If you set your gaze above the fray, you will see a spirit of fear at work in our land dividing people into groups that are in contention with each other. These groups, struggling for power, strive against one another furthering the division, perpetuating oppression, and the end result is the destruction of all. But there are messengers who are walking in the fear of the Lord and bringing His healing words of life and peace into every situation, conflict, and need.
The fear of man is a spiritual snare, and we can avoid it if we lift our eyes even higher to the Lord who is seated above heaven and earth. There are solutions for the problems we face as a nation yet these answers are not found among those entrapped by worldly arguments and bound up with ungodly fears. The wisdom that we need comes from above and is found by those who can avoid the pits dug for the fearful. This wisdom is found by those who can rise above into the High and Holy place where One sits as Healer and King.
The prophet Malachi describes messengers who walk in the fear of the Lord and who have answers that bring life, peace, and healing to a nation.
Malachi 2:5-7 My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.
Through these and other writings of the prophet Malachi we see how the fear of the Lord is of an entirely different order than the spirit of fear that is from below. The fear of man sows division, but the fear of the Lord unites. The fear of man is vain striving but the fear of the Lord brings peace. Wherever the fear of man is you’ll find destruction, but the fear of the Lord is healing and wholeness. The fear of man wars against love, but true love, perfect love, indeed God's love, overcomes fear.
And love is how the prophet's message begins. God's first appeal to a nation corrupted and cursed for taking God's name without reverence or honor is an appeal of love. To a people who have broken covenant not only with one another, but with God Himself, He says, "I have loved you." There is no more profound statement than that found in the whole book of Malachi. With mercy and affection He appeals to their seared conscience and calloused hearts. Yet His appeal is in vain because the spiritual condition of the people has blinded them to the truth of God's love. Having become intoxicated on the worldly offerings of arrogance and self-entitlement the response of the people is that of a drunkard who is unable to see what's clearly before him. "How have you loved us?" Is their irreverent and foolish reply.
The lesson is simple if one can see it. The fear of the Lord is necessary if one wants to experience the love of God. Without the one you cannot have the other. One cannot know forgiveness of transgression without first recognizing the transgression. Without the fear of the Lord any perceived transgressions are dismissed as consequentially irrelevant and therefore forgiveness is unnecessary. The human experience, without the fear of the Lord, is one of self-righteousness - that is righteousness absent the fear of the Lord. It is no more than self-expression, self-improvement, and self-glorification. Without the fear of the Lord, one is responsible to oneself alone, and there is no awareness of one’s liabilities to God. Reasonably one could conclude that if I am no debtor to God then I can be no beneficiary of His mercy.
It is these attitudes of arrogance and self-entitlement that God is addressing in the nation because they have robbed the people of God's love. In the same way, He addressed these attitudes in the nation of Israel through His messenger Malachi. To a people who have been blinded by pride, it is a vain pursuit to number the countless ways God has proven His love. Rather, the prudent thing is to remove the pride so that the ability to see is restored. The drunken man must be sobered before he is able to see clearly and walk straight. And the fear of the Lord is the sobriety we need.
So how does God answer an arrogant, entitled people who have become spiritually blind? He begins His appeal to their conscience by reminding them of their humble beginnings. Everyone, from the least to the greatest, has humble beginnings in God. All of our beginnings begin with God's mercy. All have been given over to disobedience that God may have mercy on all. There is no meaningful beginning apart from God's mercy and if you've not yet experienced God's mercy than you've not yet begun in any meaningful way. You are, in fact, still waiting to begin and God is at work making His appeal to you just as He makes His appeal to all.
Through His messenger, the Lord takes the people of Israel back to their beginnings. All the way back to their beginning in Jacob, also known as Israel. God says to them, "'Is not Esau Jacob's brother?' declares the Lord. Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated." Jacob and Esau were brothers, twins in fact. Born from the same womb, from the same parents, and at the same time. In other words, they had the same beginning. And yet, Jacob was loved and Esau was hated.
Through Jacob, the nation of Israel became a chosen people, a holy nation, and an instrument to bring God's light to the nations of the earth. Through Esau the people of Edom would remain corrupt and become eternally desolate. Though their beginnings were the same, their outcomes were strangely and starkly different. Why such disparity between the two brothers and these two nations? God makes it clear that Jacob was the beneficiary of God's mercy and this alone accounts for the difference between Jacob and Esau, the people of Israel and the people of Edom. Jacob's birth order, upbringing, privilege, personal talents, or perseverance had nothing to do with His election. God's mercy had everything to do with it. God will have mercy on those He has mercy.
So is God unjust? Certainly not. Those who would charge Him so are still corrupted by arrogance. Mercy is not about equity. Mercy is about the fear of the Lord. God's mercy confronts our false ideas of justice and challenges our attitudes of arrogance and self-entitlement. If we truly wanted equity then we would welcome the consequences that we have earned, not the ones offered to us unmeritoriously. Not until the fear of the Lord opens our eyes to our legitimate conviction as guilty before the eyes of the Lord will we ever really begin to understand Divine mercy. And not until we really begin to understand mercy will we begin to see how God has loved us.
The cure for an arrogant and self-entitled people is to remember our humble beginnings. As individuals we must stare into the dark and tormenting abyss of the punishment we deserve that we might know all the more how great the mercy of God. The repentant man who has become arrogant again must return in remembrance to the lawlessness in which he once walked and revisit the contrite confession of his own guilt, "chief of sinners am I and most worthy of hell!" Let us be saved by God's grace from nothing short of this reality.
The unrepentant must begin again, this time casting himself entirely upon the mercy of God and asking to be forgiven of his arrogance and its consequences.
The people of a nation must remember too their national beginnings. It was not arrogance and rally cries of national exceptionalism that made the fathers of our nation successful. It was God's mercy upon them as they humbled themselves in the fear of the Lord. The only exceptionalism we can rightfully claim is that except God has been merciful to us we would not be here. It is this nation that finds favor in the eyes of the Lord and can be a Divine instrument to shine God's light beyond it's borders.
The war we fight today is a spiritual battle fought on the battlefield of ideas. It's not mostly about political systems, economic models, social causes or cultural ideologies. No, the real battle we fight today is a spiritual battle between arrogance and love, the fear of man or the fear of the Lord. There is a real spirit of fear sowing its seeds among the people. The memorial stones of our country our toppling as the spirit of fear attempts to discourage us from returning to our humble beginnings in the fear of the Lord. This spirit cares not which worldly argument you take up, so long as you're motivated by the fear of man and your is heart lifted up against your neighbor.
But these schemes are being exposed and these tactics overcome by those who walk in the spirit of the fear of the Lord and turn many from iniquity. Messengers of the Lord, who stand in awe of His name are bringing words of life and peace and turning many from iniquity. If we are wise we will listen, return to the fear of the Lord, and perhaps God will show us mercy once more.