You should expect this time of wrath and tribulation to shake loose things that are fake. This is behind the language of exposure in Scripture: things “laid bare,” sins brought into the light, etc.
During long periods of prosperity and relative domestic peace, there is a tendency to build up social structures and life habits that are impossible to maintain otherwise. It’s more than just luxury, though it includes that. Hedonism runs wild during prosperity. But there is a whole raft of expectations and petty demands that are quite viable in the good times, which cannot survive a time of testing.
This is when systems become corrupt. There’s no reason for self-restraint; people make no effort to hold their hedonism in check. So they explore every possible avenue for self-indulgence. At some point, it seems very much more than just a divine right, but a mandate from heaven that one must push the envelope. This is when self-discipline is turned on its head; it’s the time when all discipline is externalized in the sense that people demand the world around them conform to their extravagant wishes. It always peaks just before God’s patience ends.
Most people can entertain the intellectual concept of belt-tightening, but few have any idea what is truly essential to maintain during economic contraction. They don’t understand that this is not merely a decline in prosperity. God is moving in the power of His own divine justice, seeking to restore a consciousness of our fallen condition. So placing a focus on the material considerations only serves to compound moral error.
The Bible refers to times when the natural world rises up in rejection of any further abuse. There is a recurring reference in the Old Testament to restoring missed Sabbaths (Leviticus 26:34; see the whole context vv. 14-39). It’s a concept utterly foreign to Western Civilization. It really has very little to do with whether you work and keep your business open on Sunday; it has to do with the materialism that makes us forget why we need a Sabbath (Mark 2:18-28). The Sabbath was made to restore the focus on God as Creator and the way His divine moral character is woven into Creation. So the Law Covenants forbid engaging in all that material distraction for one day in seven, just so you’ll stop and contemplate just how broken mankind is.
You can’t keep running along business-as-usual in some endless search for a human calculus of materialistic efficiency. God is still providing extravagantly to those whose mission for His glory requires it. This is not merely an economic downturn with the attendant social disturbances. This is the wrath of God demanding we restore a clear focus on His revelation. He has gone to great lengths to reveal His character and His demands, even going so far as to explain in some detail why these things must be. No matter how nice it gets here, this is not Paradise. The Garden of Eden was a place of moral prosperity, not simply an easy existence.
Paradise is moral restraint, and moral restraint is Paradise. Biblical Law is its own reward. It’s not easy to fight off the demands of our fleshly nature, but self-restraint is the path of freedom and joy. However, it requires grasping fully our fallen nature for that to make sense. Moral restraint is simply restoring what God designed for us, and us for it.
So an awful lot of stuff we simply took for granted should be called into question during times of God’s wrath. We see in Scripture the language of catastrophe: “the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from the heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” (Matthew 24:29). That’s a parable, a prophetic expression with a long history in recorded revelation. That’s what it feels like when God calls our attention to something our fleshly nature wants to forget.
Jesus also referred to social upheaval as the new norm when His divine truth is restored (Luke 12:51-53). This means divorce, for example, but only because a great many ostensibly good Christian folks were married without sufficient soul searching. And the reason they get into those marriages is because the society around them has lost track of what soul searching means. We live a world that is frankly hostile to the heart-led way, so it’s no surprise past decisions that seemed to make sense back then now turn out to be utterly stupid. It’s not a question of the marriage being “sinful” in the simplistic Western legalistic concept of sin, or that either party in the marriage is evil. It’s a question of jumping in without first checking what your convictions could have told you. It can easily be two good people who simply have no business being together as marriage partners.
Nor does that mean divorce is necessarily the way forward. It means taking the time to go back and start working on what your convictions demand, and taking it from there. Again: Don’t be legalistic about it. “God hates divorce” is not an excuse to torment people in a situation only the Devil likes. The context of that quote (Malachi 2:10-17) makes it clear the issue was self-seeking treachery against one another as a cheap excuse for trading off one spouse for another. Divorce was always justified when it meant fleeing from idolatry (Ezra 10:1-4 — purging wives who rejected the Covenant). That doesn’t reduce the horror of breaking families apart, but the issue was that one member of the marriage was determined to destroy the covenant of faith in favor of some idol. What most people don’t understand is that two people of good faith can discern their marriage isn’t going to work because God won’t prosper it.
The whole point of God’s wrath is to restore divine justice, not objectively, but internally in our souls. It is we who must repent, not the situation. God isn’t going to destroy the economy of America, but it will tighten up enough to demand we shed some luxuries. Most Americans will not see it that way, which is part of why that wrath must fall. Don’t get lost seeing the economics and social turmoil; this is a call to spend some time in contemplation and to restore the heart-led way.