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.