Yet another Word about Judgment

Someone emailed me, pointing out that 2 Thessalonians 1:5 (from the previous essay) is yet another judgment text. Given my penchant for commenting on such texts, they were surprised I didn’t say anything. Okay, I’ll bite, because it is an interesting facet of judgment.

Verse 5 occurs in the midst of one of those ridiculously long sentences for which Paul is famous. This one begins in v. 3, where I’ll begin. (I’m quoting the RSV, which breaks it into several sentences.):

[3] We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. [4] Therefore we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring. [5] This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering — [6] since indeed God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, [7] and to grant rest with us to you who are afflicted, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire …

Notice that the righteous judgment of God is that these Christians are being persecuted and afflicted and yet their “faith is growing abundantly and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing;” they are “enduring.” In this case the judgment doesn’t refer to the end times, nor to their eternal reward, but rather to God’s determination, before the fact, that these people were made of the stuff that was able to withstand persecution and still grow in faith and love.

Before the fact the Thessalonians didn’t know whether they would hold fast or fold under the pressure; only the actual forthcoming events would demonstrate that. But God, who can discern the heart, did know, through his righteous judgment of who they were, even before it was revealed to them.

I don’t want to dismiss the seriousness of judgment, especially the Last Judgment. As humans caught in the web of death, we are profoundly sinful. As Christians we have the capability of becoming profoundly holy in this life. Judgment, in general, and the specific Judgment that we face will sort all of that out, and it is a fearful thing to face the holy God who can discern us to the very depths of our being far more thoroughly than we can do to ourselves. But judgment is so much more than just what happens at the end of our lives. God is always watching, weighing, approving, correcting where needed, afflicting to strengthen us, withdrawing (seemingly) to remind us of the goodness of his presence, and shining upon us because he loves us. All of these things together form the many facets that are involved in judgment.

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