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Where is the God of Justice?

Sermon passage: (Malachi 2:17-3:5) Spoken on: June 14, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Malachi

Tags: Malachi, 玛拉基书

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Pastor Wilson Tan: Pastor Tan served as a youth executive at the Presbyterian Synod, and as a pastor in Jubilee Church. He continues to serve as a cell leader in zone ministry and a teacher in children ministry.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sermon on Malachi 2:17-3:5

• Introduction
o Evil: an absence of God or good?
• Evil and the God of justice
• Prayer in Action: Purification and Punishment
o The Lord purifies those whom He loves
o The Lord punishes those whom He hates
• What is the difference between purification and punishment?
• Conclusion: "Where is the God of justice?"

After last week’s sermon, when Malachi reminds his people not to break faith with God and with those in their family, the messenger went on to warn of the Day of Judgment on those who persist in their evil ways. On behalf of God, the prophet Malachi tells his people, Judah, that God is tired of their empty words. NATO – No Action, Talk Only. "How have we wearied him?" they ask. The prophet accused Judah to have said, “God delights in the evil plans of man.” How is this possible? By asking, “Where is the God of justice?” Judah has linked the presence of injustice with the absence of God. Let’s begin with an exposition on what is evil.

Evil: an absence of God or good?
There is a popular video on youtube about a young Albert Einstein debating with a professor who was arguing that the Christian faith is a myth. Einstein argues that evil is the absence of God in the same way that darkness is the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat. It sounds pretty convincing, but this story has been refuted by others as only an urban myth . It is not my task here to support or to deny its claims. But I wanted to use its argument to help us understand the relationship between evil and the God of justice. Is evil really the absence of God?

As Christians, faced with our belief in a loving and good God, and seeing so much suffering on earth, we concur easily with the story that evil is indeed the absence of God in our hearts. If the whole world has God in our hearts, then evil would be gone forever. But is evil really the absence of God? Does this make evil the counterpart of God? Is the evil Satan the equal and opposite force of the good God. Such a dualistic view of evil and God may not be compatible with Christianity.

According to a Russian Orthodox theologian, Sergius Bulgakov, “Evil is not a substance, but a state of creaturely being. “The prince of this world” is not a god but only a rebellious creature. As it is most commonly defined, evil is an absence of good… an accident, a parasite of being” (Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride and the Lamb, p. 147). He believes that “ontologically, evil does not exist, but is a phantom of nonbeing.” Evil is neither the opposite nor the absence of God, but the absence of good.

When we see evil as the absence of God, we have unwittingly elevated the status of evil to become on par with the Divine. Evil then evolves from a nonbeing to a being. Satan becomes a force to reckon with. In reality, God and Satan differ in power, status and position. Satan is actually a fallen angel; a creature created by God who rebelled against Him. Please note that I am neither denying the existence of evil nor Satan here, but merely reminding us that they should not be seen as God’s direct opposite. Evil is not the absence of God. Evil is merely the absence of good.

Evil and the God of justice
What good is it to say that evil is the absence of good when there is still so much injustice in this world? Does God delight in the evil plans of man? Philosophers, church fathers, theologians have always seen evil as contrary to good. Evil does not and cannot exist alongside good. Generally, philosophers have classified evil in this world in two forms. The first is called natural evil, as seen in natural disasters which have caused many innocent lives to die, like earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes. But even the understanding of natural disasters today have somewhat changed.

Take global warming for example. Is it natural or it is man-made? The release of CO2 by factories, air-conditioners, cars and electrical production are all human-caused. With global warming, we have the melting of ice glaciers and eventually causing landslides, and other “so-called” natural disasters. It is also believed that hurricanes and tsunamis are also indirectly caused by extreme changes in global temperatures. An authority on natural disasters had just informed me recently that most of the so-called natural disasters are actually man-made, or indirectly caused by Man. A report by National Geographic shares his conclusion. The second form of evil is called moral evil, as experienced in Auschwitz, the recent collapse of Wall Street, corrupt politicians, murderers, rapists, robbers, etc. The moral evil of Man is our concern today.

