“and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 NIV).
It may be easy to read this passage and come away with the idea that God is malevolent and vindictive in punishing human beings for their lack of knowledge regarding Him. However, this objection overlooks the fact that Christians and non-Christians alike must both explain how and why our world (and the universe by extension) came to exist. Our response to that question will impact our response to the passage quoted above.
While many seem to accept “god” as a higher intelligence, supernatural being, or creator, that belief often has little or no real influence in their lives. We can attribute this to our human tendency to redefine the concept of god according to our preferences.
For instance, let’s take the Biblical idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing, just, and holy God who created and loves human beings but holds them accountable for their choices. That kind of God is intolerable for anyone who prefers to live life on his or her own terms. Therefore, it becomes necessary to substitute the God of the Scriptures for a different god, one that aligns more closely with his or her preferences. In fact, Paul the Apostle spent a large portion of the opening chapters of the Biblical book of Romans discussing that very subject.
Herein lies the problem: that type of “god” is nothing more than a human construct that may have little (if any) relation to the God who exists in reality. Those who choose that path ultimately arrive at the destination given to us in the New Testament epistle of Titus: “They profess to know God [to recognize, perceive, and be acquainted with Him], but deny and disown and renounce Him by what they do” (Titus 1:16 AMPC). In the final analysis, those who take this approach often exhibit little difference between their god and themselves.
In light of this, we can say that this passage involves more than a simple lack of knowledge; it relates to a volitional rejection of God in favor of something else. It encompasses those who could become acquainted with the one true God if they were so inclined but choose to pursue other priorities instead. That corresponding lack of knowledge, based on voluntary negligence and a disinclination to know God is what invites His judgment.