What are the consequences of nations turning away from God?
The Bible has a lot to say about what happens when nations and individuals turn away from God. Though every situation is unique, there are some clear patterns we see repeated throughout Scripture that serve as warnings to us today.
Idolatry and False Gods
One of the most common symptoms of a nation drifting from the true God is the proliferation of idols and false gods. When a nation’s heart grows distant from God, the people will start looking for meaning and fulfillment in created things rather than the Creator. The book of Romans describes this phenomenon:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Romans 1:21-23, ESV)
Throughout the Old Testament, the kingdom of Israel repeatedly struggled with idolatry as the people worshipped false gods like Baal and Molech instead of remaining faithful to Yahweh. The consequences were always disastrous – oppression, violence, corruption, injustice. The one true God will not share His people’s allegiance with demons and false deities.
Closely tied to the rise of false gods is a corresponding lapse in moral standards. Without being anchored to God’s truth and righteousness, societies will descend into moral confusion and relativism. Important values like the sanctity of life, the meaning of marriage, and the difference between right and wrong will be cast overboard. The Bible often links the rejection of God with outbreaks of violence, sexual immorality, dishonesty and corruption. For example:
“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.” (Romans 1:28, ESV)
When God ceases to be the source and foundation for law and ethics, human ideas and passions rush in to fill the void. The predictable result is increasing chaos and wickedness. There is perhaps no better example of this than the period of the Judges in the Old Testament, where it is repeatedly stated that “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6, 21:25, ESV)
Injustice and Oppression of the Vulnerable
One group that suffers greatly when godly values erode in a culture is the poor, needy and vulnerable. Concern for justice and care for the disadvantaged stem from the understanding that all people are made in God’s image and have worth in His eyes. When God’s fatherly love and care are forgotten, it becomes easy for the strong to exploit the weak. The prophets frequently condemned Israel and Judah for oppressing the orphan, the widow, the foreigner and the poor. For instance:
“Cursed is anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow.” (Deuteronomy 27:19, ESV)
“The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.” (Ezekiel 22:29, ESV)
A nation that forsakes God’s wisdom inevitably degrades human dignity and tramples on human rights. This disproportionately impacts vulnerable groups who lack money and power to protect themselves.
Leadership and Social Decline
The Bible often traces cycles of blessing and decline for nations based on the character and devotion of their leaders. When kings like David, Josiah and Hezekiah sought God wholeheartedly, the nation was strengthened and prospered. When wicked rulers like Ahab and Manasseh promoted idolatry, the nation faltered.
For example, 2 Kings 17:7-23 explains that the judgment of exile came upon Israel because ever since the time of their first king, Jeroboam, the leaders had caused the people to forsake God’s commandments. The decisions of the king impacted the whole nation.
This principle operates on many levels of society. Judges set the tone for justice, pastors shape the beliefs of their congregations, professors influence students, and so on. The consequences of godlessness infiltrate all of society when high-level leaders model corruption and disbelief.
Removing Restraint and Protection
A less obvious but equally serious consequence of rejecting God is the removal of His gracious restraint and protection over a people. Even those who want nothing to do with God still benefit from His common grace – the rain and sunshine He sends on the just and unjust alike (Matthew 5:45). He also sovereignly sets up authorities for maintaining order and safety (Romans 13:1-4). But Scripture warns that persisting in sin can lead to the removal of these blessings.
When God’s protective hand lifts from a nation or individual, the void is quickly filled with evil forces. This is evident in the book of Judges, where Yahweh would hand rebellious Israel over to be oppressed by wicked kings as a consequence for their idolatry. Disorder, violence and hardship resulted.
In a similar way, Romans 1 indicates that God “gave them up” to their sinful desires. He withdrew His restraint and let the natural consequences of sin run their course. As the passage goes on to say, being “filled with all manner of unrighteousness” leads to social decay and inward destruction. We depend far more on God’s grace and mercy than we often realize. Rejecting Him has dire ramifications.
Loss of True Purpose
Finally, walking away from God means abandoning the source of true meaning, joy and purpose. Augustine observed that the human heart is restless until it finds its ultimate rest in God. When people try to build their lives around anything other than God, the result is frustration and emptiness. Chasing money, sex, power, family, pleasure – these things cannot properly fill the God-shaped void inside us.
Turning from the giver of all good gifts and the fountain of life leads to spiritual bankruptcy. Those who exchange God’s truth for a lie receive what they chose: a counterfeit existence without lasting hope or peace. The prophet Jonah summed it up well when he declared, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” (Jonah 2:8, ESV)
In conclusion, Scripture paints a sober picture of what happens when nations and individuals reject their Creator and reject His design for life. While the consequences manifest in diverse ways, we see recurring themes of chaos, immorality, injustice, oppression of the vulnerable, corrupted leadership, removal of blessings, and loss of meaning and purpose. Yet the Bible also offers hope – if we humbly turn back to God, He is merciful and slow to anger, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, ESV)