1 Thessalonians 2: 17 – 20, 3: 1 – 5 Paul’s longing to see the Thessalonians
But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you – certainly I, Paul, did, again and again – but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed you are our glory and joy.
So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. 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. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labours might have been in vain.
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“For we wanted to come to you – certainly I, Paul, did, again and again – but Satan blocked our way.”
Paul writes this with great conviction, but how does he know it was Satan blocking his way?
Let’s assume that Satan exists and plays an active role in the world. How might he be stopping Paul from visiting the Thessalonians?
Perhaps Satan is stirring up hostility against Paul among the Jewish community in Thessalonica making a visit hazardous? But if that’s the case, why would he want to prevent Paul’s visit? Paul would be vulnerable there. The Jewish community have shown that they would like Paul dead. Wouldn’t that be easier to achieve in Thessalonica than in Athens?
Perhaps he is repeatedly thwarting Paul’s travel plans? If Paul isn’t there, it would be easier for Satan to tempt the Thessalonians into sin. If that were the case, wouldn’t that make Paul’s visit essential? Would God not be able to defeat Satan about this?
I find it very difficult to believe in Satan’s existence. That’s not to say I don’t believe evil exists, because it quite plainly does. However, human selfishness, greed, lust and cruelty seem quite sufficient to account for deliberate evil.
What about suffering that seems to come about at random? Is that evidence of an evil force? Personally I don’t think so. We increasingly understand the mechanisms by which disasters happen, whether they are hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions – or, indeed, Covid pandemics. For some of them we can even do things to reduce their impact. They are natural phenomena.
What is surely much more significant is the love between Paul and the Thessalonians. On a human level, Paul misses his friends, referring to the experience as “when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time.” Even more importantly, Paul seeks to be a channel of God’s love for the Thessalonians as they come under persecution: “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.”
We live in a natural world, a world of beauty as well as suffering. We are creatures who can appreciate the beauty; we are creatures who can praise our Creator; we are creatures through whom our Creator can work. We are flawed – we need his help every step of the way – and he graciously gives it.
Thanks be to God!
Thank you for your love for us. Thank you for giving us the capacity to experience your love, and to share it with others.
In Jesus’ name, Amen