Have you ever been in a conversation and one person says something so outlandish or tells a lie that is so shockingly obvious that the only response is for everyone to step away imagining the bolt of lighting from God is coming straight there right at that moment? It is silly and people joke about this but exactly how does God work when it comes to judgment? The Old Testament God seems more vengeful and the New Testament God seems more loving. But just like the idea that God might strike someone with a lighting bolt from heaven for being a liar so our idea that God of the past is somehow not the same as the God of now is silly and ill informed.
In the Old Testament there is a pre–Noah and the flood person named Job. Satan approaches God with an accusation. Satan claims that Job only loves God because God has been so good to Job in his life. In response to this accusation Satan is given permission to destroy everything in Job’s life including his health. While Job is dealing with this tragedy and pain friends come to comfort Job. In their view they want to know what Job has done to make God angry. This is the lightning bolt world view and Job has obviously been judged. Here is part of Job’s response.
14 [Evil people] say to God, ‘Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways. 15 What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’ 16 Behold, is not their prosperity in their hand? Job 21:14-16 ESV
Job pushes back on their accusation because he still loves and serves God. Job is innocent and Job makes an astute observation. People who have no regard for God, people who scoff at God, people who want nothing to do with God at all live lives of prosperity all the time. We see the same in evil people who have everything this life can offer. Often people we dislike the most are people who are the most successful. They cheat and steal yet they get everything they want. It does not seem fair.
So what is the deal? We see bad people suffer and we see bad people prosper. We see good people suffer and we see good people prosper. Here are the words of Jesus himself that he sends blessings to the good and the bad.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Matthew 5:43-45 ESV
The common grace of God is for all people both the good and the bad. I view my being born in American during a time of wealth to be a blessing of that common grace. Many others were born in countries steeped in war and without freedom where people both good and bad suffer daily. Did I do something better to be blessed with the wealth of America or did they do something wrong to be born at the wrong time and wrong place? Clearly no. These are not valid because that is not how God works. I did nothing to deserve this life and others did nothing to deserve theirs.
26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Acts 17:26-27 ESV
The truth is that God placed each of us where we are in poverty or plenty to give us an opportunity to find him. This life is temporary and does not compare to the riches of his blessing in the life to come.
There are seasons for some generations where life here and now is peaceful and some generations here and now that receive God’s judgement. These moments are no lightning bolt of a single person struck because of sin. This judgement comes on entire nations afflicting both the good and the bad in that nation in the same way that prosperity is poured out on the good and the bad. God chooses to reset the table and some generations feel that pain. Covid, Climate Change, and war afflicting the world at a time of selfishness and proud sinfulness is not a surprise. People are at the mercy and grace of God. Yet they think they can control reality without him. “I will live my truth” they say.
24 Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, 25 because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you… Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, Proverbs 1:24-26; 29 ESV
The people are not listing to the wisdom of God. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20) The Bible is clear that at some point the twisting of God’s truth leads to a lighting bolt moment. But that lightning strike does not come all at once but comes in waves to wake people up. To remind them that they are not in control. Because of that restrained rebuke there is an opportunity for both the rebellious and the saved. Trust in Jesus. Rough roads are ahead but there is a shelter not from the poverty and pain that are inbound but there is a shelter in the one who loves us and created us. Will we put our hope in Christ or will we put our hope in the governments of men?
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 ESV