Is God On America’s Side? Part 1Erwin W. Lutzer | July 1, 2007
Selected highlights from this sermon
God is often relegated to the private life, and when “God” is actually mentioned in public, it is the god of civil government—a god who is always present to bless. But the God of the Bible will judge the nations.
The topic before us today is a question: is God on America’s side? After 9/11 a radio commentator proclaimed, “I’m going to say it. In this war against terrorism God is on our side. I know that God is good, and because God is good, we are good people. God is on our side.” It’s a good question. Is he on our side? [laughs]
It’s not a question that you can answer with a quick yes or no. Yes – no; let’s take a vote on it. It’s a question that needs a biblical answer that is carefully thought through biblically and theologically. We have to understand God’s relationship to the nations. We have to understand something about how God deals with us, and in order to do that we have to jump into the deep end of the swimming pool, so to speak. We are going to get into some theological matters, but we need to understand that if we’re going to answer the question, which I hope to do in twenty of twenty-five minutes, God willing. It may be we’ll be a little longer than that. We’ll see what God wills.
In order to do that I’d like to give you three propositions from scripture – three scriptural statements that will guide us, and then we’ll summarize it and we’ll come back to the question, and hopefully answer it biblically. That’s the agenda. Thank you for joining me on this journey.
First of all, I’d like you to turn to Deuteronomy chapter eleven, and there are three passages for each of the propositions, and you can turn with me if you will. Now, the very same kind of content occurs in Deuteronomy chapter thirty, but I would prefer chapter eleven because it gives what is said in chapter thirty in summary form.
Turn to Deuteronomy chapter eleven – Deuteronomy eleven, verse twenty-six. Have you found it there in the text? Remember when you come to Moody Church you can expect to open your Bibles and follow along.
Verse twenty-six says, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today to go after other gods that you have not known.”
The mandate from God and proposition number one is God both blesses nations and curses nations. He does both.
Now let’s think of the United States of America for a few moments. In America God has been banished from public life. He’s not welcome; he’s not talked about. He has been banished from education. As a matter of fact, someone told me that there was a girl who was wearing a chastity bracelet which indicates that she wants to be chaste until she is married so that she can be a virgin when she is married, and that was banned from the school because it was deemed religious. And you know there are many other stories like that of where a child was not allowed to draw a nativity scene during Christmas.
God is banished from education. God is banished from government. God is banished from economics. He’s banished from science. God is told, “You stay in your box. We have put you on the reservation. You have to stay put. We’ll call on you when we want you, but you’re banished.” It is all supposed to be a God-free zone. All of the public life of America is to be God-free – even in the work place, as some of you know. Religion today is just for your soul. It may bless your soul, but it has no relationship to the big questions of economics and war, and government and education, and so forth.
Now, what happened at 9-11 was something that was quite unusual. God was temporarily brought from the reservation and people said, “You are welcome,” and God Bless America signs were seen everywhere – all the way from porn shops to churches, universities, schools, and even the government. Can you imagine members of Congress standing on the steps of the Capitol singing God Bless America – on government soil, no less, to the consternation of the ACLU?
God was back, but what god was back? It was the god of civil religion, the god who will only bless and will never curse – the god who is certainly there to help us, but not a god who could have had anything to do with 9-11. When people say, “God bless America,” they mean various things. They may mean, “Lord, I pray that my family might not die,” or “May I live in good health, and above all, Lord, may the stock market not fall.” [laughter] So that’s what they mean when God is there to bless America, but he is the god of civil religion, the god of the American flag. It’s not the god of the Bible, because the god of the Bible is able to bless nations; he is able to help nations, but he also judges nations and sometimes severely, so that god was banished. God is something like a can of cleaner. You need to mop up the spill, but when you are finished you put him back in the closet and God is to stay on the other side of that thick wall of the separation of church and state, and he stays put until we have another tragedy, and then we’ll drag him out to bless us. But God is able to both bless and curse nations. Hmm.
