“For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of old and years gone by.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Do you want your children to be happy or good? Of course, as parents we want both. But the reality is that we very often have to choose one or the other. The reason is fairly simple. Happy is a feeling and good is a character. What makes them happy in the moment may very well come into direct conflict with what will train them to be good in the long term. That is, the two are often mutually exclusive of one another in any given moment because of the tension between what they want and what they should have. God understands this too, and His preference is always for good. The result is just what Malachi describes here.
Now, before we go on, let me offer a clarification for my more theologically astute (and reformed) readers. The goal of Christian parenting is not to raise good children, but holy ones. “Holy” is a churchy word, though, like it or not, so I chose the word “good” there as something more broadly understandable. We are seeking not merely to be good people in a broadly cultural understanding of the phrase, but holy ones who properly reflect the character of our God. That’s the sense in which I use the word “good.”
That being said, God is more committed to our goodness (or holiness) than our happiness. Now, take that idea in for a minute because it’s a big one. And it’s not one that comes off as particularly comforting if you think about it very long.
When someone is committed to your happiness, they generally try and avoid doing things you don’t like and while doing things you do. They are concerned with your feelings and go out of their way not to hurt them if at all possible. They typically try to avoid correcting or confronting you with hard truths. And, if that becomes absolutely necessary or impossible to avoid, they do it in the most non-confrontational way they possibly can.
When someone is committed to your goodness or holiness, though, their behavior toward you is quite different. While they aren’t unconcerned with your feelings, they are more concerned with your behavior and the beliefs and attitudes that are motivating it. They are willing to do things that make you deeply upset and may even hurt your feelings terribly if the final result will be your gaining a better understanding of what is right, what is wrong, and how to more consistently choose the former over the latter.
Well, the uncomfortable truth is that our God sits firmly in this second camp. He is much more concerned with seeing us come to reflect His character as we were designed to do and in the way that will lead us to eternal life through a right relationship with Him than He is for our happiness in any given moment. In fact, His concern for that outcome for other people outweighs His concern for our happiness as well. He is so committed to our holiness over our happiness that He is willing to see us suffer terribly and even die if it means we as well as other people we may not even know will come to reflect Him more because of it.
Let that sit on you for a minute because that’s a heavy truth. Try and get used to its weight if you can. If you struggle with it, know well that you’re in good company. The guys who contributed to the Scriptures (especially Job and David) did as well.
This truth is what God is trying to help the people of Israel understand here. As we talked about Friday, the day of His coming wasn’t set to be the happy reunion they were anticipating it being because of their ongoing embrace of sin. They were struggling with sin some, but they were mostly just embracing it. Where sin exists at His coming it will be destroyed…even if it exists in us.
When He comes, He is going to purify His people so they are fit for His presence. Well, have you ever tried to get a stain out of a white shirt? The best way to do that is to use bleach of some kind. Bleach is poison. In fact, it is a deadly poison. It is incredibly caustic stuff. It has to be. It has to be able to actively dissolve away whatever substance has caused the stain. This foreign invader has bonded to the very fabric of the shirt and the bleach has to be able to break the bond at a molecular level. That takes some powerful stuff. Bleach is so powerful, in fact, that it will even remove the color from a non-white shirt. Now, imagine God’s justice coming into your life like a launderer’s bleach. The end result may very well be a clean life, but my how it will hurt to get to that point.
Or, have you ever tried to purify silver or gold? The process involves heating the metal to the point that it liquifies. It completely loses its structural integrity and turns into a gooey liquid that cannot hold any shape except that of the container in which it resides. But, when this happens, the impurities begin floating to the top where they can be easily scraped off and discarded. Sometimes it takes several rounds of this before all the impurities are removed, but the end result is a perfectly pure product. Are you with Him here?
Our God is willing for us to go through pain and suffering, sometimes incredible pain and suffering–consider Job’s story–if the end result will be our more perfectly reflecting His image as we were designed to do. His willingness to do this is driven not by His anger with us, although His hatred of our sin is much greater than ours is, but rather, it is driven by His great love for us. He is far more committed to our good and to our holiness than any momentary happiness. This is particularly true in light of the fact that when we are holy, we are guaranteed a future of perfect and eternal happiness.
Indeed, that is the end result of what He promises here. He will be like a launderer’s bleach and a refining fire, but in the end, “they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord as in days of old and years gone by.” The end of all of this purging and cleaning will be restoration. God’s goal with us is always restoration. He wants to see us–He wants to see you–become fully who He created you to be in the beginning to His glory and your joy. The process to the point may very well not be easy–it may be incredibly painful in fact–but His goal is always life. The only question is: Will you receive it?