Dr. Dobson steps into it…
I don't always agree with Fox New contributor Brit Hume, but I respect his work and levelheaded-ness. I also appreciate Christian psychologist Dr. James Dobson, although I'll admit that his shows are generally too foofy for my tastes. So, when Hume tweeted:
Christians seeking meaning in the horror of Newtown who may be drawn to the words of James Dobson should read this:
Well, I went and read most of it. Basically, it was a hatchet-job on something Dobson recently said written by Peter Wehner and posted by Timothy Dalrymple. Dalrymple describes Wehner as "one of the leading evangelicals in Washington for a long time now"1…and, based on Wehner's piece, I suspect Washington has had a greater effect on him than he has had on our nation's capital.
The statement that Wehner felt deserved taking Dobson out back to the shed for a whipping? It was from Dobson's radio show this last Monday, "A Nation Shaken by the Sandy Hook Tragedy." Wehner quotes Dobson as saying:
[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]
I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn't exist, or he's irrelevant to me, and we have killed fifty-four million babies and the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition. Believe me, that is going to have consequences too.
And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that's what's going on.2
And that quote is mostly accurate. As is often true when there is an Internet surge out outrage…it's not like Wehner transcribed the quote himself. Instead, he took it directly from a Mediate article3 which originally grabbed it (without validating its wording) from a Right Wing Watch post.4 How do I know? Because all all have the same word missing in the first line…which actually starts with "I mean millions of people have decided that either God doesn't exist, or…"5 Leaving out the word "either" is a minor difference, but an important one because if we are going to condemn someone for what they said we should make sure we hear the entire quote ourselves…and in context.
And considering Dobson's program is under 26 minutes long, is a free to download off the web, and can be easily found with a simple Google search, all three sites could have done a lot more to make sure they were accurately representing what Dobson said—both in those specific words and overall.
In defense of Dobson…
Although I always question the wisdom of Christian leaders saying anything about God's judgment after a tragedy, natural disaster, and the like…
And before I actually get to the topic of this sermon…
I did listen to all of Dr. Dobson's radio program and he wasn't just saying, "America has sinned and the gunning down of 20 children and 6 adults is God's judgment." I have more quotes up on my Traditores.org site, but let's consider a couple other snippets from the episode.
To begin with, here are the very first words he spoke after a lead-in by his co-host:
That's right Lou-Ann. My heart is grieved…wounded…as others are feeling today over the killing of 20 children and 6 adults. Most of them kindergarteners, 5 years-old…that occurred last Friday. Senseless killing of children who had nothing to do with whatever was eating the man who did that.
Does that sound like the words of some harsh, "brimstone and fire" "we are getting what we deserve" kind of preacher? Here is a guy who is genuinely heartbroken by what happened.
Much of the program was spent reading something he had written back in the 80's after attending, and speaking at, a White House briefing on the problems facing contemporary 80's families. He was greatly impressed by the words of a psychiatrist, Dr. Armand Nicholi. Nicholi had shared some facts current to that point in history which had ominous future potential. About 12:24 into the radio program Dobson says this:
He [Dr. Nicholi] continues: "That figure [hospital beds taken by psychiatric patients] could hit 95% if the present incidences of divorce, child abuse, child molestation, and child neglect continue to soar. In that event we will see vast increases in teen suicide, in drug abuse, and crimes of violence and problems related to sexual disorientation. This is our future if families do not come to terms with the needs of their children." I am convinced that the level of violence occurring today, perhaps the killing of 20 children last week in a school in Connecticut, that when the facts are known they very well may fit into what Dr. Nicholi said.6 (Please note, I am unsure of where Dr. Nicholi's words stop and Dobson's begin in that quote…but I've done my best to ascertain it.)
Does that sound more like "the children are being punished by God for America's sins" or, perhaps, "we may be reaping what we've sown"?
Finally, I should note that Dr. Dobson also realized that it was too early to come to any definitive conclusions:
Now, I haven't had time to determine whether the man who killed all those children last Friday. It may or may not be true that he fits into this picture, but I would guess that it is.7
Overall my take on the program is that Dobson was trying to say that even though he has made it his life's calling to make it so presidents, congress, and parents understand how foundational the family is to a well functioning society, when incidents like the massacre in Connecticut happen it's often an indication that the continued deterioration of the family is having a large, negative impact. Only during a small portion of his program did he bring the potential of God's judgment into scope, and he connects even that with more of God removing his protection from a rebellious people who aren't appreciating how He has blessed them the last couple years.
But, unlike Brit Hume, Timothy Dalrymple, Peter Wehner, Mediaite, and Right Wing Watch…you should listen to the whole thing yourself…not just take anyone else's word for it…not even mine.
