Cause everybody knows
If you don’t mind your mother’s words
A wicked wind will blow
Your ribbons from your curls
Everybody moan everybody shake
The shankill butchers wanna catch you
~The Decemberists, “The Shankhill Butchers”
The concept of “retribution” is the fuel that drives almost every pagan religion, ancient or modern. You find it as the driving force behind the concept of karma, as well as many other forms of religion. If you do bad things, bad things will happen to you. If you do good things, good things will happen to you. A person measures his or her status among the gods or fate by the circumstances they face in life.
The thing is…this kind of mindset has influenced many Christian’s thinking…and often we don’t even realize it. We’ve incorporated the law of retribution into our understanding of God and the gospel when we start trying to estimate God’s acceptance of us based on what’s happening in our lives. A great example of it is found in the (waining) “Word/Faith” doctrines. This teaching says that if you have enough faith in Jesus’ power, you’ll be financially rich, free from sickness and enjoying the good life. If a person is sick, or struggling financially or in any way, it’s a sign that you don’t have faith, or there is some hidden sinfulness in your life. It’s a crock.
Even if we don’t fall for egregious errors like the aforementioned…we sometimes slip into this way of thinking in more subtle ways. We start thinking “God must be happy with me because everyone got the flu but I didn’t”…or conversely, “God must be punishing me because I lost my job.”…a Christian version of Karma. While it’s true, God will sometimes use our circumstances to guide us, or communicate a message to us (sometimes being very distinct from ALL the time), His acceptance and love for us is an entirely different thing.
A person could point to the Old Covenant and say “Israel was sent into exile because God was mad at them”…but that’s not entirely accurate. Israel had forsaken their national relationship with God, and God got their attention in a big way through the exile…but it’s made clear that this is for their ultimate benefit. The book of Job stands as a startling revelation that the law of retribution is not the standard means by which God deals with His people, even though Job’s friends thought it was.
This is the 2nd letter Paul writes to this fledgling church, several months after his first letter. Things have not gotten better for the Thessalonians, and in fact seem to have grown worse. Which leads to the inevitable question that most of us would ask…”Is God mad at me?”. Paul’s opening remarks seem to be trying to put them at ease, letting them know that God isn’t mad at them…and that there are some other ways of looking at trouble that comes into our lives that help us understand why we face those things.
V1-2 provide Paul’s greeting.
In V3, Paul is encouraged because he sees something happening in them, something growing. This is one of the reasons we face trials…so that we will grow. What is it that is developing with them, and how would we relate it to our own troubles.
V4-5 indicates something else Paul is aware of concerning this church. The perseverance they demonstrate during hard times makes something happen…what is it?
Paul warns that Justice will come one day (V6-10), that oppressors will have to answer for their acts of hatred. So, he’s letting them know that things will be made right one day…and that is the day he points toward to provide them with hope. What are we looking forward to in v7? So what does that tell us about life here and now? Based on what he’s saying here, if bad things happen to us, does it mean God is mad at us?
Finally, in v11-12, Paul makes the most alarming statement in the context of suffering as a Christian I think anyone could make. How would you summarize what he says in these verses? How would you brace it against your own life and experiences?
See you Sunday!