Judgment often begins at the house of God (see 1 Pet. 4:17). It is my view that this is precisely what is occurring these days. We have elevated the gifting of Christian leaders above character. At the judgment seat of Christ I will not be judged by how well I preached or how many books I wrote but on the basis of my character. What kind of divine judgment are we facing? I believe there are no fewer than five kinds.
1) Retributive judgment. This is God getting even and showing no mercy at all. It happened to Cain and to Sodom and Gomorrah (see Gen. 4:13; 19:28). Eternal punishment is the ultimate display of retributive judgment (see Rev. 14:11).
2) Gracious judgment. Whereas retributive judgment is God's wrath unveiled "without mixture" (Rev. 14:10, KJV), gracious judgment comes blended with mercy. Painful though it is, it is attached to hope and is designed to lead to unfeigned repentance. Gracious judgment is also given to warn us. It was at the bottom of Jonah getting found out, being thrown overboard and then swallowed up by the fish. It led to his repentance (see Jon. 1-2).
3) Redemptive judgment. Also a mixture, this involves retribution paralleled by a promise. When the children of Israel murmured in their wandering, God sent poisonous snakes that bit the people. But He also ordered Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole so those who looked at it would live (see Num. 21:8-9).
4) Natural judgment. A variation of retributive judgment, this is natural law at work with an emphasis on the consequence of sin. "Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Gal. 6:7).
5) Silent judgment. This is the scariest scenario of all, when God appears to do nothing. It follows this premise: The angrier God is, the longer He waits to reveal it. At His angriest, God does nothing. We see this in Romans 1 when God merely "gave them up" to sinful desires and lusts (vv. 24, 26). Silent judgment is when God doesn't send pain; He doesn't indicate His anger; He doesn't even send a warning.
We can be thankful that it is not silent judgment at work in recent months but gracious judgment that lies behind the ever-increasing number of embarrassing exposures. God has stepped in. Make no mistake, He is angry. But there is hope. As pain is a blessing because it shows something is wrong in the body, so God has been finding people out.
Jonah was found out. God finally got his attention in the fish's belly. Jonah repented and was used mightily as a result (see Jon. 3-4). As Hebrews 12:6 says, "Whom the Lord loves He chastens." The Greek word for chasten originates from a word meaning "enforced learning." God has a way of getting our attention.
First Peter 4:17 describes our current time, when judgment begins with the family of God. It is a good time. God isn't being silent; He is at work. But if we sweep the dirt under the carpet and don't call a spade a spade, it will result in silent judgment one day—which will mean it is too late. It is not too late—at least not now.