I've spent a lot of time…
Now, I know I've spent a lot of time on what Dobson said…and for two reasons. First, they do lead into the topic of this sermon. Second, because it, even by itself, are important. We need a constant reminder of how important the family structure that God created is to society in general and America specifically…whether or not what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary is part of God's judgment or not.
Does God punish now like He did in the Old Testament?
Perhaps some of you hearing this right now are offended that I would even allow for the chance that the death of 20 innocent children could be connected to our Lord's judgment. Personally, I think it's just another symptom of a planet whose prince is the "the prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2) instead the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6)…and whose god is the "god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4) instead of "God of peace" (Romans 15:33; 16:20; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20).
But, I refuse to reject the chance that natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, evil acts like what transpired at Sandy Hook, or any other awful event cannot be a judgment of God.
Well, first of all the Bible records myriad cases of God using awful violence and natural disasters to discipline and punish. As a couple examples, just visit the 28th chapter of Deuteronomy. After 14 verses describing blessings Israel will receive if they obey, there are 54 verses describing what will happen if they don't. In football, 54-14 is considered a blow-out, isn't it? 🙂
Take for instance Deuteronomy 28:25-26:
25 "The LORD will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them. And you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. 26 And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away.
That's an awful picture, isn't it?! Almost at the same level of the Sandy Hook horror?
And it shows that God will use violence by the wicked to punish the rebellious.
Let's look a bit further down at verses 45-48:
45 "All these curses shall come upon you and pursue you and overtake you till you are destroyed, because you did not obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that he commanded you. 46 They shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever. 47 Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, 48 therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you (Deuteronomy 28:45-48).
Not only does it continue with violence as punishment, notice how the concept of children being affected is brought in by "they shall be a sign and a wonder against you and your offspring forever." God's judgment on parents can, and I'd suggest generally will, affect their children.
There is a purpose…
Of course, there is always a purpose in God's punishment…and it isn't just vengeance. Instead, God is trying to wake people up by removing comfort from their life of sin. A similar chapter in Leviticus, chapter 26 to be specific, also starts off with about a dozen verses of blessings for obedience…followed by a greater number with curses for disobedience. The difference between it an chapter 28 of Deuteronomy, however, is how it more clearly shows that even reaping what we've sown we are more likely to continue defying God than do what is right. God tells them the first set of curses and then:
- Verse 18: "And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins,"
- Verse 21: "Then if you walk contrary to me and will not listen to me, I will continue striking you, sevenfold for your sins."
- Verses 23 and 24: "And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins."
- Verses 27 and 28: "But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins."
Not only does God punish a nation for their sins with violence and natural disasters, He'll also ramp it up with the hopes that people finally repent and turn back to Him.
But that is the Old Testament God!
"But that is the Old Testament God!" you might say.
And it is true that God's way of dealing with Israel in the Old Covenant is different than His approach in the New Testament. America is not a chosen nation like Israel was. One part of Peter Wehner's piece I can agree with is this:
The workings of God in the midst of tragedy cannot be reduced to a simplistic moral mathematics in which sin yields to disaster, in part because America is not a covenant community on the model of ancient Israel. The community of faith is found in every nation.8
However, (a) the Old Testament records more than just God's judgment against Israel…the book of Jonah would be a totally different story of that wasn't true; and (b) short of convincing New Testament evidence that says God no longer judges nations…we have no reason to believe God has stopped.
As I've mentioned before, an argument from silence proves nothing…and just because the New Testament doesn't record God zapping a country doesn't mean He no longer does it. It only records a short period of history in the New Covenant…and one where the focus is on the forming church, not the nations that contained it.
And, as a quick aside, some theologians do believe that Revelation does include prophesy of judgment on Rome.
Cases of New Testament judgment by God…
We also shouldn't forget that we do see some clear cases of God's judgment in the New Testament. Or, have you forgotten the fate of Ananias and Saphira…who died because the lied to God? (See Acts 5:1-11).
Then there is the case of King Herod Agrippa I, who was struck down by an angel "because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last" (see Acts 12:20-24).
Or how about Elymas the magician who, because he opposed Barnabas and Paul before the proconsul Sergius Paulus, was blinded for a period of time (see Acts 13:6-12)?
It is true that the Old Testament has a whole bunch more cases…and that the New Testament has no definitive case with a nation…but to claim that God definitely won't punish nations in 2012 is based on personal opinion, not biblical evidence.
And, I would argue, that those who claim God would never do something that He has done (and inspired people to record in the Bible) over-and-over are implicitly damning Him. They are judging God instead of being willing to accept His judgment.
And before anyone tries to pull out some kind of Jesus trump card…ponder the following verses:
- Matthew 16:27 — "For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."
- 2 Corinthians 5:10 — "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil."
- Acts 10:42 — "And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead."
- 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 — "and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus."
