Faith: Strength comes from staying grounded in our faith
For most of us, the struggle and trauma of life is something we want to avoid. However, there are some people who become so obsessed with death and destruction that they turn toward the end times and look at them with a kind of glee, usually because they expect someone else to get their comeuppance.
This belief is nothing new. You will find it creeping just under the surface of the second letter to the church at Thessalonica. The letter was written during a period of persecution, most likely following the Fire of Rome in AD 64. While the circumstances are not exactly clear, the author’s point is clear: Here comes religious trouble for those who worship the God of Israel as revealed in Jesus Christ.
Christians have debated the identity of the “Person who is Lawless” (CEB), for centuries. This passage is often combined with ones from Revelation and words from Jesus himself that suggests that there might be a single person who stands in opposition to the Spirit of Jesus. Martin Luther and the Pope of his day called each other the Anti-Christ. In their day and time, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Saddam Hussein, Stalin and Ronald Reagan were all so named. Television shows and movies have created crazy scenarios staring this, the ultimate boogeyman.
However, before we start pointing fingers or digging out a bunker in our basement to survive the next zombie apocalypse, we should listen to the description:
“He is the opponent of every so-called god or object of worship and promotes himself over them. So he sits in God’s temple, displaying himself to show that he is God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:4, CEB)
We don’t need to be looking for a capital-L, capital-O “Lawless One.” Each of us is fully capable of becoming such a lawless one, and of setting up our own small, so-called gods and objects of worship. We are capable of opposing God all on our own.
Perhaps we have assigned this fear to a particular individual, political party or religion. Perhaps the economic circumstances have gotten so far out of our control, or medical conditions have overwhelmed us. Perhaps family is causing trouble, or someone you love has made a catastrophic mistake.
Fear clings at the edges of our lives. It invades and distorts our perceptions. We live in an uneasy truce with it. When injuries or trauma become too overwhelming to ignore, we may try to escape, or push those who represent it out of sight, hoping that the fear will slip out of mind.
This is nothing new. Paul deals with early on.
“We don’t want you to be easily confused in your mind or upset if you hear that the day of the Lord is already here, whether you hear it through some spirit, a message, or a letter supposedly from us. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.” (2 Thessalonians 2:2-3a)
The word here for confusion and upset are closely related to those for fear and despair. The passage refutes that tendency to point to Judgement Day, as a specific event. Paul is less concerned about the particulars of the life to come.
Jesus points out that our expectations regarding the life to come are usually wrong. Trying to pin down the Lawless One is like trying to stop running water with open fingers. We shouldn’t even be trying. Jesus says:
“But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak.” (Mark 13:32, 35)
It is this same focus that Paul brings to his thoughts concerning the coming of this Lawless One and the Day of the Lord. We are not to be obsessed with the details about how it will happen. We’re not to go around pointing fingers.
Instead, we are called to hold onto faith, and to find our courage in it.
“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold on to the traditions we taught you, whether we taught you in person or through our letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
If we no longer focus on the specifics or try to identify a particular person, then we need to look at those false idols that we create in our lives. We must also work on those things that cause pain to people, whether those wounds are evident or hidden.
On this day, when we remember veterans, let us remember that this is especially true for veterans and survivors of other traumatic events. Many people would say it is enough to find courage in prayer, but for those who struggle with complex issues of trauma this often calls for long-term support from effective counselors and therapies. It also means that we need to work on changing the systems that create trauma in the first place and put into place other supports to care for those who have been so wounded by the idols we have created.
We are called on to offer our strength to those who no longer have it. Our courage becomes a temporary substitute for theirs when it falters. We must be constantly grounded in the faith, or as Paul puts it “our preaching and our letter.” The example of Jesus guides us forward through each maze that would draw us off from God. So, let us hold on. For ourselves. For others. For God.
Rev. Deana Armstrong is the Pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Craig. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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