We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 (NIV).
Are we destined for trouble? Answer: yes. Does that mean God is indifferent or not present? Answer: no. Gee, those easy answers couldn’t be more difficult.
“Life is hard. It’s harder if you’re stupid.” That’s a meme supposedly quoting John Wayne. No disrespect intended to the Duke (who, nearly 40 years after his death, is still my favorite actor) but we’re all stupid. Stupidity is a symptom of sin; bad choices yielding more bad choices is symptomatic of sin starting off the whole process. And our choices do largely determine our outcome. Bad choices are almost guaranteed to make hard times even harder. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who’s gotten into crime, or drugs, or adultery, or a web of lies. Stupidity only makes things worse.
Sometimes it seems like that’s all we’re destined for, as if God has it in for us. As if God has abandoned us. Depression entrenches that impression; so do negativity, exhaustion, anger, and pain. Yet, if you think God does indeed have it in for us, that He sets things in motion but then takes a hands-off approach as we live, how do you explain Him constantly sustaining us in life? How do you explain the feeling of release that comes from compassion, or forgiveness? How can we not see that it is the hand of Jesus at work in our lives when we act out in ways that demonstrate His love, His patience, His empathy, His heart?
Paul was lonely in Athens, and Athens was a hostile place for a follower of this new belief system called “Christianity.” Think of it as the San Francisco of its day, but with a better appreciation for democracy yet having poorer standards of sanitation. It would have been tough to endure, even for a gifted spirit like Paul. Yet he sent his friend Timothy to Thessalonica because Thessalonica needed Timothy more. That wasn’t just Paul being pragmatic or realistic: it was the heart of Jesus at work in him, causing Paul to act in ways that edified and encouraged others. Paul knew he could expect trouble, especially when his ‘forces’ were separated and divided. Yet he knew God would provide, that God would be with him, that even when troubles seemed destined, God would work in him to help him endure, persevere, and build hope.
We’re no different. Life is harder when we’re stupid; Paul did stupid things, too. But Paul trusted Christ implicitly and that allowed him to move beyond adversity and into the realm of miracles called “faith.” I think the Duke would agree.
For further reading: Romans 5:3-5, Thessalonians 3:4.
Lord, help me to rely more on you, to overcome adversity.