Summary: Answering the age-old Qustion! “What’s the use of religion? Does it make any difference to a man’s condition?” “Does God know my grief?”
Biblical Text: Malachi 3:13-16 and 4:1-2 (KJV)
“Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, What have we spoken so much against thee? Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered. Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.”
Malachi 4:1-2 (KJV)
“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.”
There is a familiar hymn written by W. B. Stevens, which we all know. The first verse goes like this:
Tempted and tried we’re oft made to wonder,
Why it should be thus, all the day long;
While there are others living about us,
Never molested, though in the wrong.
Farther along, we’ll know all about it,
Farther along, we’ll understand why;
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine,
We’ll understand it all, by and by.
This hymn was a favorite among our fore-parents who suffered so much at the hand of slavery and Jim Crow-ism. But there is even still today no one who can claim they haven’t wondered, at one time or another, why the wicked seem to prosper while the Saints of God suffer. Some have even become so discouraged that they have asked, “What’s the use of religion? Does it make any difference to a man’s condition?”
It’s man’s age-old question…a question that can be traced back to the days of the Israelites who returned from exile in Babylon. Even they had not had the prosperity they had hoped for. So many of them, even those who had served God faithfully, began to let doubts darken their trust as they listened to the whispers of their own carnal hearts, reinforced by the mutterings of others. Here they had been keeping God’s laws, and going in black garments “before the Lord” in demonstration of penitence, and no good had come to them. Yet those with arrogant neglect for the commandments of God seemed to prosper. The Israelites cried, “They that work wickedness are built up!” Sinful lives appeared to have a firm foundation and rise up like palaces, while the lives of the righteous were like huts. Goodness seemed to spell ruin.
There is something wrong with a religion that promises a reward system for external acts of devotion. It is wrong to hinge the duty of our worship on the prosperity that results from it. It is wrong to seek profit for keeping God’s laws. That kind of religion is shallow and selfish, and displays the clear marks of a Pharisaic germ in it. It is wrong to yield to the doubts that an unequal distribution of worldly possessions stirs in our hearts.
But these doubts pressed certain upon the circumstances of Malachi’s time, as they still do today. We have all had to face those times when our hearts ached with sorrow and we found ourselves pondering the perplexities of this confused world. We look around, and like the psalmist, see ‘the prosperity of the wicked,’ and like him, we have to confess that our ‘steps have well-nigh slipped” at the sight of such disparity. That age-old question is always being raised, “Does God know my grief?”
The mystery of suffering and its distribution…the connection between righteousness and well being have always been formidable difficulties for those who believe, as they should, in an all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful God.
But Malachi thinks differently. He says that to yield to the force of this calamity, and still worse, to cause it to cast your religion aside, is not only folly, but also sin.
Look at the contrast between the bold words of the doubters and the conversation of the godly. The doubters said, It is vain to serve God. But the faithful took another direction. Verse 16 says, “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another.” The faithful nourished their faith in the midst of tribulation by sharing their faith with the like-minded. The more the truths we believe are contradicted by others, the more we should commune with fellow-believers. When someone tries to rob your treasure, you hold it closer to you. And when you are surrounded by a sea of potent voices that condemn Almighty God, that’s the time for your BOLD affirmation of faith. Testify with fervor…and don’t fret about those who will not hear... GOD HEARS! Faithful words may sometimes seem lost, but be assured that every word we speak on His behalf, and every faithful act we commit for His cause are written in His memory, and will one day be recompensed.