“Word for Today” – 2 Thessalonians 1 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

November 30, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

He was known as the Roseland Killer.  In the summer of 2000, Chicago’s south side was terrorized by a series of seven murders, all of women, most of whom were indigent.  After striking, the killer would leave his victims’ bodies in abandoned buildings around town to be found later by law enforcement officials.

Eventually, the long arm of the law caught up Geoffrey Griffin.  In his 2005 trial, Griffin was sentenced to 100 years in prison for his deranged acts, although he was acquitted of one woman’s murder, Beverly Burns, even though forensics reports showed Burns’ blood splattered on one of Griffin’s shirts.  Burns’ daughter, Jeanna, reacted angrily to Griffin’s acquittal:  “I hate you,” she said to him.  “I hope you burn in hell.”

“I hope you burn in hell.”  Those words have been said at more than one murder trial.  For when someone commits a crime so grizzly and heinous that no temporal punishment can serve as appropriate recompense, those effected by the crime have no other recourse than to hope in divinely wrought wrath.  And so they say, “I hope you burn in hell.”

Of course hell isn’t a real place.   At least, that’s the majority consensus on the smoldering sewer of sulfur.  After all, thorny philosophical foxholes concerning a loving God and his ability, or lack thereof, to consign people to a place of eternal damnation have long since dispensed with such silly notions as hell.  And yet, fascinatingly, people seem to be perfectly willing to resurrect the prospect of an eternal inferno for the worst among us – serial killers, rapists, terrorists, genocidal maniacs, and the like.  For there seems to be something inside of us which cries out for justice – a justice that will right the wrongs of rabid wickedness.  And, in some instances, the only appropriate form of justice seems to be hell.  And so we say, in the face of grave evil, “I hope you burn in hell.”

No matter which way the philosophical winds might blow, theologically and biblically, hell is indeed a real place.  It is a place, in fact, that is addressed quite colorfully by Paul in our reading for today from 2 Thessalonians 1:

God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. (verses 6-9)

Paul is painstakingly clear:  In the face of grave human injustice, God will bring his divine justice.  And his divine justice will be rendered through the fires of hell.

So what are we to do?  How are we to respond?  Are we to, like one who has just had his life shattered by a criminal mastermind, anxiously anticipate our enemies’ interminable anguish in God’s pool of pyre?  Are we to announce to our enemies, “I hope you burn in hell”?  Hardly.  For Paul continues, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling” (verse 11).  Paul does not want anyone, whether friend or enemy, to burn in hell.  Instead, he prays earnestly that more and more people may be found worthy of their calling from God through Christ.  Paul’s prayer is for salvation, not damnation.

Hell is the place of God’s justice.  But so is heaven.  The difference is, heaven is God’s justice in light of Christ’s righteousness while hell is God’s justice in light of our own righteousness, or, more accurately, our own lack of righteousness.  Which course of God’s justice would you care to receive?  You will receive one or the other.

I would challenge you to pray constantly, like Paul, for those not guarded by Christ’s righteousness unto salvation.  Pray that they would receive God’s righteousness through Christ.  For it is this righteousness that infinitely exceeds any justice wrought by hell.  For it is this righteousness that can turn sinners into saints and despots into devouts.  And that’s a kind of justice that we can all hope in.  And so, “I hope you beam in heaven.”  I really do.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – 1 Thessalonians 4 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – 2 Thessalonians 2 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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