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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Under Collective Judgment

I am not my dad. I don’t make quite the same mistakes. I make different mistakes. Likewise, I don’t do many things half as well or half as spiritually as my father does. We’re very different in many ways.

I’m definitely not my dad’s father. I never knew him. Many of his ways seem foreign to me. He lived in another era, one characterized by different assumptions and habits.

And my great-grandfather? You gotta be kidding.

The Innocent Blood He Had Shed

So if I were to tell you that God proposes to bring a catastrophe upon your nation in order to judge sins committed by men who died over 50 years ago — men most of you never even met — you’d probably find that just a little bit troubling.

This is precisely what happened to Judah during the reign of Jehoiakim, as the writer of 2 Kings tells us:
“Surely this came upon Judah at the command of the Lord, to remove them out of his sight, for the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood that he had shed. For he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the Lord would not pardon.”
Quite understandable, we say, IF God had been directly judging King Manasseh.

The Sins of the Woodstock Generation … and You

But Manasseh had been a-mouldering in his grave for over 50 years at this point, and the generation of his people that had enthusiastically embraced the religious and civic abominations of his administration was long dead too.

Moreover, there had been a huge spiritual revival since, in the time of Josiah, despite which “the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him.”

Hmm. How does THAT work exactly?

What have I to do with the sins of Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his gang of Liberals, or with the nation that embraced him and his disastrous policies back in the 1970s? What have you, our U.S. reader, to do with Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War or the Woodstock generation?

What indeed?

Individual Character

Well, I must confess, perhaps a very little bit. For all our differences, my set of default assumptions — my initial beliefs about what is right and wrong, about God’s existence and nature, and about how I ought to live my life — came from my parents, and some of those came from theirs. While we each remain responsible for what we believe and how we live, it is virtually impossible to face up to and challenge every erroneous idea we have inadvertently absorbed in the process of growing up. It takes a lifetime, and we never get there. Some very good things were passed through my dad to me by my grandfather, and probably a few errors too. Many of those errors characterized his generation, and they will give an account to God for them, just as people of that generation will receive their rewards for the truths they rediscovered and passed on to us.

A great many of us do more than just fail to repudiate the sins of our forefathers: we embrace them, enshrine them and celebrate them. The Lord always knows when this is the case, as he demonstrated to the Jews who rejected him when he declared, “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers.” (Hint: when presented with this sort of spiritual opportunity it is good form to politely decline.)

National / Ethnic Character

Again, when we look at nation-states, we can hardly fail to observe that there exists a thing called national character, though it is constantly in the process of evolving or just plain eroding. The qualities that characterized the United States nationally in the 1960s are mostly gone now, and the qualities that characterize it now were at best only embryonic in those years. The U.S. character used to be for the most part almost cloyingly patriotic, among other things, not all of which were entirely undesirable. In contrast, the quintessential Canadian quality remains omnitolerance, very much to a fault.

But perhaps nation-states are not the very best example. After all, Old Testament Israel and Judah were not modern multi-ethnic states at all but, with rare exceptions like Rahab and Ruth, relatively homogeneous. When we look at groups and extended families within the sort of multi-ethnic states we inhabit today in the West, we really start to see how substantial character is passed through the culture from generation to generation.

We’re not supposed to see it, of course, and we are definitely not supposed to mention it. Blindness to common ethnic and familial character features is a core dogma of Leftist narrative: that everyone is exactly the same as everyone else, despite which we must fight tooth and nail to preserve their immensely valuable and distinct cultural values for them (okay, nobody ever said Leftist ideology was intellectually coherent). But such features exist and we tend to notice them whether we discuss it or not. The same was true in Paul’s day, when by their own admission Cretans were characteristically “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons”, and it remains true today; though, in order to avoid getting clobbered, I shall avoid offering specific examples (our famous Canadian omnitolerance tolerates everything but perceived intolerance).

Individual and Collective Guilt

In short, despite our differences, there are ways in which I share in my grandfather’s sins, and ways in which all my grandfather’s offspring share in them. We cannot completely discount the fact that you and I and our neighbours around us are responsible to God for consciously and unconsciously perpetuating and even endorsing values and ideas he rejects. Further, there are ways in which I am responsible for the character of my extended family and nation-state, and ways that I reflect it, even if only because of my own apathy or unwillingness to put my perfectly pleasant life at risk. After all, when have I stood up on my soapbox and publicly rejected association with, for instance, the horror of abortion or the disgusting spectacle of the gay pride marches in every major Canadian city?

Yes, before you start in on me, I know politicking is not my primary job as a follower of Jesus Christ, and I doubt very much the Lord will greatly hold my failure to bring sweeping changes to Canadian law against me when I appear before his Judgment Seat. Still, when we tolerate genuine social and cultural evil, we get more of it. That’s just basic economics. A society that turns a blind eye to evil, or worse, enthuses about it, stores up judgment for itself. This too is just how it is.

A Distinction

There is a distinction to be noted in scripture, however, between collective judgment and individual judgment. With a few notable exceptions, individual judgment by-and-large comes after death, while collective judgment often comes comparatively promptly in this life. Nations that provoke the wrath of God seem to get a few hundred years of leeway, max. Individuals? Well, so far the Lord has been gracious over a span of millennia to billions of his creatures. We know one day the door of opportunity will close forever, but who among us can say precisely when with any credibility?

Further, while believers within wicked collectives are deeply affected by God’s judgment of them, by God’s grace they frequently escape the worst of the worst. Jeremiah, Lot, Daniel, Rahab and many others are examples of this phenomenon, in that they experienced great loss and a radical change of personal circumstances as a result of judgment on their people, yet we cannot help but note that they were not destroyed like those around them. God had his hand on them to protect them.

Another thought: God in his holiness has every right to judge each nation for their sins at each, every, and any moment. The surprise for us is not that occasionally he does this, but that so often he does not.

Not today, anyway ... at least, so far.

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