The second mandate (I’m calling it a mandate but I wish to call it a proposition) is simply this. God uses wicked nations…. Here’s where it gets deep now, but you’re with me, aren’t you? God uses wicked nations to judge those who are less wicked. For that I want you to turn to Isaiah chapter ten, and God wills that we continue as long as you can hear me, and aren’t you glad that we don’t need a lot of light to preach? If we open the word we get enough light to show us the way. [applause and laughter] What I didn’t tell you is that when I was telling you all that in my heart I was saying, “Let there be light.” [more laughter]
God sometimes uses nations that are wicked to judge those who are less wicked. The tenth chapter of Isaiah says, “Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression….” He’s talking about people who make unjust laws, and make demands of people that are unfair. It continues, “…to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people their right that widows may be their spoil and that they may make the fatherless their prey.” - people taking away even the rights of widows and orphans.
God says, “I’m watching it all in the land of Israel.” What is God going to do about it? There was idolatry, there was immorality, there were all of these things that were taking place and what is God’s response? Well, notice what the text says in verse five. “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger, the staff in their hands is my fury.” That particular last part of the verse is a little difficult to interpret. Some people and some translations interpret it, “and the club of my fury,” which probably is what God meant, but he says, “Assyria is the rod of my anger, and the club of my fury.” God says, “I’m going to use Assyria to punish you, and you are going to be oppressed.” Notice what the text says, “Against a godless nation I send him and against the people of my wrath I command him to take the spoil and to seize the plunder and to tread them down like mire in the straits.” Wow. God says, “I’m going to use Assyria to do it because he is the instrument of my wrath.”
Assyria – ancient Assyria, not the modern day Assyrians (some of whom worship with us), but ancient Assyria - was a very, very evil, oppressive and terribly cruel country. It was far worse than Israel could have ever been, and Assyria had weapons and ways of waging war that Israel did not have, and God says, “I’m going to bring Assyria down, and Assyria is the rod of my anger, and the Assyrians are going to come, and they are going to plunder and they are going to destroy you.” And they did.
If I remember correctly, when the Assyrians came in about 722 B.C. they took twenty-seven thousand of the Jews to Assyria and they assimilated there with all of the Assyrians, and those tribes were never heard from again.
Years ago there was a group by the name of The British Israelites. They believed that those Jews actually ended up going to Britain, but they were destroyed from the face of the earth as a people of identity. God says, “That’s what I’m going to do.” And then they brought Assyrians into the land and they intermarried with some of the Jews that were left, and that was what the Samaritans were. God says, “I’m going to use Assyria to punish you.”
Now let’s think of America for a moment. How good are we? Well, you know, we may be better than some nations in some areas, and we may be worse, but for a moment, let’s just talk about all the blessings of the United States of America. Is there any country on earth that has ever had the freedoms that we have here in the United States? We can still worship here and do so in freedom, and the word of God can still go out over Christian broadcasting and Christian television. America has sent more missionaries to different parts of the earth to share the good news of the gospel than any other country in existence. The Americans are a generous people – sometimes almost too generous. We helped destroy Germany as we fought against Nazism, and after the war was over we gave Germany money so that it could rebuild itself. And we gave Japan money, and we give foreign aid to nations all over the earth, and we do so consistently even now.
When people in other countries want to have good medical care they come to the United States of America because we have the finest hospitals. Technology grows here in America, and many of our scientists have discovered some of the greatest breakthroughs. America is an unusually blessed and great country. Would you for a moment imagine a world without the United States of America? When there’s a tsunami, it’s America that sends the most aid. When there’s a tragedy in the world, it is America that wants to go over there and help.
Surely America is a great and wonderful country, but the question is this. May God use a very wicked country to judge us? The answer is yes. He may use a nation where women are treated and oppressed in ways that are chilling. He may use a nation where if someone converts from their religion to Christianity the responsibility of the family is that they might take that person and kill them, and they are to do so without any sympathy or without any remorse. He may use a nation that is so wicked that it deliberately targets women and children and wants to destroy them and to maim them. He may use a nation that is so wicked that they delight when planes fly into the Twin Towers and three thousand innocent people are surprisingly killed, even if we don’t have a war. He may use a nation that is that bad. Yes, he may use a nation like that to judge us, and that would be thoroughly biblical and in keeping with God’s character.
God may use North Korea; God may use the war in Iraq to humble us. God may use other countries such as Iran. God is a God who judges nations and sometimes uses wicked nations – thoroughly wicked nations – to judge those who are really less wicked, and that would be totally scriptural. You see, the God of the Bible blesses and curses. He both helps and he judges, and sometimes he uses evil nations to do his bidding.
