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Is God Judging America?

Fr. John Chagnon

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The front pages are clogged with stories of economic failure. Politics is partisan, nasty, and ineffective. The culture appears to be growing more coarse and immature with each season on TV. The America I knew as a child seems like a dream and the one I live in now a nightmare without the relief of morning.

Is God judging America?

In the time following the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell suggested something to that affect and was roundly critiqued for expressing his opinion that the hand of God could have been behind those events. The critiques, though, were often more about the unfashionable nature of the idea that God would judge America, or judge anyone or anything, and less about the actual content of Rev. Falwell's theory.

But could God be judging America?

The answer is "It's possible." As Christians we understand that God is active in history and can use the ebb and flow of events to hold both people and nations to account. There is no asterisk in that understanding for the United States. Only a distorted sense of our exceptionalism would have us believe we're immune from the possibility of God calling us to task and using the events of history as tools of His sovereignty. Why would there be one standard for say, the Philistines, and another for us? Why should there be?

The problem, given that understanding, is not about whether its possible that God is using the events of these times as a kind of judgment but whether we can state that with certainty. There have been times, as our Faith tells us, that certain people have been given a gift from God to proclaim with specificity that events were being directed to chastise and call a culture to repentance, and in the perspective of hindsight we can affirm that gift. But in throes of immediacy and without such a charism it would be good to proceed with caution. History is full of date setters and "prophets" who have only one thing in common, they were wrong. Are the events of these times the beginning of the end or the birth pains of a coming revival? God knows, we don't. What is heaven's take on 9/11? God knows, we don't.

But we do know something with certainty. We do know that ideas, constructs, and behavior have consequences. We have fallen prey, for a variety of reasons, in this country to a kind of life that is at once technically advanced but spiritually, emotionally, and socially selfish, materialistic, and bankrupt. Our institutions, as reflections of ourselves, have become poisoned as well with the results being fodder for the headlines. To what extent God's hand is in all of this remains unknown but perhaps we're bearing the consequences of our own actions, the pain of our abandonment of sense and the emptiness of a life detached from authentic moral order. One does not need a prophet to suggest this; one simply needs to read the Book or, for that matter, the newspaper.

So is the craziness of these times an example of God's judgement, the consequences of our own choices, or some mixture of both? I haven't the gift to say with certainty. I only know that the sickness of my culture begins to end when I address the illness of my soul. The rest, as one politician said, is "Above my pay grade..."

Fr. John Chagnon is the priest at St. Elias Orthodox Church in Lacrosse, Wisconsin and editor of the Traveling Priest blog.

Read the entire article on the Traveling Priest blog (new window will open).

Posted: 19-Sep-2008

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