2 Thessalonians 2 – Bad News Bears

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Today’s Passage2 Thessalonians 2

It seems we’ve been flung back into the briar patch of controversial verses, and without the advantage of being rabbits. The middle chapter of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians has its share of potential thorns, and here we are in the thick of the thicket, so let’s get to working our way through it.

To begin with, Paul’s opening up the subject of the end times again. This time, though, his position actually untangles some of the issues he introduced in the first letter. He tells his readers: “Now we request…that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come” (1-2). He explicitly states that it hasn’t happened yet, and he lays down the preconditions for its happening. Notably, the “man of lawlessness” must first appear: “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (3-4). The man of lawlessness is at present restrained from appearing, Paul teaches, but once he shows up, it’s game on.

My knowledge of eschatology isn’t such that I could say if the man of lawlessness is or isn’t identical to the Antichrist. But given that he demands ultimate worship, produces false signs, and leads the populace astray with evil, suffice it to say that he’s Bad News Bears. And most importantly, Paul gives no indication that he necessarily expects the man of lawlessness to appear within his lifetime.

But these verses raise other questions. Not only will God eventually let the man of lawlessness loose, but he apparently will cause some people to believe his lies. Paul writes:

Then that lawless one will be revealed…with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. (8, 10-12)

If you’ve ever read through Exodus and had trouble with God hardening Pharaoh’s heart, you’ll likely have a similar reaction here. Verses like these are haunted by the problem of evil: how can an all-good and all-powerful God permit bad to exist? Why would he allow the man of lawlessness free rein, even for a time? Moreover, why would he himself play an active role in the deception of the man of lawlessness’ followers?

Paul has an answer. As he says, it’s “in order that they all may be judged” (12). These people rejected the truth and delighted in evil. Wandering around in a fog of error is the punishment for their willful disobedience. Similarly, in the course of the Exodus narrative, you may note that Pharaoh hardens his own heart chronologically before God steps in and hardens Pharaoh’s heart himself. In cases like these, the penalty for sin is more sin. It may be uncomfortable, but it’s fair: the people who threw themselves headlong into depravity have brought it upon themselves.

And of course, I’m only touching the tip of the problem-of-evil iceberg here. There’s much more to it than that, as we’ve discussed in the Psalms and Romans and other places still, and I fully expect we’ll come back around to it again. Human evil is a problem! It’s such a massive problem that God himself put on human flesh and died on a cross to deal with it, to rescue us from it and provide a way out from its grip. But lies, cruelty, and malevolence are still around us every day. It’s no surprise to me if both you and I continue to have questions about them.

But for now, it’s time to put a wrap on this entry. I’ll see you Sunday with a review of Theo’s Orange Dark Chocolate, and on Monday with your regularly scheduled Chocolate Book post.

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