“Because I, the Lord, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
What are some of the things we are taught to think about the God of the Old Testament nowadays? Best selling author and one of the infamous “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheists, Richard Dawkins puts it best in his book, The God Delusion, on page 51: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving, control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Ouch, right?
Dawkins is rather given to hyperbole in his prose when talking about religion, but his perspective is one that is shared by not a few folks who have spent much time thinking about the issue. And, a cursory reading of the text will walk you through quite a few passages that are pretty hard to deal with in terms of the image of God they seem to convey to us. There’s just one problem: That’s not the whole picture.
There’s a reason I spend so much time talking about the context of various verses and about the importance of getting God’s character right if we are going to understand the text properly. And fortunately, His character is shaped by more than just those hard passages. His character is shaped by verses like this one.
Malachi wrote his prophecy over 100 years after the people of Israel had been freed from captivity in Babylon, later Persia. They had rebuilt the city of Jerusalem and its walls and the temple. They had reestablished temple worship and were settling into a new pattern of life on this side of the the exile.
You would think they would have stayed on the straight and narrow pretty well after all they went through, but you might be surprised. While they certainly dealt with their proclivity for idol worship, in their efforts to make keeping the law a foundational feature of their character, they forgot that God wasn’t just after their behavior. He was after their heart.
The problem was: They weren’t giving Him that. They were going through the motions on the outside, but the underbelly of their culture was beginning to rot again. Unrighteousness and injustice were growing and flourishing. It was bad enough that here God was yet again, promising judgment if they didn’t get back on the right track.
And while we might look at this and be tempted to say, “Aha! I knew it! God is just a judgmental, angry, jerk.” Look at things from His side of the equation for a moment. Think about how long He had borne with the unfaithfulness of His people. Think about how many second chances He had given them. Think about the fact that He had preserved them as a nation through the chaotic waters of the ancient near east when most of their neighbors had long since vanished to foreign conquest. And here they were making the same mistakes they had made before.
In His frustration, through Malachi, God finally exclaims what we see here: Because I have not changed, you have not been destroyed. What does this exclamation reflect? Frustration, yes. But what else? How about patience? How about grace? How about forgiveness? How about tolerance of their incorrigible spiritual infidelity? How about a love for them that’s willing to bear all things? How about the heartache of a God who doesn’t want to see them have to face the full consequences of their actions?
But wait, that God sounds a whole lot different from the one Dawkins described. Yet He says it is His long-term commitment to this character–“Because I have not changed”–that keeps them from having to face the music. So, is Malachi right, or is Dawkins right? If Dawkins was right at any point along the way, when did God change to become this other God? Well, given the number of opportunities God had to wreck havoc over our unfaithfulness and unrighteousness, it seems like this character revealed here goes back an awfully long way.
There’s the Flood, sure, but we dealt with that last Monday here. If you go back before that you find Adam and Eve blowing things up in the beginning and His faithfulness on display in the aftermath (we talked about that here). So really, this character Malachi describes has been God from the beginning. And if He’s been the same going that far back, there’s a good argument to be made, particularly in light of the cross, that He’s still the same God today. He’s not happy with our sin like He wasn’t then, but boy does He give us a lot of grace because of His fierce commitment to being in a relationship with us. Sounds like this is a God who’s worth our time and devotion.
5 thoughts on “Morning Musing: Malachi 3:6”
What’s funny about Dawkins analysis is if God were actually terrible why wouldn’t he be really terrible? Seems he would choose to be Thanosish (thought you might enjoy that comparison) ruling over us all, no free will, like some type of puppet master. Instead we have free will to live our lives and are given the ability to judge for ourselves about our Lord. Thanks for the lesson.
Yes, far too often we curse God from out of the blessings He has given us. Ironic. Sad, but ironic.
You might want to read where your god controls people’s minds in Exodus, where he allows a man’s family to be murdered for a bet in Job, and where it says it picks and chooses who can believe in it and who can’t in Romans 9. Finally wrap up where your god allows Satan to corrupt more Christians after everyone else is dead in Revelations 19-21.
per your bible, your god either intentionally allowed the serpent into the garden or was too stupid to keep it out. If the serpent was Satan, then it was the second most powerful entity in the universe. Could A&E disbelieve it? Why should they if they had no idea of good or evil? Then it gets angry for humans for doing exactly what it knew they would do, if it is supposedly omniscient. This god was responsible for all of this nonsense, and then it took several thousand years to get around to the “real” (per Christians) way to be saved, rather than just send JC down right after A&E and their kids and the humans in the cities that existed before them(?) got together. Then no need for the flood, no need for the exodus nonsense and this god evidently lying when it says that the law is what humans should follow to be saved, and no supposed messiah that didn’t fulfill the prophecies that the Jews knew.
Now, per the NT, this god picks and chooses who can accept it and who cannot (Romans 9). This is quite different from the OT god, which seems to have no control over its people at all, and *made* them that way. which claim about this god is true? only allowing those chosen to receive this god’s grace to accept and worship it or a god that allows free will? We have this god repeatedly interfering with humans, per the bible, controlling minds and making humans work with the beast in revelation. “7 For God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose by agreeing to hand over to the beast their royal authority, until God’s words are fulfilled.” Revelation 17. This doesn’t sound like a god that’s worth worshipping at all if it works with evil to do this and to intentionally release Satan to corrupt the Christians who were left after everyone else was killed and who lived under the rulership of Jesus Christ for an eon. Here’s the Thanos-ish god, right here in the bible. It’s just that most Christians never read their holy book. I was a Christian, read the book and realized that this god wasn’t anything worth caring about.
As for “new atheists”, we aren’t knew, and if you’ve ever read Robert Ingersoll or Samuel Clemens, we have had the same arguments for at least a hundred years and were just as vocal about it. You just didn’t listen.