A Call to Repentance
At the end of July Billy Graham, now 93, published an open letter to America calling for repentance in the face of threatening judgement. In his letter, “My heart aches for America” Billy Graham said he recalled how his late wife, Ruth, once expressed concerns about the “nation’s terrible downward spiral” – exclaiming, “If God doesn’t punish America, He’ll have to apologise to Sodom and Gomorrah”. He went on to say that he wondered what Ruth would think of the country today where “self-centred indulgence, pride, and lack of shame over sin are now emblems of the American lifestyle”.
A Call to Prayer
Charisma magazine, which widely publicised the letter said, “Graham’s letter calling America to repentance comes as a growing number of respected Christian leaders have issued similar warnings in recent months, noting that the nation is on a downward spiral of economic decline, immorality, corruption, growing secular humanism and attacks on religious liberty”. Jack Hayford says Graham’s letter comes as the nation is in “a very grim hour as we approach the election this year. We are at the point that desperate action is needed and Billy’s voice can give rise to that”. Rabbi Cahn, the senior pastor at the America’s largest Messianic (Jewish Christian) congregation said in his book, The Harbinger, “The same progression of judgement that occurred in the last days of ancient Israel is now occurring in America. The call is ultimately for salvation for those who don’t know the Lord and repentance and revival for those who do”.
All this caused a stir and produced large prayer gatherings throughout October and which continue. We need to thank God for this.
It is in this context that the flooding of New York and its surrounding states needs to be weighed and taken very seriously to heart. If ever there was to be a divine affirmation of the relevance and accuracy of Billy Graham’s warning, this flooding has to be it. It is a remarkable fact that for several months before and up to the 9/11 disaster, David Wilkerson’s church in Times Square, very close to Ground Zero, was impelled to prayer and fasting sensing that some grave danger threatened the U.S. Billy Graham’s warning seems to have been a similar kind of spiritual forewarning.
We need to be very thankful for such forewarnings and prayer. One feels very much that such prayer must have brought a mitigation of what might have been worse destruction. However, the stark fact remains that such prayer did not prevent the disaster occurring. This is the fact that we have to ponder very seriously: the flood still came.
The present disaster, the flooding in New York and New Jersey in particular, was huge as we have all seen. The storm with its diameter of 1,000 miles was huge, the 13ft surge which swept across Manhattan was unparalleled, and millions were left without water and power. The cost of the damage will be in billions of dollars at a time when the U.S. economy can least afford such draconian demands on its already debt-laden public purse. It is one more disaster in a train of disasters suffered by the U.S. since the turn of the millennium.
It has to come into the category of a “judgement” in its own right, though. like 9/11 it seems very clear that it is also a pointer and a warning against worse that is to come. Billy Graham was right to talk of judgement in the American context. It was another warning, another wake-up call, another call to repentance and a return to God. But will it be seen in that light? That is the critical question. 9/11 certainly wasn’t seen in that light except by very few Christians. The nation didn’t see 9/11 that way, but proudly talked of a rebuild and a crusade against an “axis of evil”. The American church in general didn’t see it that way and preached against such talk of judgement. What of this latest disaster? I sense that the timing of Billy Graham’s letter was such that there will now be a few more ears open to and ready to accept that the idea of judgement is not one to be trifled with. We should be thankful for that, though many evangelical Christians will still find difficulty in coming to terms with the concept and challenge of a God who brings such judgement.
The secular, “enlightened” world will not see it this way (unless there is a miracle on the scale of Nineveh’s repentance after Jonah’s preaching). Their intent is to get Wall St. (part of the essential problem!) back into operation as quickly as possible and they will take pride in such human restoration. The religious and denominational leaders will be rightly urging help and aid for the victims but none the less will cling to the humanistic concept that to talk of judgement is abhorrent, immoral and non-Christian.
What grounds have we for insisting on such a judgment dimension? There are two; First, biblical, and second, experiential.
God and the Nations
The biblical case for understanding God as a God who judges nations is overwhelming. Likewise the biblical case for those judgements taking the shape of war and natural disasters is equally overwhelming. There are 3 Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel) and there are 12 “minor” prophets. In every single one, judgement and judgement by natural disasters is foundational. This is their fundamental message. Likewise they are foundational doctrines in the historical books, and in books of the Law. Natural disaster as judgement is epitomised in Amos 4 where Amos catalogues the disasters which Israel has suffered over a number of years, disasters which the Israelites chose to ignore. The question is never whether these concepts of judgement are biblical; the question is whether we receive them as the word of God and active for our own generation. The humanistic strain in religion has rejected that possibility (and with vehemence!) and looked for a more up to date ethic. But to a Christian who sees God speaking and enunciating principles in scripture that is not an option; they have to come to terms with what they are reading.
The second reason, experiential, relates to what we can see happening around us in our experience. Briefly, for example, if we put together the moral state of the U.S. as a nation and the severe buffeting that has been happening to it on many fronts in the last ten years then we are forced to see the power of the biblical paradigm of judgement that the prophets give to us: it is there in front of our eyes. God judges nations, even America! Billy Graham is an American, he is not out to “bash” America, but he sees very clearly the utter corruption of corporate America, its appalling sexual license, self-indulgence and pride. As a spiritual man it sickens him and he knows there have to be consequences. He knows, and we know, that these things cannot go on without some divine rebuke. That is the simple truth we have to wake up to.
Postscript. 9/11 brought severe destruction to the Twin Towers which epitomised corporate America, and also some destruction to the Pentagon, the military HQ of the nation. In the ten years that followed both corporate America and the military have taken a severe drubbing and been deeply shaken. The White House, representing the Presidency, was significantly spared in the 9/11 attack. One wonders whether the timing of the flooding just prior to the Presidential election has significance.
These judgements are prophetic pointers which it is wise just to keep in mind as we look to the future.
Our prayer must continue to be that of Habakkuk, “Lord, in wrath remember mercy”.