effect consequence when hardship happens in your life, with a contrite heart and corrective steps. I would not suggest that you go around proclaiming this for the sinful world at large, or even for people that you know. Unless they have invited your opinions, it is best to keep them to yourself. But on a personal level, give it some thought.
It may not be the case that you are under the Lord’s discipline, but then again, the writer of Hebrews said, “Endure hardship as discipline.”