Have you ever told someone ‘I love you’ only to be met with scepticism?
‘If you really loved me, you would have…’ (Fill in the missing words for yourself.)
Do we all have a tendency to define love in ways that only serve our self-interest I wonder?
At the start of the book of Malachi, there is a message from God to his people,
“I have loved you.”
The response is sceptical,
“How have you loved us?”
The implication is that the people saw no proof of God’s love, so doubted the love was real. The proof they hoped for was fulfilment of God’s promises given through earlier prophesies. They hoped God would make them a great nation again, punish the wicked and reward the righteous. Instead it seemed evil-doers prospered and escaped God’s punishment. The people thought they were good, so deserving of reward, if God really loved them. Had God forgotten his promise? Had God changed? Or didn’t God really love them after all? Or not in the way they wanted?
The book of Malachi is the last of the ‘minor prophets’. In the Christian Bible it is the last book of the Old Testament, written about 4 – 500 years before Christ. The name ‘Malachi’ in its Hebrew form means ‘messenger of God’. The message from God in Malachi is best understood in the light of its opening words,
“I have loved you.” (Malachi 1;2)
When you love someone you want the best for them. If you see they are in danger you warn them. The people were apathetic in their religious practice. They continued with ritual formalities but their lifestyles were far from what God required. The priests are accused of corruption. The people and nation as a whole are accused of evil doing including; sorcery, adultery, bearing false witness, oppressing workers in their wages, oppressing widows and orphans, rejecting the alien in their midst and robbing God of their tithes and offerings.
Malachi has a declaration of God’s love but also suggests God’s judgement. That judgement will come suddenly. This is not simply a message of doom for the wicked. We often like to think that the wicked are other people and fail to see the wrong in ourselves. Malachi’s image of judgement is of a refiner’s fire or fuller’s soap. The purpose of refining is to get rid of impurities and preserve the good gold or silver. The purpose of using soap is to make clean. Malachi speaks of God sending a messenger to prepare the way, so giving opportunity for the hearts of the people to be turned back to God.
“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me…” Malachi 3: 1.
This messenger is associated by Christians with John the Baptist,who prepared the way for Christ’s coming by calling people to repentance.
Malachi also promises that for those who turn back to God and revere his name,
“the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings.” (Malachi 4: 2)
That is a beautiful image of real love. God’s love brings light and so life. God’s love brings healing and so abundant life reconciled to God. Enjoying that life starts with turning back to God, an inner change of attitude towards God that is repentance. The beautiful sunrise with healing wings image is also the one that introduces the idea of God’s refining fire, used for love and judgement to make good what was corrupted with impurities.
Does God really love us?
Yes. God loves enough to put right what is wrong, destroy evil and make whole.
Does God really loves us?
Perhaps we should also ask, ‘do we really love God?’
Image Credit: Pixabay, public domain