- Introduction – a common offense: 2:17 – we feel God’s offense at humankind doubting His justice. There are times when awful tragedy, etc. shakes our faith and we must try to move forwards with God in spite of this (cf. Geoffrey Studdert-Kennedy’s wartime experiences). However, in this passage, God’s people seem to be engaged in rather more casual conversation regarding ‘doubt’. Such talk is insidious, dangerous and damaging.
- Three important facts: God is forthcoming with explanation and reassurance when we find our faith in His justice to be weak: a) the fallenness of humankind contributes to the world’s evil; b) the fallenness of creation itself contributes to the world’s evil; c) God has a secret plan (e.g. Ephesians 1:7-10) and He encourages us to have faith that all is leading towards the greatest good.
- The plan itself… More than just saying that there’s a plan. the Lord reveals a little of it in 3:1. Sometimes such revelations require even more faith from God’s people! In the original Hebrew, 3:1 uses the word ‘hinneh’ or ‘behold’ twice. It is normally used to imply suddenness, swiftness or immediacy. However, this prophecy wasn’t fulfilled for around 500 years.
- Careful what you wish for! In 3:2a, God warns us that the arrival of His justice might reveal more sinful behaviour than we anticipated. God’s concept of justice is infinitely bigger than ours and includes (in 3:5)… a) spiritual justice – ‘sorcerers’; b) sexual justice – ‘adulterers’; c) moral justice – ‘those who swear falsely’; d) social justice – ‘the hired worker’. Can any of us claim never to have exploited a poor ‘hired worker’ (consider ‘Fairtrade’ issues)?
- The great hope: God’s response to us is ultimately healing and is only destructive of evil. 3:2b-4 uses the famous imagery of ‘refiner’s fire’ and ‘fuller’s soap’ to show how God burns, beats and bleaches the sin from the world and its inhabitants. He does this that we might be made pure and worthy of special/excellent purpose.
- Have you ever experienced moments of doubt? In what ways do you feel that God has taken you beyond doubt and increased your faith? In what circumstances can expressing doubts be damaging?
- Do you find the ‘fallenness of humankind/creation’ to be an adequate explanation for the world’s injustices and evil? What do you understand about God’s ‘secret plan’. Why might it be extremely prudent for God to keep much of His plan secret (consider the wider importance of ‘Faith’)?
- What is your personal/family stance on ‘Fairtrade’? How easy is it to avoid harming others with our lifestyle?
- Have you ever felt as though God is ‘refining’ you in His fire or cleansing you with His soap? Have you been able to look back and see purpose or benefit in such a time?