Recently I have been reading one or two of the Prophets of the Old Testament, often referred to – by those who know about these things – as ‘the minor Prophets’. In particular, I’ve been having a look at Malachi and Zechariah.
We sometimes think these ancient books have nothing pertinent to offer us, overlooking them in favour of the more ‘popular’ Old Testament writings; I’m not so certain this is always the case, and I find they can indeed offer us something worthwhile.
Malachi was writing sometime around 500 BC, at a time when they was a general feeling of weariness for doing good, with the perception that those who do evil flourish while the good are downtrodden. Malachi sees a world where all sorts of evils are taking place and people are generally loving God in a rather poor way – even the priests are guilty and do not admonish the evil-doers nor encourage the doing of good. All of this is condemned by the Lord, who sets out a challenge before His people.
Malachi – whose name means “My Messenger” – has the role of setting out what the Lord is asking of His people, doing this in the format of questions and answers.
Of particular note, this question jumped out at me –
‘I have loved you; says the Lord.
But you ask – ‘how have You loved us?’
This is a question many of us can identify with. Sometimes we question God, we question the Lord’s love for us. And there is perhaps nothing wrong with this is essence – questioning makes us think about things, and our faith must have reason. And there are indeed points in life when we might genuinely feel that God just doesn’t love us.
Of course, if we believe this we are mistaken – more mistaken than we could be about anything. But our feelings can tell us otherwise, and circumstances in life can solidify this belief of our un-lovedness.
Human beings are funny creatures. We sometimes look outside of ourselves and see there all sorts of things which are not necessarily ‘real’ – no matter the belief we give them. And there are many reasons for our doing this. one of those reasons is what is often called ‘projection’ – we perceive externally a reflection of something interior, something that is actually within ourselves. And so maybe it is not the Lord who does not love us, but we who do not love ourselves.
For myself, I find that taking a long hard look – a real and deep look – at my personal sins, faults, failings and shortcomings, I am almost completely disheartened; I see clearly that there is nothing there other than sin and misery. And how could God possibly love such a person?
This is our starting point, but we quickly turn it around to “God cannot – does not – love me”. This is where the people at the time of Malachi may have found themselves, seeing the poverty of their relationship with the Lord. And yet God did love them – otherwise, he would not have bothered trying to strengthen their relationship with Him.
And it is the same with us.
The Lord declares His love for us – “I have loved you” – even while we ask Him, “how have You loved us?”. His very revelation of Himself to us expresses His love and His desire that we love Him in return.
The Lord knows perfectly well that we are sinners. He knows better than us what our sins and failings are. And He loves us even in the midst of our sin, our poverty, our misery.
Spending a little time with the Scriptures quickly reminds us of this fact. This is a God of revelation, of self-disclosure, of absolute imminence, toward a people – and that includes every one of us – whom He loves and by whom He wants to be loved.
I mentioned that sometimes it is we who do not love ourselves, and how we then project this sense onto our perception of the Lord. But He is a funny creature too, in some ways rather like us. He makes use of these sense in order to reveal His love for us, just as He did through Malachi to the people of that era.
The ‘conversation’ recounted between the Lord and the Prophet at the end of the Book of Malachi, and with which the Old Testament closes, includes these lines –
“I, the Lord, do not change.. Return to Me, that I may return to you, says the Lord of Hosts.. But for you who fear My name, the sun of justice will arise with healing in it’s wings; and you will go out, leaping like calves from the stalls..”
As always, the Lord calls us to return to Him and to let nothing stand in the way of that return. And only a loving Father seeks the return of the errant child rather than simply casting him off.
Yes, indeed – God loves us. Despite ourselves.