Well-known American philosopher-theologian, Nicholas Wolterstorff, believes that “injustice occurs when someone is deprived of some good that is due him or her – that is, when a person is wronged, when that person is deprived of something to which he or she has a right.” We cry injustice when one’s right to live is removed. We cry injustice when one’s right to freedom is violated. We cry injustice when one’s right to basic necessities is compromised, like food, water and shelter. Murders, war, genocide, apartheid, poverty, domestic violence, racism, are just some examples of the social injustice we faced in our world today.

From the Scripture, we discover God as deliverer and redeemer. He is often described again and again “as just, as doing justice, and as loving justice.” According to Nicholas Wolterstorff, “The story line of the Trinitarian God as redeemer cannot even get going without the concept of justice.” Simply put, we cannot talk about evil without the God of justice. As Christians, like Judah, we struggle to understand how a just God could allow such injustice in this world.

One popular explanation is that the God of justice allows evil to exist because He values free will in Man. This is why we continue to see evil around us every day. We continue to live in a world where evil triumphs over good. We continue to live in a broken and fallen world because God allowed us to choose between good and evil. Some may not find satisfaction in this answer. Truth is the Bible can never offer an adequate answer to the problem of evil. It was never meant to do so. It simply tells us that God cares very much for us and the world that He created. Evil will not be removed totally in our life time, but when Christ comes again, it will be. This is God’s promise.

Prayer in Action: Purification and Punishment
Some have asked, before that Day of Judgment, what is God doing about the evil in this world? Is God sitting idly around in heaven? Is evil on earth, God’s problem or our problem? As Christians, do we have a responsibility to deal with evil in this world? If so, where do we begin? The answer is prayer. Not just prayer in words, but prayer in action.

As Christians, we need to pray and act together with the Holy Spirit in overcoming the evil of this world. We pray to experience how God works in us. God is not idle. The God of justice is constantly moving and changing the world we live in. God acts even when we don’t. The God of justice will judge. The prophet Malachi reminds Judah that no one will be able to withstand the Day of Judgment. What is God doing until the Day of Judgment?

I believe that the Lord will purify those whom He loves:
“For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.”

I also believe that the Lord will punish those whom He hates:
5 "So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty.

Ah…how do we know who He loves and who He hates? Some of you may realize that I am using the same love-hate language as from Mal. 1.1-5 (Jacob Loved and Esau Hated). Pastor Hock Seng reminds us that the word “hate” is not hate as we use it today. In Malachi, it simply means those whom God loves less. So, those whom He loves, He purifies. And in our passage, they refer to the descendants of Israel/Judah and the Levite priests. Those whom He hates, He punishes. In our passage, they refer to the descendants of Esau and the evil-doers. Another way to differentiate them would be those who fear the Lord and those who do not.

What is the difference between purification and punishment?
This would lead us to the next question, what is the difference between purification and punishment? First, let’s understand what purification is. Purification begins with the priests; the offering of blemished sacrifices must be rectified. Next, the descendants of Israel/Judah are reminded not to break faith with God and with their community and family. This is to ensure that they remain in the boundary of God’s love and covenant. Once purified, “the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness…acceptable to the Lord” (Mal. 2:3b).

Those who have studied chemistry will know of several methods of purification in chemistry, some requiring much more work than others: filtration, evaporation, extraction, crystallization, refining, distillation, electrolysis, etc. The imagery used by Malachi is that of refining gold and silver. In the ancient world, silver was extracted through a process called cupellation. High heat is used to melt the lead ores which contains only less than 1% of silver, and after a cooling process, silver would remain. A launderer’s soap is used to remove impurities from clothing. The idea here is that of removing impurities in our lives, those part in us which are of no value to the Master Refiner.

