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027  Why God Delays Judgment

Two weeks ago I began an explanation of how God's judgment is the solution to all the suffering in the world, and how we should welcome it. But then I added, we tend not to welcome that thought because, well, we feel guilty. And we should.

Let me begin this week's lesson with a story:

In the years right after I became Christian, back in the 1970s, I attended a Charismatic church in which prophecy was a regular occurrence during the meetings, usually at the end of worship. My friend Ed and I would stand there in the pew listening to the words of encouragement, and we would combine our four total years of experience in Christ to judge the prophecies (yes, I'm laughing at myself). On this particular day we had already heard a couple of prophecies; he had rejected one because he felt as though it contradicted some tiny detail of scripture (though it likely did nothing of the kind), and I had rejected another for a similar reason (a judgment that was also, most likely, nonsense).

And then, a young man in front of us gave a word of exhortation. He wasn't anybody particularly mature, and he didn't speak loudly, but I'll remember what he said 'till I die because of the clarity of God's power behind it. It was this:

"My people, do not become comfortable with your sins, for I will cut off the sinners from among my people."

Ed and I looked at each other with our knees shaking and our eyes as big as saucers, and said to each other, "That was God!" When He really shows up, even the infants know it.

God has explained a few times why He is not in any hurry to bring our world to a close. The core of the reason, whenever it comes up, is that He is giving you and me, and probably quite a few others, ample time to get things right so that He does not have to destroy us along with the wicked.

"Destroy us along with the wicked?" Isn't that being a bit dramatic?

I wish it were, but I'm simply reporting what the Apostle said.

My text here is II Peter 3:3-15a. I won't post the whole thing because of its length, but here's a relevant subset:

"The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

"Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!" II Peter 3:9-12

Notice the word "perish" in verse 9. This is not Peter being dramatic. This is a real threat.

A lot of people quote this passage as indicating that God wants everybody to be saved, but that's not what it says. It says that God is patient toward you. "You", in this instance, we can take to be the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia to whom Peter directed his letter (see I Peter 1:1, and then II Peter 3:1), plus all Christians by extension. God does not want any among us to fall short, so He is giving us ample space to repent.

And notice how our holy conduct not only prepares us for the Lord's judgment, it hastens the judgment (verse 12). His claim is that if we amend our conduct, God will move to bring our world to a close. 

There is only one other place that I know of where the scriptures say anything about how we can get God to move His timetable forward. It's in Revelation 19:6-8, and what it says is the same thing Peter says here: "The Bride has made herself ready." It somehow depends on our conduct.

Any question why God hasn't drawn history to a close yet?

There's a passage in the prophecy of Malachi that is similar to Peter's warning. It begins in Malachi 2:17 and continues through 3:7. Again, I'll let you look up the actual passage to save space here, but here's my interpretation:

  1. God is going to show up just like they say they want, but they might not like it much when He does.
  2. He will be a refiner's fire, and a fuller's soap. A refiner heats metal repeatedly, turning up the heat in stages to bring different impurities to the surface, hotter and hotter. A fuller is a professional launderer; "fuller's soap" is Grandma's lye soap, more or less. He's saying "I'm going to scrub you hard. Think you'd like that?"
  3. Once He's scrubbed them, then the Levites will be clean enough to offer sacrifices properly and God will receive them.
  4. Once they're clean enough, then God will remove the wicked and the oppressors from among them.
  5. His reason for doing the work in this order is simple: He promised to preserve them, and that means that they have to be scrubbed first. If He judged them before scrubbing, they would be judged wicked and destroyed.

Pay particular attention to point 4, above. "Then I will draw near to you for judgment..." (Mal 3:5) is a good thing, not a fearful one. The wicked among them are the ones who cause all the misery. Once they're gone, peace will reign. God would be happy to remove the wicked at any time--except that in the Israelites' state at the time, He would have had to remove most of them as well. That's why judgment occurs first among God's people. He would rather judge them now than destroy them later.

Us. He would rather judge us now than destroy us later.  

We cannot be casual about purging ourselves from sin. Peter poses the relevant question: If God is going to do that to the world, what sort of people ought we to be?

God's word through Malachi to the residents of Jerusalem provides us with a sound strategy: we should allow God to judge us now, so that He will not have to condemn us later. We must submit ourselves to scrubbing and refining; we must ask for it... let me repeat that, we must ask for it... and we must thank Him rather than whining when He does it at our asking. It's better to undergo a painful scrubbing now than to lose our place in the Kingdom of Heaven later because we grew comfortable with our sins.

We can expect judgment among God's people soon, and we need it. Brace yourself, ask (and it shall be given!), and then be appropriately grateful when it comes. It's the only way into the Kingdom of Heaven. The alternative is unthinkable.

Go invite your worst nightmares (which are actually your salvation, II Peter 3:15a) and I'll be back in a couple of weeks.

There. Wasn't that pleasant?

Phil Weingart


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