The question is not whether God judges…individuals and nations…the question is whether He is still doing doing both before Jesus' Second Coming. I see no reason to believe He wouldn't still be doing both.
And, as we just heard…Jesus' is the one "inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel."
- It is blasphemy to claim God would never do now what He has clearly done in the past.
- It is blasphemy to try to divide up the Godhead into a wrathful god (the Father) and a loving god (the Son).
God is righteous in everything He has done and God is one.
Was Sandy Hook God's judgment?
Was the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary a part of God's judgment on America? I've already said that I personally think it's just another symptom of a globe that is following Satan instead of Jesus…but I want you to consider a few things. For instance, the last quote I shared from Peter Wehner's piece ended with, "The community of faith is found in every nation." He continued with this:
Believers share the blessings and tragedies of their neighbors. Rather than declaring the suffering of their neighbors to be deserved, they should work and pray for the common good.9
Well, first of all if Sandy Hook was a judgment of God…then it was deserved. God is not capricious or arbitrary.
Second, Wehner misses the import of his own statement that "believers share the blessings and tragedies of their neighbors." Doesn't it make equivalent sense that they would share in the judgment of their neighbors?
If America is being judged (and trust me, we deserve it) wouldn't all Americans potentially suffer, even innocent kindergarteners?
Those who suffer from judgment aren't necessarily being judged themselves.
I can confidently say God was not judging those beautiful children, but I cannot eliminate the chance that it was a sign of God's judgment just because young grade-schoolers were affected.
Or have you never heard of the flood? Where only eight people in the whole world survived? (See 1 Peter 3:20.)
How many kindergartener-aged children do you think died then? I could imagine blog articles after the flood condemning Moses for daring say the flood was God's judgment.
Don't you dare tell sinners that their sin…!
Whether those children died because God is judging America, I cannot tell you…and I reiterate that I question the judgment of Christian leaders making statements like that after a tragedy. However, what I can tell you is what one of my tweets back to Brit Hume said:
@brithume One big thing 2 consider is that those affected by judgment aren't necessarily those who r being judged. Sin has collateral damage
You may have heard lately that "elections have consequences."
Well, sin has consequences too…and not just for the sinner.
Sin has consequences.
Sin has collateral damage.
Judgment or not, those children died because of America's sin. Their blood is on all our hands, whether you've spent your life trying to get guns confiscated, done your best to make it so everyone can have their own personal bazooka, or have stayed out of the gun control debate.
Guns are just an implement. Sin kills. Guns wouldn't exist if it weren't for sin. Violence wouldn't exist if it weren't for sin. Death wouldn't exist if it weren't for sin.
Sin has consequences.
Sin has collateral damage.
And perhaps that is part of the reason people freak out every time a Christian leader connects an awful occurrence to God's judgment…
People do not like being told that their sin may be, even partially, responsible for anything bad.
They want to keep their sin, but without the consequences—whether those consequences are natural, or a judgment from God, or both (since God can punish us by removing His protection and allowing the natural consequences to happen).
Don't you dare tell sinners that their sin is responsible for anything bad!
Sin has consequences. Sin has collateral damage. Sin kills.
Now for the Jesus trump card…
There is one "Jesus trump card" that I think is always appropriate to lay on the table.
I noted sin kills…for we know that the "wages of sin is death." However, how does that full verse go?
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23)
Every year at this time we remember an incredible miracle, the incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Singing songs about a baby in a manger it is easy to forget just how important…
How critical to the fate of all mankind the arrival, life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God was.
And we are told by Scripture that "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17) and that God "desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).
The good news is not that a baby was born, but why that baby was born and who that baby was.
The same God who did not desire any children die at Sandy Hook Elementary (sin was not His idea nor His creation)…
The same God who did not desire any children die at Sandy Hook Elementary desires that you…the me…that "all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth."
And approximately 2000 years ago that same God sent His son into the world "in order that the world might be saved through him."
- Pray for the family, friends, and community of those children.
- Pray for America.
- And pray for God's soon return so that every tear will be wiped away from our eyes, "and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4)
12 "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end" (Revelation 22:12-13).
He who testifies to these things says, "Surely I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)
1Dalrymple, T. (2012, December 21). The Callous Theology of James Dobson. Patheos. Retrieved December 22, 2012, from here
3Feldman, J. (2012, December 17). James Dobson Finds A Way To Connect CT Shooting To Abortion And Gay Marriage. Mediate. Retrieved December 22, 2012, from here
4Mantyla, K. (2012, December 17). Dobson: Connecticut Shooting was God Allowing "Judgment to Fall Upon Us" for Turning Our Back on Him. Right Wing Watch. Retrieved December 22, 2012, from here
5A Nation Shaken by the Sandy Hook Tragedy. (n.d.). OnePlace.com. Retrieved December 22, 2012, from here