Christian, if you are honest, you will know what it feels like to have a person be embarrassed by the word of God. Perhaps even you have been a little ashamed of what the word says. After all, the claims of the word are so very counter-cultural. God’s word has standards for human sexuality, gender, and marriage that are unpopular. The word tells stories of violent conquest that our world has trouble understanding. The exclusivity of Jesus Christ is simply not socially acceptable.
But, Christian, it is worthwhile for you and me to remember that God’s word is the revelation of God himself. The Scripture is how we know God. If you want to know what God is like, you must know him from his revealed word. And there is no discrepancy. Jesus is God in flesh, the word made flesh, who reveals God to us. The writings of Peter, Paul, Moses, Isaiah, Luke, James, and the rest are also the word of God—God revealing himself and his ways to us. And we have no right whatsoever to pretend that we can look at the word of God and judge any part of it more appropriate or less appropriate than any other part. All Scripture reveals the Lord.
God is God. God is perfect. When God tells us who he is or what he desires, we must understand that his ways are perfect. And when God’s ways do not match our cultural sensitivities, we must understand that God is still God and we are not.
All this came to mind as I was reading through the opening of 2 Thessalonians. As Paul writes to a church facing persecution, Paul comforts them by reminding them of the coming judgment of God.
2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 – 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.
My goal here is not to unpack the whole passage, but to notice the way that God inspired Paul to speak of his coming wrath in the judgment. The words in the verses above are an unashamed proclamation that Christ is coming, and he is bringing the wrath of God with him for those who reject him. Paul in fact intends to comfort the church in Thessalonica by reminding them that, regardless of how they suffer now, there is a day coming when Christ will return, will bring vengeance upon those who have attacked and hated the church, and will be glorified and marveled at by his saints.
Notice that, as Paul writes this, there is no blush. There is no sheepish grin. There is no hint of Paul hiding from what the word is saying. Paul does not apologize for the barbaric idea of wrath to come. Paul does not suggest that we deemphasize hell since it is off-putting to the world. Paul does not act as though this promise of judgment is a figurative notion for the primitive that the mature can outgrow. Paul knows Jesus will return. Paul knows that Christ will reward the forgiven and judge the damned. Paul knows this, proclaims it, and brings the church comfort through it.
The only way that Paul could write this proclamation with such boldness under the inspiration of God is if God is also willing to boldly proclaim it. This is the point that gets my attention. God is not ashamed of hell. Many in the church today are, but God is not. God is not embarrassed by his promise of the judgment to come. God knows that his ways are perfect, regardless of the sensitivities of the secular culture or a weak church. And, Christians, if we are to be like our God, we need to say what God says about what God will do. If God is not ashamed of his ways, shame on us if we allow ourselves to be ashamed of them. Yes, communicate with kindness and sensitivity. But never, no not ever, allow yourself to be embarrassed by the Lord’s ways, as to be ashamed of the ways of God is to be ashamed of God himself. To be ashamed of God is to put yourself above him, morally considering your own mind superior to his. God is not embarrassed in his perfection. Neither should we be ashamed of the perfect ways of the lord.