That’s what Habakkuk’s problem was. You remember Habakkuk looked around and said, “Oh Lord, I don’t understand this. There’s evil in the land, and you aren’t doing anything,” and God says, “Hey, wait a moment. I’m raising up the Babylonians.” Now, he was thinking about the land of Judah where Jerusalem is, and God says, “I’m going to bring the Babylonians against you,” and Habakkuk says, “Now I have an even greater problem, because we’re evil but we’re not that bad.” God says, “Yes, because you have spurned my light and turned against me I will bring this evil nation against you.” And that’s exactly what happened in the Babylonian captivity when the people of Jerusalem left and they went to Babylon and then they came back and rebuilt the temple, and you know the rest of the story. God uses evil nations to judge other nations.
Let’s go on to a third very important proposition. In that final judgment of the nations it becomes an individual judgment because that’s what God does. At the end of the day he judges individuals. Take, for example, the book of Matthew chapter twenty-five verse thirty-one (and this is the passage that I want you to look at – and thank you for turning to it in your Bibles). It says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” And you’ll notice that on one side will be the sheep, and the other side will be the goats, determined by how they responded to the Jews during the Tribulation period. Verse forty-one says, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me you cursed into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, because when I was hungry you gave me no food. When I was thirsty you gave me no water.’” and so forth, and then you’ll notice in verse forty-six he says, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Now I’ve given you an all-to-quick overview of this particular judgment. Years ago I preached an entire message on it, so let me simply say that when it speaks about the judgment of the nations it doesn’t mean here that the United States is going to be judged and Canada is going to be judged, and Mexico. It really is the judgment of the Gentiles. It is the judgment of all of the different peoples of the world, and at the end of the day when it becomes an eternal judgment it is an individual judgment. You see, when God judges nations the righteous suffer with the wicked.
There’s no doubt that there were believers who died at the Twin Towers. There were believers who died in Katrina, and in natural disasters. When God judges nations, you know, we all are in this together. I have no doubt that among the twenty-seven thousand that went into Assyria and were taken captive, that among those there may have been some really genuinely true believers, but when it comes to eternal judgment, then it is an individual judgment. At the end of the day we all stand before God, and the question then is whether or not we’ve responded to God’s grace, God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness and God’s love.
Where does this leave us in answering the question of whether or not God is on our side? Let me give you what I consider to be the bottom line.
First of all, God cannot bless us as a nation when we justify homosexual relationships and call it diversity. He cannot bless us as a nation when we lead the world in the production and distribution of pornography around the world and call it free speech. He cannot bless us as a nation when we kill pre-born infants and call it choice. He cannot bless us as a nation when we treat the poor with benign neglect, both as churches and as government together, and we may call it welfare. God cannot bless us when he is dismissed as irrelevant from public life and told to stay on his side of the wall of separation (of church and state); and when he is unwelcome in our universities, in our colleges, in our schools, in our government, and must be banished. God cannot bless us when we do that.
I am reminded of the words of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was not an evangelical Christian. As you know he came up with his own version of the New Testament and cut out all the miracles and all the divinity of Jesus, and so forth, and kept only Jesus Christ’s moral teaching, but he said, “I tremble when I think that God is just and his justice cannot sleep forever.” Wow. Shall I say that again? “I tremble when I think that God is just and his justice cannot sleep forever.”
Folks, we live in a wonderful country that still has a lot of freedom, and a lot of blessings, but I suppose no nation on earth has turned its back on more light than the United States of America. Considering our founding fathers, considering the direction of our country which was intended to be a religious country – a country that depended upon God and now God is no longer welcome anywhere, we should tremble when we realize that God is just. Wow. So, God cannot bless us when we do as I have outlined.
Secondly, God’s blessing on any nation is undeserved. When God blesses America it is not because we deserve it. It is not because we are a more righteous people. There may be some connection, but when God blesses a country there are times when God simply chooses to do it because he is God and he shows mercy where we would expect judgment, and surely in America today we would expect judgment, would we not? And yet God has granted us mercy.
I remember years ago when there were preachers who were saying that America couldn’t last two more years, or four more years, or five more years. I never make a prediction like that, and the reason I don’t is because year after year after year God continues to show undeserved blessings and mercy in places that you would never expect it. Aren’t you glad that God has not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities? Aren’t you glad for that? [applause]
I’m glad for that as an individual, but I’m also glad because of our nation that God often goes on blessing when we don’t deserve it. So God’s blessing on any nation is totally undeserved. Even if we repented we couldn’t say to God, “You owe it to us.” No, he doesn’t.
