The Book of Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament. It records the last words of God’s special revelation until New Testament times. This silent period spanned about 400 years. The Book’s message centers on the themes of Israel’s need for repentance and the future blessing of those who are faithful toward God.
After returning from the dispersion in Babylonia, the Jews rebuilt the Temple, the walls of Jerusalem, and reinstated the priesthood. They were finally able to practice their religion as God designed it after more than a hundred years in exile. But they did not learn their lesson. As a group, they returned to the very sins that provoked God to send them into exile, previously. The Book of Malachi is a record of God’s complaints against His people--their unworthy sacrifices, their divorces, their marriage to heathen wives, their lack of financial support for His work, their love of the worldly lifestyle, and their disregard of the Law of Moses. God basically tells them that, as a group, they have been disobedient for their entire history. And it was their sin that prevented them from experiencing the blessings promised to them.
But not everyone was disobedient. “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him. ‘They will be my people,’ says the Lord Almighty" (3:16-17a). Who were those who got the message? Those who feared and loved to think about Him. Think about that. All the history, all the battles, all the laws and God sums up who He delights in with the few words, “Those who fear and love to think about me.” These are the ones who love Him.
Both the Old and New Testaments teach that all the commands recorded in the Bible can be fulfilled by loving one’s neighbor as one’s self and loving God with all one’s heart. And Malachi 3:16 teaches what it means to love God with all one’s heart—to passionately revere, respect, and think about Him. Another word that has been used to describe the activity of thinking about God is contemplation. Philosophers and theologians have discussed and debated the importance, or lack of importance, of contemplation in the human life. Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Thomas Traherne and others have addressed our contemplative abilities, abilities that are ours because we were created in God’s image.
Aristotle, Traherne, and Bonaventure can help us understand the importance of contemplation. Aristotle had a passion to study everything he could, to know as much about the world he lived in. He had one of the greatest minds of all time. Although he was limited by his culture, 4th century B. C. Greece, and lack of modern technology, many of the things he observed are still relevant; especially, his observations concerning virtue, vice, and human nature. Aristotle’s spirituality has been recognized by some, as well as ignored by secularists. Brodie (1991) says this: “Aristotle, however, has emerged as surprisingly unhumanistic…his ethics has, unquestionably, a religious dimension…” Listen to Aristotle: “So if some choice and possession of natural goods—either goods of the body or money or of friends or the other goods—will most produce the speculation of the god, that is the best, and that is the finest limit; but whatever, whether through deficiency or excess, hinders the service and speculation of god is bad (EE, Book 8).” Could you give better practical advice than that? The content of Aristotle’s understanding of God was limited because he did not have special revelation to inform him. But the main thing we should allow him to teach us is the naturalness of believing in and contemplating God. Everything around us screams of His existence. Aristotle was true to Creation by allowing it to witness to God’s existence and power. To think about God is natural because we were created in His image. We were created to converse with our God. To not do so is unnatural according to Aristotle’s understanding. Sin moves us away from our created ability to contemplate and care about God. Sin moves us away from what we really are as human beings. Aristotle saw this ability in humans and taught that to be truly happy we need to honor this part of ourselves. “We…must, so far as we can, make ourselves immortal, and strain every nerve to live in accordance with the best thing in us; for even if it be small in bulk, much more does it in power and worth surpass everything" (NE, Book 10).
Thomas Traherne, a 17th century English pastor and philosopher, has much to say about contemplation. “For it is the affront of nature, a making vain the powers, and a baffling the expectations of the soul, to deny it all objects, and a confining it to the grave, and a condemning of it to death, to tie it to the inward unnatural mistaken self-sufficiency and contentment they talk of. By the true government of our passions, we disentangle them from impediments, and fit and guide them to their proper objects. The amiableness of virtue consisteth in this, that by it all happiness is either attained or enjoyed. Contentment and rest ariseth from a full perception of infinite treasures. So that whosoever will profit in the mystery of felicity, must see the objects of his happiness, and the manner how they are to be enjoyed, and discern also the powers of the soul by which he is to enjoy them, and perhaps, the rules that shall guide him in the way of enjoyment. All which you have here, God, the world, yourself, all things in time and eternity being the objects of your felicity, God the Giver, and you the receiver (1960).” Traherne captures the spirit of the kind of contemplation that increases well-being. The kind that centers on God and His Creation, that looks for the purposefulness of all things. By contemplation we can walk with Enoch, Noah, Moses, Aaron, David, and Solomon and be benefited toward true happiness.
Bonaventure taught that there were three stages in knowing God. All three stages involve contemplation. The first step consists of finding God by His traces in the external world. The second step involves finding God within the self as created in the image of God. The third step consists in contemplating the essential attributes of God (Martz, 1964). Both Aristotle and Traherne practiced all three steps. Both saw God in the world and surrounding universe. Both saw the ‘divine’ within humankind. And both thought on the nature of God. Traherne was much more enlightened than Aristotle, and therefore is a better example of the benefits of true contemplation. Traherne loved Jesus Christ, God’s ultimate self-revelation. Those who knew him said that he was always reading and studying, always thinking about God. Traherne was a good man because he thirsted, and thought, after a good God.
Unfortunately, our modern American culture and its commercial focus corrupts that part of us that was designed to contemplate God and His Creation. Secular humanism makes us less than we really are. It denies and deadens that ‘divine’ part of us that Aristotle saw so clearly. Is it any wonder that so many people suffer from a myriad of psychoses and emotional disorders? The love of money corrupts. The love of money results in all kinds of evils, both internal and external to the self. “For the love of money is at the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows" (1 Timothy 6:10). We, as Christians, need to resist our culture. We need to set aside time and reserve our energies for contemplating God and His Creation. Our families and our moral and spiritual well-being require it. Let us be counted among those whom God remembers. Let us be counted among those who fear and love to think about Him!