In the Proverbs of Solomon the following nugget of wisdom appears:
The application of a Proverb such as this to our national life, and the times we live in, should be self-evident. We happen to be living late in world history, late in the history of the church of Jesus Christ, and late in our nation's history. It seems to me very likely that a long-delayed series of judgments on America has already begun. What remains to be seen is how closely a judgment of our nation may coincide with the end-of-the-age judgment of all the nations.
Many passages in the Bible talk about the coming judgment of all the nations.
"The great day of the LORD is near; It is near and hastens quickly. The noise of the day of the LORD is bitter; There the mighty men shall cry out. That day is a day of wrath, A day of trouble and distress, A day of devastation and desolation, A day of darkness and gloominess, A day of clouds and thick darkness, A day of trumpet and alarm Against the fortified cities And against the high towers. I will bring distress upon men, And they shall walk like blind men, Because they have sinned against the LORD; Their blood shall be poured out like dust, And their flesh like refuse. Neither their silver nor their gold Shall be able to deliver them In the day of the LORD'S wrath; But the whole land shall be devoured By the fire of His jealousy, For He will make speedy riddance Of all those who dwell in the land." (Zephaniah 1:14-18)
In the Old Testament, one sees that the spiritual life of God's chosen, representative nation Israel declined almost continually from the time of the Exodus (c. 1500 BC) -- to the time Jesus Christ was born. When Jesus appeared on the world stage that first time his own people were in a very low state. They soon rejected him as their King in spite of his impeccable credentials. Nevertheless Old Testament and New alike testify that God will keep His promises to Israel through Jesus -- because of the godly faith of the patriarchs of Israel.
The course of mankind's entire history in every nation has been downhill ever since the Fall. The notion of the upward progress of "civilization" is an illusion; the death rate is still 100%; the course of history continues to be war, violence, deterioration and decay.
One sees in the Bible that man's repentance delays God's judgments--that God much prefers mercy to judgment. In addition, God holds back the decay of a nation through men and women of faith in that nation who take God's grace and mercy and love seriously.
Under a newer and better covenant, the church which Jesus founded was intended to spread the knowledge of the true and living God to all peoples, everywhere. The church is a holy nation in her own right, but that body of believers in Jesus and the God of Israel, has also become largely decadent, powerless, and irrelevant, especially in Europe and in the U.S. Jesus himself posed the question about the condition of the world when he returned, "And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:7,8)
In the wonderfully helpful parable of the lowly mustard seed, Jesus pictured the final state of His church as like a great, ungainly useless tree filled with carrion eating birds, (http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/matthew/the-case-of-the-ambitious-seed). The writers of the New Testament also tell us that the "church age" will end with the coming of a false messiah and a corrupt one-world government -- before Jesus comes a second time. (For a summary on the end of the age we live in, see The Fate of the Earth, http://www.ldolphin.org/fate.html).
If you've not done so lately, may I suggest that everyone reads through the Major and Minor Prophets in the Old Testament. I find it difficult to ignore these ancient prophets -- it seems to they are more relevant now than ever. While the United States does not have a covenant relationship with God as Israel does, Israel is there for us to learn from. Her final triumph on the stage of history is already starting to unfold in the daily news.
The church of Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is multi-ethnic, having "cells" imbedded in virtually every nation.
"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation." (1 Peter 2:9-12)
Though true Christians are few in number today, that remnant group is considered to be "God's secret government on the earth." (see Sovereign God/Sovereign Nation, by Ted Wise, http://ldolphin.org/wise/wise.html).
All Christians are not equal. In some sense God withholds judgment on a decadent, decaying nation according to the number of "righteous" men (and women) in that nation. An example of this can be seen in the days of Ezekiel. This young priest of Israel was taken captive from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC, during God's first wave of judgment on Judea. The judgment of all of Israel for her centuries of indifference, hypocrisy, and ungodly living was already well underway when God gave the following message to his servant Ezekiel.
The word of the LORD came again to me, saying: 'Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it. 'Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,' says the Lord GOD. 'If I cause wild beasts to pass through the land, and they empty it, and make it so desolate that no man may pass through because of the beasts, 'even though these three men were in it, as I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'they would deliver neither sons nor daughters; only they would be delivered, and the land would be desolate.
'Or if I bring a sword on that land, and say, ‘Sword, go through the land,' and I cut off man and beast from it, 'even though these three men were in it, as I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'they would deliver neither sons nor daughters, but only they themselves would be delivered.
'Or if I send a pestilence into that land and pour out My fury on it in blood, and cut off from it man and beast, 'even though Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, as I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'they would deliver neither son nor daughter; they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness.' For thus says the Lord GOD: 'How much more it shall be when I send My four severe judgments on Jerusalem—the sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence—to cut off man and beast from it?
