Summary: Do we live as if we will account to God one day or as if God doesn’t really come into the picture?
By Michael Prabaharan
The Recipe isn’t working
"Our past Christian heritage is long gone, replaced by seemingly more successful and relevant spiritual and secular beliefs. The "holy land" is a shambles despite centuries of religious heritage, promises and hope. Those who’ve abandoned the more traditional religious views and got on with living self centered lives have done well for themselves.
Moreover what’s the profit of being religious; the assertive and entrepreneurial are the ones we look up to, because those who laugh at the idea of God not only seem to escape any divine retribution but are actually doing better than those who are spiritually faithful!"
Seem like a description of life today? It’s actually what Malachi describes of the returnees to Israel some five or six centuries before Christ.
The recipe isn’t working; being good and religious does not necessarily result in blessing and being irreligious and arrogant does not necessarily lead to any negative consequence. Since God is not around, might as well be every man for himself.
If you remember over the past few weeks what has been apparent is that in Malachi’s community as this fundamental belief in a God who acts in history has slipped, so have other commitments. The temple and its services are being abandoned. The priests have become slack and disrespectful. Marriage is breaking down or should I say breaking up. Caring for the poor and less privileged is ceasing.
Pie in the sky or a Roasting coming up?
The prophet speaks of another perspective. Such arrogant self righteousness as described above, offends God. At the end of our life we will meet God and will have to give account for all that we’ve been.
It’s worthwhile noting that the concept of offending God is quite laughable. Why should God care about any disregard by puny humans? Its love that makes him care and its love that feels the offence and its love spurned that is communicated by the comment – you have been harsh in what you say.
But is this just pie in the sky? God isn’t at work in this life so let’s make up a God in the afterlife to exert some level of control? This is how many would have seen it then and how many see it now.
Not everyone, however, thinks like the majority. There are those who encourage each other to be faithful and God notices.
When the time comes for me to act they shall be mine he says.
In every generation God seems to have preserved for himself a faithful remnant who have not bowed their knee to the prevailing gods of the time but have remained faithful to God’s covenant love.
Writing five or so centuries before Jesus, Malachi saw the need for the people to reconcile with God. As I read it his most significant motivator is the impending judgment. Just as the Pre exilic prophets had risen to call the nation back to keeping God’s covenant as revealed through the law of Moses, he foresaw Elijah returning to call the people back to God’s Law. It’s difficult to know whether he and his hearers expected Elijah himself to return, given his unusual departure from earth, or whether they foresaw an Elijah like figure: Wild, untamed by society, radical for God and carrying the judgment of God.
And John the Baptist was certainly all that; a scary figure calling people to avoid the impending judgment. Jesus explicitly connects John the Baptist with this Elijah prophecy. But one thing that Malachi may not have seen coming was that this Elijah figure while strong in his call for repentance was then also preparing the way and pointing to Jesus. John was very strong in his call for repentance from the people and returning to God meant putting right their relationships with others. Yet pure repentance was inadequate, repentance only prepared the way for something else and for that he pointed to Jesus.
Jesus also spoke strongly about judgment and making a distinction between those follow God and those who don’t. Some of the strongest pictures of judgment in the New Testament come from the mouth of Jesus so we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking Jesus was all sweet as candy, or that butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. But he brought the love perspective of the Law into focus and the sacrificial nature of love in particular.
We live in a world where God does not seem to be active in giving people their due and whatever we may say, it’s very tempting to live as if it was every person for themselves. Yet there is also a community of people who live with an alternative perspective – that God would ultimately judge them for the way they live.