2 Thessalonians 1:3-12
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 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. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.
With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.New International Version
This passage from Paul makes me uncomfortable.
One reason for my discomfort is that the “persecutions and trials” I have encountered are trivial compared to those being endured by Paul’s readers. While that is true, that is not the point of this passage. My emotional response to the situation in Thessalonica either distracts me from God’s words given to Paul, or it is an excuse I’m creating to ignore the passage. Either way, I’m denying the timelessness of the scriptures if I don’t accept that God also is speaking to me in these verses.
In addition to my emotions over the trials of the early church, I have another set of emotions at play when I consider those who have wronged me. This is a continuation of my earlier blog posts on the concept of justice and what that means in my walk with God. When I consider how I respond when I have been wronged, I have to confess I have a desire to see bad consequences come to those who have done bad things to me. I’ve even fantasized I was the one inflicting those “consequences.”
When we’re in these situations, we know deep inside that our feelings are not what God wants. We know we are to “love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you” as Jesus taught in Luke 6:27. Our emotions are warring with each other, and we further fuel that conflict if we rationalize our vengeful urges as a “desire for justice”.
In this blog entry, I’m going to pursue the topic of vengeance and justice in this scripture passage, and I hope to grow in my comprehension of our just, patient, and loving God. In next week’s blog entry, I’m going to explore how we as Christians can deal productively with our emotional storms, like we have when we feel we have been wronged.
Let’s first peel back society’s thoughts on “vengeance” to examine the components of our culture’s concepts that go against what God intends for us. Our worldly ideas of vengeance often involves acts that takes place when normal justice is compromised, delayed, or otherwise does not make things right. We tend to think of vengeance as making an example of the wrong-doer so that others are deterred from similar nefarious acts. This idea of vengeance is modeled more after the mythology of the 19th century American West than it is about societal justice. It encourages individuals who feel wronged to seize the roles of judge and juror — shoving God out of the way so we can act out on our anger.
In contrast, this scripture passage discusses how God’s justice is at work making everything right and whole. When I read this passage too quickly, I think wholeness only comes at the End of Time, but Paul first wrote in the present tense about “relief to you who are troubled.” God is at work now making the wrong right and the broken whole. Given the sinful nature of humanity, God’s work will continue until sin is no more.
What should I do when I have been wronged? First, I must remember that my life and my situation is always in God’s hands. I must choose to trust God to bring me out of that hurtful circumstance and to heal my wounds in a way that serves God’s Kingdom. Scott Krippayne wrote a wonderful lyric 25 years ago that instructs, “Sometimes He calms the storm / And other times He calms His child.”
When you’ve been hurt, do you trust God? This can’t be a quick answer. I can’t just recite what we all know is the expected response. God will keep pushing me on this until I make a commitment to trust. I have to make that choice to stand on the Solid Rock when all my emotions are screaming that nothing around me is solid. Trusting in God requires that I give up on controlling the outcome of my situation. I have to turn off my internal timer for how rapidly I expect my grievances to be addressed. I have to relinquish my claims for the restoration of what I feel was taken from me. I take my hands off that mess, and I leave my pain and confusion in God’s hands. Then I grab it back again, many times, and my patient and forgiving God reminds me to let it go, so that God can be God in my life.
When we follow this teaching, we are not giving up on justice. We are made in the image of our Just and Loving God, so we are drawn to justice. We know the difference between what is wrong and what is right, both in what we see around us and what we know is inside us. We know we have been created with independence that tempts us into selfish rebellion. We do long for justice, but we also have rejected justice, and in that contradiction is our separation from God. Salvation in Jesus Christ does not do away with justice. It reconciles us to God by paying the cost for our rebellion. We are redeemed at a very high cost, so immense that true justice can only come from God.
What I do when I make this choice is trust God to make me right. When I have been hurt, God has made me whole. When I have lost, God has restored. I know I’m never blameless in those situations that have created pain for me, and God has always forgiven and restored me, even though I’ve felt I haven’t deserved it.
Love never lets us down. We will not find the healing we need in the suffering of others, no matter how deserved that suffering may be, but we will always find healing, completeness, and love from God.
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