Today’s Chocolate: Madécasse 92% Cocoa Pure Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: 2 Thessalonians 1
Wow, that’s a wake-up call. I opened up my Bible this morning expecting Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians to start off similar to the first one–a little “grace and peace to you,” gratitude to God for the letter’s recipients, a pat on the back and a little “Hey, goin’ good, you guys!” And instead, Paul goes off with all the intensity of Jonathan Edwards rapping over an NF beat. Dang, son.
It’s understandable, though. The Thessalonian church continues to suffer persecution, and Paul begins by acknowledging their suffering. He tells them, “[W]e ourselves speak proudly of you…for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions” (4). The letter’s a response to the reality of their suffering. To borrow a line from NF’s track “Lost in the Moment,” “Whoever told you that life would be easy, I promise that person was lying to you,” and this is especially true when you’re a first-century church.
And forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but that level of suffering is so foreign to me. As I sit here typing, I kinda want to straight-up devour a bar of Equal Exchange instead of rationing out my chocolate, just to deal with the intensity of this chapter. And that’s just words about persecution! Imagine if I had to actually suffer for my faith. How would I bear up? Maybe I’d learn. Maybe God would teach me. I dunno. But I’m grateful that my greatest discomforts at this second are a few strong words from Paul and an unfulfilled desire to eat more chocolate.
And Paul’s got some more strong words on the topic of divine judgment. He calls the Thessalonians’ suffering “a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God” (5). For them, it’s a refining fire, burning out impurities from metal, purifying them and making them worthy. And Paul further explains: “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted” (6-7). They can expect justice, he tells them. Justice plays the long game, and mercy brings comfort in time.
Specifically, justice and mercy come to completion at the Second Coming, and Jesus Christ is justice’s executor. Paul describes him in potent terms, descending from heaven with angels and fire, “dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (8). And I can’t blame you if his words strike you as vindictive; they struck me that way at first too. I think, once again, he’s just describing what he considers a reality. I don’t believe he’s without remorse for those who reject the mercy of the gospel and invite God’s judgment. But I can’t peer through time and space and see inside Paul’s head. All I’ve got are his words and my own reasoned inferences.
As I near the end of Paul’s fire-and-brimstone introduction, I can’t help but think of my friend Cody over at Cantus Firmus. As an annihilationist, Cody believes that the punishment of hell constitutes cessation of being rather than eternal conscious torment, and he’s argued the point in more than one blog post. So when Paul says, “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (9), I can’t help but read his words in that light. The Greek word for “destruction,” ὄλεθρος (olethros), has connotations of putting an end to a thing. But what does it mean that the destruction is eternal? Is it a destruction without end, once and for all? Or is it an ongoing, unceasing process of experiencing one’s own ruin? I’m not an annihilationist myself, but verses like this one force me to concede that one could make a decent argument for the position. I don’t think I’m wrong about hell–but I’ll admit I could be.
And at the end of the day, I don’t think I’m wrong about a lot of things. But I could be.