A joyful exaltation of God’s grace or a cry of utter duress?
David Bahn-Reflections Podcast
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. 4 Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. 11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
– 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 [ESV]
Maybe you’ve heard someone speak of some location as a God-forsaken place. That’s usually a moniker for a place no one wants to be. Death. Desolation. Despair. Gloom. Hopelessness. Unhappiness. Disheartment. When God forsakes a place life no longer flourishes. Hope hops a train. Misery moves in. Who wants to be there?
Many people, however who do not want to be in a God-forsaken place, have forsaken God. They don’t like his rules. They don’t want to acknowledge his sovereignty. They don’t think they need his mercy. But they surely do want the benefits of his providential care, gracious kindness toward them in their hour of need, and the positive influence of justice and good order that God provides.
Saddest of all, the most fundamental reality of hell is a God-forsaken place. Totally God-forsaken. Chaos. Godlessness. Death. Eternal despair. Everlasting hopelessness. Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Since unbelievers do not want to be in a God-forsaken place, they would surely not consign themselves to an eternity of such utter desolation. And Paul describes the eternal destiny of those who do not obey the gospel of Jesus Christ as a place of “eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”
Those last words, “the glory of his might,” speak life and hope to people who look to God for salvation. True, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). It is better to fear God than being eternally banished from his presence. When David faced a terrible choice in punishment for his census taking: “David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for His mercies are very great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man’” (1 Chronicles 21:13).
On another occasion, Moses spoke to God in the threat of God’s abandonment of Israel: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” And recall the excruciating cry of Jesus from the cross. Echoing Psalm 22 he cries out, “My God. My God. Why have you forsaken me?” Terrible. Tormenting. Torturous. And in our place, so we would not have to face that horrific God-forsaken experience.
Ultimately, the name of Jesus Christ will be glorified. Every tongue in heaven and on earth and under the earth will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God (cf. Philippians 2:11). Will it be a joyful exaltation of God’s grace or a cry of utter duress? Thanks be to God who has called us to repentance and faith so that we can experience an eternity of his glorious and gracious presence!