Third, the crucial issue in all of this is the role of the church. I’ve talked to you about America’s sins, but I need to emphasize that oftentimes it is because the church isn’t doing its job that America has been allowed to go the wrong direction in so many different areas as I mentioned a moment ago. It is the church that is the salt, and it is the light.
Do you remember the story of Jonah? The Bible says in the first chapter of Jonah, “The Lord hurled a great wind that came upon the sea,” and the wind churned the water and Jonah was in a storm with these sailors. Do you remember that they were discussing what the cause of the storm was and the sailors were crying out to their pagan gods, and Jonah had the honesty to say, “Hey, did you know that this is my fault, because I am a worshipper of the true God – of the land and of the sea. He’s the one who creates storms. It’s because I am running away from God that all this has happened,” and he convinced them that if he were thrown overboard the wind would stop. They eventually believed him and they didn’t want to do that – they let all the cargo go first – but then they took Jonah and said, “Okay, if that’s what you want,” and they threw him overboard and immediately there was a calm.
It was a disobedient prophet that caused the storm that the sailors were involved in. It is very easy for preachers like myself and others to blame the folks out there – to blame the abortionists, the ACLU and to tick off all of these different kinds of organizations. It would be easy to do that, but you know, it would be wrong for me to do that unless I talked about the church. Maybe the storm that we are in is because of God’s disobedient people not doing what God wants us to do. Wow.
Do you remember the words of Abraham Lincoln? During the Civil War he was asked, “Lincoln, are you on God’s side?”
[I think you may have meant to say, “Is God on our side?”]
and do you remember how he answered? If I remember correctly he said something like this. “I have no interest in that question as to whether or not God is on our side.” He said, “The question that interests me most is this. Am I on God’s side?” That’s really what the question comes down to. Are we on God’s side?
God can really only bless America and continue to bless America, I want to emphasize, when we do righteousness. Righteousness exalts a nation. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. As long as God is banished, as long as he is unwelcome, as long as our public life says that there has to be a God-free zone, I do not see how God can continue just year after year to bless America. He’s already judging us, and he’s judging us through the break-up of the family.
When God in the Old Testament warned Israel about all of their sins, he said, “I’m going to do this to you and this to you,” and then the final judgment is, “Your children are going to be weeping for their fathers. Mothers are going to be weeping for their children,” and that will be the final judgment. God has said to America, “You have accepted divorce, you have accepted immorality, you have accepted pornography,” and in those particular sins all of the seeds of judgment are already happening.
My friend, today, I’m going to leave you with a very famous verse. “If my people which are called by name shall humble themselves and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways I will hear from heaven.” God has been blessing America. God in many respects has been on our side, but he does not owe that to us, and he’s also judging us at the same time.
Is God on our side? Yes and no – he’s always on the side of those who do righteousness, and he’s always against those who do evil, and at the end of the day the responsibility is for us to repent of our sins, to seek his face, to pray, to humble ourselves lest judgment come. Perhaps – we can’t demand it because as I emphasized it’s all of mercy – God may be yet gracious. Perhaps God may turn aside his anger, and perhaps God may in ways that we cannot even predict bless the United States of America, this wonderful and great country.
Let’s bow together in prayer if we would, please.
Our Father, those of us who are Americans are a blessed people. We think of our history. We think of our freedoms. We think of the generosity of Christians and others in the United States. We think, Father, of the ideals of this country’s founding fathers, and we thank you, but at the same time, Lord, our hearts are very heavy. They are heavy because of our sin. We have turned aside, Father. We have forgotten you. Help us, Lord, we ask. Have mercy upon us.
And now, before I close this prayer I want you to pray. Would you ask God this question, “What is there in my life that might hinder God blessing America?” What do you need to give up? What do you need to do? You talk to God.
And I need to remind you that at the end of the day what you need to do is to respond to Jesus Christ to get on God’s side. I’m speaking to you now as an individual. Maybe you’re watching on the Internet. I don’t know where you may be, but what you need to do is to respond to Jesus Christ to get on God’s side. Jesus said, “The person who honors me honors my father.” And he said, “He who does not honor me does not honor my father.” So, what you need to do is to ask, “What is my relationship like to Jesus Christ, God’s beloved son?” You deal with God if God has talked to you.
Hear our prayer, oh Lord, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.