In a recent conversation, a colleague remarked that one of the difficulties that he has been encountering is that our society can no longer make distinctions between good and evil, between proper and improper, between ethical and unethical, between beautiful and ugly. In fact, one can argue that the only thing that is not acceptable is to evaluate something as being less important, less acceptable, less honorable or less palatable.
While listening to this conversation, a verse from the last prophet in the Old Testament came to mind. In the days of Prophet Malachi, the people called the arrogant blessed, they concluded that evil people were prospering, and those who challenged the God-given commandments escaped from being punished. But it did not end there. “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored His Name.” (Malachi 3:16)
This verse shows us what is happening in heaven and on earth simultaneously. In the midst of the increasing sinfulness of their days, the saints came together to talk with one another. They needed the fellowship, and they needed the encouragement from others who loved the Lord and were willing to serve Him. In the Old Testament, we can read about Noah and Lot who were faithful to God in the midst of a sinful decaying world. God delivered Noah and his family – 8 people in total and from them, He replenished the earth.
However, what was exciting for me about this verse was not only the gathering of the saints who speak the same language, those who have come to worship God, but the fact that something has also happened in heaven. God is recording for all eternity what is taking place on earth. In the New Testament we are told that the angels are curious to see what God is doing through His church.
I am also intrigued about the two qualifiers of the people to be recorded to in this book of remembrance – those who feared God and those who honored His Name. In the book of Proverbs we are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise wisdom. Modernity has told us that we do not have to fear God because we are the masters of our own lives. Therefore, many people are fearless and they do not fear anyone. Nor do they honor anyone. Even in our churches when I ask the question, “Who is the person that you honor?” there is silence. We have stopped honoring God, we have stopped honoring our parents, and we have stopped honoring one another. In the words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “If there is no God, everything is permissible.”
We live in a place in which almost everything is permissible. In one of my classes I asked my students which sins they or their friends think are repugnant. They agreed that the only sin which is still repugnant across the contemporary society is incest. All others sins could be justified because of the upbringing of the person or the context in which they lived – lying, cheating, adultery, racism, even rape.
As in the days of Malachi, in our day the angel is still recording who among the earth dwellers fears and honors the Lord and lives a life pleasing to God.