It was insulting. It was hurtful. And, to make matters worse, it wasn’t fair. I was shocked when someone I truly cared about started saying some very hurtful things about me to someone else. I guess my ego was so big that I believed no one would ever do such a thing to me. But that was a fault I had to get over. If the first lie ever told was a lie about God, then who did I think I was in thinking it wouldn’t happen to me? And, to really drive me to repentance, some of what was said about me was true!
There is nothing like impugning someone’s character to drive a wedge in any relationship. Most relationships don’t survive that kind of betrayal. No wonder we are warned against believing the lies told about God!
Look at our lesson today in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-13; 5:24-28:
BRETHREN, God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we wake or sleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. Brethren, pray for us. Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
St. Paul is finishing up his letter to the Thessalonians, and he ends this letter to them with a clear and emphatic truth: God has not destined us for wrath! God has destined us for salvation in Christ Jesus! That is our true destiny. And everyone who tells you different is cooperating with the Evil One and his eternal desire to get you to believe God isn’t good. Because if the evil one can convince you of that then he can keep you from your destiny!
One of the real bad teachings floating around Thessaloniki was that if you died physically before the Second Coming then you were lost. That’s why St. Paul says that we were destined for salvation “whether we wake or sleep.” You see, it is always the purpose of the evil one to discourage you with this or that bad theology. And that’s always the result of bad theology: discouragement. If you believe God is angry with you, or disappointed with you, or sad about you, then the chances of you seeking to be close to God go way down.
But think about this for a minute. God is perfect. God is love. God is in need of nothing or no one. He is complete within Himself. He isn’t lonely. He isn’t worried. He isn’t scared. He has no expectations because He knows the end from the beginning. God is fine and He is at complete peace. If this is true about God then how can your behavior or my behavior affect God’s perfect peace? If God can be disturbed by me then I have power over God. Come on, we both know that’s just not true!
So, what is true? It is true that God loves you and you simply can’t change that. So, when I live a selfish life, I’m only destroying myself. And, to make matters worse, I don’t have to be a slave to my own self-destruction. It is completely unnecessary, because God has always destined me for salvation and not for wrath. Every bit of “wrath” I may sense coming “from” God is nothing more than my own internal shame at having it clearly revealed in the unfiltered light of God’s love that I didn’t have to experience His Fire as judgement at all. I could have turned and embraced Him and His fire and He would have purified me. But by running from Him (as if I could escape! What delusion) I experienced His fire as torment when He meant it for love!
Today, the scripture is right, our God is a consuming fire and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God, but that’s because we are so tempted to believe the lie told to us about our Creator. Better for us to remember the words of St. Anthony: “I no longer fear God; I love Him, and perfect love casts out fear!” When you are Orthodox on Purpose you stop believing the lies told about our very good and loving God!
P.S. Dear Lord, help me to embrace a proper fear of You, not from a fearful notion that You are angry with me, but the fearful reality that You love me and that You are Who You are in spite of my willful pride and self centered thinking. Help me overcome the demonic lie that You are to be fear and avoided. But rather grant me the wisdom to see that You are to be feared and loved because of Your fearsome love for me! Amen.