2 Thes. 1:5-7 (ESV)
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering—  since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,  and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels
Schadenfreude, shameful glee over another’s downfall. We all indulge in it. There is truth to the idea that we should not. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness. As human and natural as this emotion is when another gets there just deserts, it isn’t right, at least not in most cases. And history tells us our just deserts are following close behind. I don’t like believing in karma, though I do love watching “My Name is Earl.” But the idea of karma often finds enough evidence in our day to day. The truth is though that we are all sinners and it is nothing more than the temporal punishment of the law playing out in our lives. Thankfully it is only temporal, Christ has assured that it will not be eternal with his death and resurrection. When bad things happen to those of us who like to think we are good, we should be reminded that in actual fact we deserve it. We are poor miserable sinners. Furthermore, without the law working in this temporal world far worse would happen to us. In temporal things law is good. So is mercy and God does lavish much mercy on us in our day to day temporal lives also.
Paul here, it seems, indulges in a little schadenfreude. He looks forward to the day when just deserts are played out on those who afflict us, not for breaking the moral laws of God by which this world is governed, but for our faith in Jesus Christ. Oh, and one way or another we are afflicted for this. We are afflicted by those who would bind us to laws that have nothing to do with God, or love for fellow man. We are afflicted by those who would have us bow to the Baal of Allah, or universalism. Some have it worse than those of us living in the states. They stand tall in the face of adversity holding fast to Jesus. In Utah we suffer the upturned nose by those who want to change Jesus into a Moses who bans coffee, tea, and other innocent pleasures of life. I make a point of drinking in the front yard, daring my neighbors to display their self-righteousness with an upturned nose. Who are they to make a sin out of what God has not deemed right to call sin? Who are they to bind the consciences of innocent souls with manmade laws, as if God’s laws were not enough to bring about a contrite heart?
On the last day, these people will get their just deserts. I think I will rejoice with Paul on that day. In the meantime I pray that they will heed the warning, and hear the gospel. We are all sinners, and we don’t get out of the eternal punishment of God by being self-righteous jerks. Christ has paid for all our sins, even our self-righteousness. Christ died for them. And part of me will always look at that day with a sense of horror and sorrow for those who will not find their righteousness in him, though their sins have been forgiven. I can’t help but think they are my brothers for whom my Lord died. Yes, they are wicked, as wicked as any adulterer, or murderer. In the scope of eternity they might even be more wicked in their self-righteousness. But God does not desire the wicked to die, but turn from his ways and live. “ Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” Ezekiel 18:23 (ESV)
Notice, he has to turn from his way and live. We all have our own ways of righteousness. Those things we do that make us think we are somehow better than our neighbor. We get involved in environmental activism. We abstain from things deemed sinful. Or maybe we indulge in those things as an act of defiance. We give to charity. We work at the church. When we are the subject of the sentence, the doer of the work, we can rest assured it is our way of righteousness and it is wicked. It is wicked because it is not God’s way. It is not the way, the truth and the life. Only when we have been turned from our way to Christ, will we turn from wickedness to life. Our life is found in Christ and Christ alone! In him is found forgiveness, even for our righteous deeds. And only in Jesus Christ is found relief from the affliction of those who afflict us, relief in the forgiveness of sins, relief from sin, death and the power of the devil.