The process of refining gold or silver is painful but the result is precious. Recently, in the papers, a social worker who works with troubled teens believes in a philosophy of seeing each human being like an apple. He says, if you cut it one way, you see seeds. But if you cut it across in the middle, you will see a star from the apple core. Every apple, no matter how rotten they are, has a star in them. I like his analogy very much. Every one of us has something precious inside of us. We must allow God to slowly and painfully remove the impurities in our lives and allow the star in us to shine.

Nobody likes to be grilled under fire. No one enjoys the refining process. But remember that God only refines those whom He loves. Be glad that He is actively working in your life to mold you into a better person. We will know we are in the purification process when we see gradual transformation in our lives. We lose our old self and the new creation is born. The star in us shines brighter as we are refined more by God. We deny ourselves for the sake of Christ. We become more Christ-like. We become stronger in faith, clearer in hope, and deeper in love with God.

But if we break faith with God, we become like the descendants of Esau, the lovers of evil, and the worshippers of false gods. God will punish those whom He hates. Those who refused to be purified by God will be punished by Him. According to the definition at wiki, “Punishment is the practice of imposing something negative or unpleasant on a person or animal or property, usually in response to disobedience, defiance, or behavior deemed morally wrong by individual, governmental, or religious principles.” Punishment is an act of discipline, either for retribution or correction. It usually occurs when we remain in our stubbornness. We persist in our evil ways and live as if there is no God. We deny others. We reject God’s image in us. We become the god in our image.

Someone once asked me, how do we know if God is punishing us? What do you think? I do not have an easy answer to this. Some have said you will know when you are being punished. Some Christians believe that natural disasters are ways of God’s punishment. When the tsunamis hit the shores of Thailand, some believe that God was punishing those in the local sex-trade industry. Does this mean that everyone who died was involved in the sex trade? I do not think so. When the AIDS epidemic came up, some believe that God was punishing the sexually immoral and the homosexuals. How about children who contacted the disease through contaminated blood transfusion? What have they done to deserved this so-called “punishment”?

In a general sense, the law punishes those who break it. God has put in place judges, police, and authorities to act on His behalf to punish the offenders. But in an abstract sense, we really cannot pinpoint God’s punishment in our world today. Truth is one can only say God punishes, but as to how He punishes, no one can be absolutely certain.

Conclusion: "Where is the God of justice?"
So to conclude, what can we learn from the passage today? How do we answer the burning question, “Where is the God of justice?”

The God of justice is not absent, but actively present in the world of evil, overcoming it and turning it for good. Look at the cross. It was once one of Man’s most violent forms of punishment. In the past, it symbolizes shame, and extreme pain. But yet, for us now, the cross becomes a symbol of hope and love. The betrayal of Judas, the abandonment of His disciples, the nail-pierced hands and feet, the spear that penetrated Jesus’ side, these are all the injustice which Christ has bore on himself for our sake. If you remember my previous sermon, our God is the God of the Gallows. God is always there, in the midst of evil, working patiently to turn it around for good.

“Where is the God of justice?” The God of justice is here in our midst when two or three gather in prayer. The God of justice is here inside of us. He lives in us, transforming us from the inside, moving us into prayerful action. He is the Holy Spirit.

The God of justice is here purifying those He loves and punishing those He hates. He is the refiner of gold and silver. He is also the punisher of evil doers. He is God the Father. He reveals His will in His Son. It is God’s will for us to be just, to seek justice, and to act justly when we encounter injustice before us… Simply put, the God of justice compels us to love others.

“Where is the God of justice?” The God of justice was left hanging on the tree. He now sits at the right hand of the Father. He is Jesus Christ. By His blood, we are saved. Thank you, Blessed God of Justice.

Amen. Let us pray.

Malachi 2:17–3:5 (Listen)

17 You have wearied the LORD with your words. But you say, “How have we wearied him?” By saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, and he delights in them.” Or by asking, “Where is the God of justice?”

3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.