“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’” ~Malachi 3:6-7 (NRSV).
This section of the Minor Prophet, Malachi, is scarily close to the passage entitled, Do Not Rob God. This is the predominant passage most preachers take their periodic tithing messages from. These opening verses (6-7) are part of that larger “fifth disputation,” a feature of Malachi, and there is undoubtedly a connection with
A Harrowing Truth
It’s an irrefutable fact; humankind’s nature is indeed rebellious and disobedient. In comparison to the perfection of God’s love, ours is characteristically conditional and often capricious. When we turn from others, lacking faithfulness, we just as well turn from God.
It is a harrowing truth that we are forlorn and absolutely bereft of any quality deserving of God’s love. Yet, our Lord has not changed and does not change. The grace of God is poured out over us commensurate with our ability and willingness to turn back; to repent and make good our sin.
But even the sound of that doesn’t feel right. It leaves our salvation open to a work available to us, and it therefore pacifies grace. Quite rightly it leaves us with an uncomfortable feeling.
The Gospel Correction
The marvellous and miraculous reality of the gospel truth is that even beyond repentance—which is implied perfectly (when none of us are perfect)—grace covers all eventualities.
The truth is no one will ever repent each and every time to the total appeasement of their sin, as if repentance could offer due restitution. That’s not to devalue the fundamental need we have to turn back to and return to God. The gospel provides both the way back to God via actual repentance and through forgiveness of our base human sinfulness. God’s plan of salvation is infinitely beyond human improvement.
Against the harsh and dichotomous backdrop of God’s perfection and our imperfection, a truth brought out to bear in Malachi 3:6-7, we now know grace: the forgiveness of the worst of sin—and that, unconditional.
Even at this assurance our humanity dictates that we will doubt, and even ask: “How shall we return?”
The unchanging God is unchangeable in this: there is no Divine turn-back regarding the salvation of gospel believers. We have not perished, and we will not perish. There is a consistency about God that corresponds paradoxically with our inconsistency. And this is the key to our hope: that we side with the unchanging nature of God, leaving the condemnation of that changeable chameleon nature of our fickle humanity long back.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.
General Reference: Douglas Stuart, “Malachi” in The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary – Vol. 3. (ed. Thomas E. McComiskey) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1998), pp. 1360-63.