When I went to the YMCA tonight to work out, I noticed a bumper sticker I’ve never seen before. Against a blue backdrop, it stated in bold white letters:
God Bless the Whole World
Interesting, I thought. But what underlies this statement? My initial thought, I admit, was governed by my narrow theological views. Surely, I reasoned, this is a shot at anyone who believes in unconditional election from some sort of (four- or five-point) Arminian perspective. But a moment of reflective thought jettisoned that sorry notion. Why waste time on a bumper sticker debunking election? (I know, I know: I’m setting up a TomintheBox article.)
Then it occurred to me that this bumper sticker might be a response to one that was nearly ubiquitous five or six years ago. The one that read, God Bless America. Aha! I thought. Here was a not-so-subtle jab at America’s post-9/11 patriotism–or, as some would affirm, nationalism. Beyond that–and more importantly–it seems clear that this is directly aimed at the claims of exclusivity by any one religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or whatever.
It was then that a problem confronted me: aren’t they in some sense right? If I believe Genesis 15 and Galatians 3, isn’t the blessing of God for the nations of the earth, not for any one single nation? Will Christ not receive eternal glory from the representation of all nations around the throne (Revelation 5)? And aren’t we somewhat guilty of an unhealthy nationalism if we limit the blessing of God to the United States? Nevertheless, something about what was stated and how it was stated didn’t sit well with me.
So I reconsidered the wording: God Bless the Whole World/No Exceptions. Do the makers of this bumper sticker really believe this? Do proponents of this view really want there to be no exceptions? What about the polygamist who allegedly committed acts of incest on children? What about the Chinese oppressors in Tibet? For that matter, what about George W. Bush? Do they really want God to bless the president? From countless other bumper stickers (some quite clever, many quite obscene) I conclude that they do not.
Here then is the question that the so-called religiously tolerant must answer: in the end, if God blesses everyone without exception, when will justice be served? Or, to put it another way, can they live without a God of judgment?
I witnessed a very interesting phenomenon a week ago Friday. One of the teens in our youth group, a student at Blue Ridge High School, invited us to the end-of-the-year school play, a production of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens. In the story Smike, an unwanted child, is sent to a boarding school led by Mr. and Mrs. Wackford Squeers. Mr. Squeers’ treatment of all the children in the school is abominable, but he particularly mistreats Smike, beating him mercilessly for crimes he did not commit. Nicholas, who had been hired by Squeers, helps Smike run away. In the end, Squeers, as Wikipedia puts it, “gets his comeuppance” when he is sentenced to seven years in Australia for his crimes. In the play the scene quickly shifts back to the boarding school where an interesting twist occurs: with Mr. Squeers out of the picture, the children join together and give Mrs. Squeers and her daughter the same treatment they had received for so long.
What particularly intrigues me is the way the audience responded. No one pleaded for mercy on behalf of the two Squeerses. No one argued that they were being treated unjustly. Quite the contrary. When the children chased the mother and daughter onto the stage and began to beat them, the audience cheered. Justice was served, and the crowd was satisfied.
Mind you, this production took place at a public school. I’m certain there were Christians in the audience. But, if the population of the Blue Ridge area was represented that night, there were surely many non-Christians there as well. And yet all these people–regardless of religious orientation–rejoiced to see justice served.
So I ask again: can the so-called religiously tolerant live without a God of justice?
I recognize that the problem of evil is one of the most (if not the most) serious objection to Christian theology. Non-Christians regularly throw the question of justice back into the face of Christians, posing questions such as “If there is a God, why is there evil in the world?” Many biblical answers can be offered, but one is sufficient for me: if one desires to know what the One True God thinks about evil, one need only look to the cross. As John Stott puts it:
No one can now accuse God of condoning evil, and so of moral indifference or injustice. The cross demonstrates with equal vividness both his justice in judging sin and his mercy in justifying the sinner. For now, as a result of the propitiatory death of his Son, God can be “just and the justifier” of those who believe in him (The Cross of Christ, 208-12).
So here are the options. We may believe in a God who blesses the whole world without exception and never deals with the evil that is in the world. Or, we may believe in a God who radically displayed his justice and his mercy at the cross for ruined sinners like me and who graciously welcomes the whole world–without exception–to look in faith to Jesus and find every spiritual blessing in him.
I choose the latter.