There’s this belief in the world that God’s judgment means great miraculous events like fire and brimstone raining from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24), or inexplicable plagues of sickness and swarms of creatures and storms in sequence to destroy a nation’s economy as happened to Egypt (Exodus 7-12), … always something big and spectacular.
But the greatest and most frightening of God’s judgment on men comes in the form of withdrawal. Romans 1:18-32 states:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. … so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, … . For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”
God “gave them up” once, then as they continue in their rejection of Him He “gave them up” again. When they still refuse to repent, apparently unable to understand or admit to the reason for their own misery, God “gave them over.” He withdraws Himself from them altogether. He leaves them to their own devices, allowing them to destroy themselves. No need for fire and brimstone. No need for plagues. When people reject God so completely that there remains no hope of their repentance, He will sometimes leave them alone – exactly as they desire.
As I read through these verses in Romans and consider the history of the “Western World” over the past fifty years I have to wonder if we’re about there as a people, where God has “given us over.” The acceleration of evil and its overwhelming acceptance as normal and good among otherwise rational people is astounding. I’m reminded of Isaiah 5:20 which says, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
Although it may be too late for our civilization if God has withdrawn from us, that isn’t the case for individuals who seek to know the true and living God. We may speak to individuals today just as Peter once did to people guilty of calling out for the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, …” (Acts 3:19).
And to us who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation, let us consider how we have neglected the things of God in our everyday life as we have concerned ourselves with worldy education and retirement accounts and new kitchens and luxury vehicles, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Rev 3:19 to the Laodiceans).
Whatever may come, the Lord will never withdraw Himself from a person who desires to know Him. “… be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb 13:5).