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The Wicked Perish

February 06, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: 2 Thessalonians 1–2, Psalm 37, Ecclesiastes 6.

It is apparent to me that one of the reasons I sometimes struggle with passages speaking of God’s judgment on the wicked is because I do not face persecution or active hostility from those who hate God. I might get called names or insulted occasionally (though only occasionally), but I have never been at risk of loss of property, much less of health or life, because I follow Christ. Believers in other places and other times are not so at ease among those who do not follow God. For those who are not so at ease, the prosperity and success of those who oppress them are much larger concerns—much nearer to home, and much more urgently in need of justice.

Thus, in both of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians, he encourages them to remain steadfast in part by pointing to God’s future judgment on the enemies of Christ. He points them to the future return of Jesus not to remove the believers from this world, but to judge those who reject God and to rule in righteousness over the world. That is a cause for rejoicing for believers: all of us want to see the world put right, with an end to poverty and war, cancer and rape, tornadoes and abortion, Alzheimers and murder, oppression and death. Nearly everyone wants this kind of world, in theory. But in practice, we are either children of God or people who “refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). And those who refuse to love the truth and be saved oppress and murder the people of God (and everyone else, but especially the people of God).

Our fellow believers in Saudi Arabia and Iran and North Korea are not reading these passages of judgment and wondering how God could judge so harshly. They are reading them and holding fast to the hope that this day will come soon, when those who grind underfoot the poor, the widow, and the orphan, who throw Jesus’ followers in jail and execute their pastors, will get justice at the hands of God. Many of our fellow believers look forward to the day when they will get justice from God, because in this present life injustice has often been their lot.

In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
    though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land
    and delight themselves in abundant peace.

This points me forward in several ways. First, it reminds me that this is an area in which I need to be sanctified. Contrary to everything the surrounding world says, a lack of judgment on the part of God would be grotesquely unrighteous. We can see this clearly in the most egregious cases: none of us think it would be right for Charles Manson or Stalin to get off without punishment. But God’s justice is deeper than ours, and truer, and that is good. Lord willing, I will come to understand more and more the goodness of his doing justice and righteousness on the earth, not least as I understand that his shalom will not come—could not come—apart from his doing justice. And his doing justice means crushing evil.

Second, it reminds me (again) that we Westerners, much though we have to offer to our brothers and sisters around the world, also have much to learn from them. The persecuted church is not so easily led astray in this area as we in our comfort are. Likewise, we have much to learn from those who have gone before us. Whatever their faults, many of our forebears in the faith got this right where we get it wrong. We would do well to listen more humbly to our fellow saints of every age and every tribe—and not to arrogate to ourselves the right to judge God’s justice.

Third, it reminds me to pray for God to work his justice in the world: to deliver suffering saints in lands hostile to the gospel, and to end the oppression of the wicked either by saving them from their sins or by ruining them. This is not a comfortable prayer, but it is a good and right prayer. It reminds me, too, to pray all the more fervently: “Lord, come soon!”