'Yet behold, there shall be left in it a remnant who will be brought out, both sons and daughters; surely they will come out to you, and you will see their ways and their doings. Then you will be comforted concerning the disaster that I have brought upon Jerusalem, all that I have brought upon it. 'And they will comfort you, when you see their ways and their doings; and you shall know that I have done nothing without cause that I have done in it,' says the Lord GOD." (Ezekiel 14:12-23)
Most of us will recall God's judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Cities of the Plain, recorded in Genesis 18. Abraham bargained with the Lord until God agreed not to destroy these cities if ten or more righteous men lived there. But only Lot and his two daughters escaped. Lot's wife died on the way out of town, encrusted in a pillar of salt. The five Cities of the Plain were destroyed.
Key to understanding how the presence of "righteous" believers can help preserve a city or a nation from divine judgment, lies in the meaning of the Biblical word "righteous." When anyone of us places his or her faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, that person experiences the immediate removal of all charges against him in God's High Court of Justice. The individual's sins are all "imputed" (or credited) to Jesus' account, and the righteousness of Jesus is imputed (or credited) to the sinner's account. From that moment on, God treats us as if we had never sinned. (That is, we are "justified by faith.") Of course we all do sin after we are spiritually reborn, but sin in us Christians is now dealt with by God's correcting, Fatherly discipline or chastening.
The opposite of the righteousness which comes from God is self-righteousness. Needless to say, fake and phony righteousness is everywhere today. It was, and still is, Israel's main stumbling block, "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:1-4)
So much for "imputed righteousness." The long road Christians embark on, when we allow Jesus Christ into our lives as Lord, is called "sanctification." Sadly, many Christians settle for only a nominal Christian life. Only a few pursue righteousness. We usually think of men and women who have pursued righteousness all their lives as godly, weighty, impeccable people. We all know that a few take their faith seriously even if we do not.
A key question for us in America today ought to be, "where are our righteous men?" Is a new generation of men and women of godly stature showing up in universities, in government, in business, in media services? Probably not.
What God said to Ezekiel in effect was that the presence of three well-known righteous men, Noah, Daniel, and Job in Israel would not be enough to avert God's judgment on Israel--judgment was already underway. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Righteousness).
Solomon says that "righteousness exalts a nation." He surely had in mind honest government, justice in the courts, stable family life, care of widows and orphans, and respect for the things that God values in any society. In modern terms, a righteous nation will be noted for its fine statesmen who openly engage in building better government. Bankers and financial leaders will be found striving for honesty and sound ethics in business. Godly scholars, each having high integrity in his or her own field, will be found occupying chairs in the leading institutions of higher learning. Correctional instructions will strive for the healing of habitual lawbreakers, not merely with their incarceration. Christian leaders in churches will be found devoting themselves to teaching "the whole counsel of God."
Sadly, in America today very few truly righteous persons of stature and depth can be found. Our choices for leaders these days are often not about "good, better, best," but about "poor" versus "very poor." Surely we are a nation ripe for judgment. Yet as a people we are amazingly apathetic and indifferent at a time when only repentance can make a real difference!
In his first Epistle the Apostle Peter reminds us that God first judges His own people before He judges the nation where they live:
But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins.' Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people's matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.
For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now 'If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?' Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator." (1 Peter 4:7-19)
God promises that His people will not be judged along with the rest of the world--that is, at the end of the age. But there is no easy way out here and now. The prophet Amos reminded his generation:
"Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! For what good is the day of the LORD to you? It will be darkness, and not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion, And a bear met him! Or as though he went into the house, Leaned his hand on the wall, And a serpent bit him! Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light? Is it not very dark, with no brightness in it? I hate, I despise your feast days, And I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream." (Amos 5:18-24)
We Christians in America surely deserve to be judged for our compromised life-styles, our love of the things of this world, our self-indulgent ways, our gross immoralities. Wide scale, deep repentance across our land might well allow God to give us a temporary reprieve. Yet, national remorse and repentance was short-lived and shallow after the 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers in New York. This tragedy was only the first of a number of wake up calls to Christ's church in America. The more we ignore God, the harder our hearts become! The Bible gives us few reasons to believe that our nation will recover from the many overwhelming problems about to descend upon us -- apart from full scale national repentance.
Christians in other parts of the world know all about persecution, hardship, and suffering. We are not better than they by any means -- God is not a "respecter of persons."
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that our repentance needs to be thorough; that we should overlook nothing.
"Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Hebrews 2:1-4)
Thankfully, Peter tells us that the extra grace we need for the days ahead has already been stored up for us:
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.' And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because 'All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever.' Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.
Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, 'Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.' Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,' and 'A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.' They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy." (1 Peter 1:13-2:10)