Say no to all this Christian fatalism:
I get this all the time: I urge people – especially Christians – to stand up for what is right, and to stand against evil, and I will get some Christian armchair critics trying to undermine all this. They will say, ‘Yeah, but we are in the end times. This must be God’s judgment. We cannot try to turn things around because God is using all this evil for his purposes, and to judge a sinful people.’
I always reply by saying that yes, in one sense, God IS in control of all things, but that does not mean we remain fatalists who do nothing. Even if God was somehow at least using all the evil that was found in Nazi Germany, Christians like Bonhoeffer and Niemoller were a hundred per cent right to seek to resist that evil. They were not fatalists. They were not defeatists. They knew that they had to stand against evil.
And it should be the same today. Christians tell me that folks like Victorian Premier Dan Andrews are God’s instruments of judgment on a sinful people. Whether or not that is so, I will still stand against tyranny, injustice and evil, and I will still fight for that which is right.
All this came out in an article I wrote yesterday. And to see how God is at work in this, let me explain how that article came about. Usually I have plenty of things to write about each day. Between reading Scripture each morning and seeing the newspaper headlines each morning, there are usually more than enough things that can be discussed.
But yesterday I was sort of stumped for something to do an article on. Never fear however: some years ago I started a new folder of documents – it contains articles I had started but for various reasons had never finished. There are over 1000 documents in that folder!
So as I scrolled through it, I found one article that I thought was worth finally finishing. I had started it back in late April when I was reading through 2 Kings. In chapters 22-23 there is the amazing story of King Josiah. So yesterday I started writing it up, and quite unintentionally I ended up with seven lessons to be learned from Josiah. See the piece here: billmuehlenberg.com/2021/12/12/lessons-from-the-life-of-josiah/
Soon after I posted it I realised I needed to do a follow-up article on it. That is due to what ended up being my seventh lesson. It had to do with the fact that Josiah did some amazing reforms in Judah after he discovered the book of the law, even though he was fully aware that God had promised he was going to soon judge Judah for its great evil.
So despite knowing that judgment was well and truly on the way, he nonetheless continued in all these great reforms. Even though the fate of Judah was by now set in stone, he knew that it was still right to bring about reform and renewal in the land.
Here I want to speak more to this theme. And also of interest, a few friends held an impromptu zoom prayer meeting last night, and in it I shared what I had just written about. One gal who was at the freedom march yesterday said her own family members were discouraging her from being there, saying the Andrews’ government was God’s judgment, etc., and it was a waste of time to be there. So she said that what I shared was very timely and a real blessing.
Indeed, many others need to hear this word as well. Doing what is right is always to be done. It needs no justification. Even if we are pretty sure that the end is near, or even if we feel that all is a lost cause, we are to be busy in doing the Lord’s work. That is a clear theme in the story of Josiah.
Let’s look at it a bit further. Twice in these two chapters Josiah is told that judgment from God was coming. Just before he started his reforms we read in 2 Kings 22:14-20 about how Huldah the prophet warned the King of this coming judgment.
And after he had done all these great works of renewal in the nation, we read this in 2 Kings 23:25: “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.”
But immediately following in the next two verses we read: “Nevertheless, the Lord did not turn away from the heat of his fierce anger, which burned against Judah because of all that Manasseh had done to arouse his anger. So the Lord said, ‘I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, “My Name shall be there”’.”
The fact that divine judgment was still on the way (it came a few decades later) did not invalidate nor render useless all the good work Josiah had done. His reforms were perhaps the greatest that we read about in Scripture. And he did these things knowing perfectly well that soon his nation would be no more. And the kings following him went back to the bad old ways.
Let me offer a bit more commentary on this. Dale Ralph Davis puts it this way:
“Manasseh (ch. 21) had put Judah beyond the line of hope. It is very sobering: there is such a thing as the hot heat of Yahweh’s anger that no amount of repentance or reform can dampen or douse. We’ve already known this but somehow the weight of the point falls on us far more heavily when stated after twenty-five verses describing perhaps Judah’s finest hour. Wrath is consuming and coming and certain.
But Josiah already knew all this. Huldah’s prophecy (22:16–17, 20) had made that clear. Yet he pressed on in fidelity to the covenant, in commitment (vv. 1–3), sacrament (vv. 21–23), and worship (v. 24). But why? Would it make any eventual difference? Would it last? Would it save the nation? Would it cool God’s wrath? No, to all these. But Josiah’s is a faithfulness that does not confuse obedience with pragmatism and so pushes on, not because it will change anything but simply because God demands it. Obedience without incentives is likely genuine.
And John Olley says that believers today should reflect on the responses Josiah made, in light of these prophetic words:
Judgment on the city has been affirmed as certain, albeit delayed. What can be done that will make any difference? Occasionally it is said, ‘The world is doomed, judgment is certain, so what’s the point of trying to bring about change? All that is worthwhile is to prepare oneself and others for the future judgment, for eternity.’ Sometimes this is a stated reason for stressing evangelism over against matters of social justice. Alternatively, personal situations may lead to hopeless inactivity, perhaps with sorrow, simply waiting for the inevitable. Josiah shows another way forward.
Josiah acts positively to bring about community change, with a renewal of the covenant (cf. Josh. 8:30-35; 24:1-28). . . . If wrong against God is admitted, the only valid response is active yearning to do right, to do what pleases God, irrespective of consequences.
Olley asks if Josiah was hoping for some future restoration, and then quotes another commentator who wrote:
Significantly, however, there is no prayer for deliverance, no call for God to turn back the word of judgment. . . . Josiah’s initial desire to turn back God’s wrath (22:13) is met by the prophetic word stating the inevitability of destruction for Judah (22:16-17). Still, Josiah proceeds with the reforms. One gathers, then, that we obey God neither for the sake of rewards nor for the aversion of judgment. Rather, obedience to God is simply what faith brings about.
Yes quite so. Josiah did what was right. Regardless of how things might pan out, he was obedient to God and his covenant. We should be too. And as I have said so often over the years, while God sent his prophets in the Old Testament to tell kings and others just exactly what he was up to, we do not have that same inerrant, inspired word today.
Thus we cannot be certain that an Andrews or a Trudeau or a Biden or an Ardern are some instruments of God’s judgment. They may well be, but we do not know for sure. And even if we did definitely know, the response of Josiah should be our response.
So away with all the fatalism, defeatism, and retreatism. We all have a job to do. Regardless of how dark the times, and how hopeless things may be, we all have work to do for Christ and the Kingdom. So by God’s grace let’s do that work.
And stop making cheap excuses not to.