[June 28]—Wearying God (?)

Malachi 2:17

            The first half of the book (which is what we’ve discussed up till now) is done. Now we come to the second half, in which the prophet deals with some other topics. But before we get to that, the verse above introduces it.
            First off, let me remind you of a term theologians use which is good for you to know: anthropomorphism. In terms of studying the Bible, it’s referring to talking about God using human terms which we know are an incomplete picture of him, and which (if taken completely literally) isn't compatible with his nature or being. For example, the Psalmists repeatedly talk about the Lord as if he has hands which saved them or with which he works (for example, here). God is spirit. He doesn’t have literal hands like we do. This is an image of his saving or creative power on behalf of his people. Even using the word “power” is a bit of a misnomer, since it evokes an image of energy like electricity. As an illustration, if you went to a native in Africa who'd never been exposed to anything in the modern world and tried to explain to him an airplane, you might try using something he’s seen and is familiar with, like a bird. He might ask, “So this ‘plane’ flaps its wings like that bird over there?” “Um, no.” “Well, is it like a bird, or not?” So then you have to go into detail with him and try to get it thru to him that a plane has some characteristics like a bird, but it’s different in a lot of ways. It’s metal, while a bird has feathers, etc.
            That’s what we have to keep in mind with anthropomorphic images in the Bible. These images tell us something about him, but this doesn’t mean the authors had a shallow view of him. Every image we have of God is going to be inadequate and inaccurate to some degree at best.
            The reason I bring this is up is so that there’s no misunderstanding about this verse telling us that God is “wearied” by their complaining. He doesn’t get tired or irritated or impatient like we do. When he was done creating the entire universe, he had as much “energy” at the end as he had at the beginning—that is to say, an infinite amount. He rested because his work was done, not because he was tired.
            With this in mind, what was it that they were doing which was “wearying” him, which was trying his patience and which was inviting his judgment?
            It had to do with questioning his justice. There were two aspects of this, and there are two distinct traps which we need to avoid. First, they were saying that the God of justice was “pleased” with evildoers. They didn’t see him openly destroying sinners in front of them, so they assumed that he wasn’t watching or didn’t care.
            This led to a complacent lifestyle, as demonstrated by the quality of their offerings and their personal lives, especially in their marriages. Again, the main issue wasn’t the offering itself, as if God needed to eat their sacrifices, like the pagan gods supposedly did. The disease was their heart attitude towards him, and their sacrifices were a symptom.
            The second trap, as illustrated by the second question, led to discouragement among the godly. They were asking “Where is the God of justice?” In other words, he hadn’t openly shown his power lately, so what use was it to try to follow his ways? I think these two traps—complacency and discouragement—were intertwined with each other and fed off each other.
            Both of these traps were rooted in a faulty premise: God hasn’t openly shown himself lately, so he doesn’t know or care what’s going on. As the prophet was telling them, however, he does see. He does care. Don’t be discouraged, and above all don’t let your discouragement lead to complacency in your relationship with him. Either of these demonstrates a lack of trust, and this tries his patience and invites judgment (or corrective discipline, if you prefer).
            Don’t try his patience. You’ll regret it, I promise.

Father God, it does get difficult sometimes to trust and obey. I can only do this by your empowering grace. Please, give me more. 

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