Return to Me
In his classic book, The Screwtape Letters, Oxford writer, C. S. Lewis, imagines a conversation between two devils about the best way to tempt humans. In one letter, the veteran tempter, Screwtape, tells the novice tempter, Wormwood, that he needs to take it slow. Letting his human charge commit some spectacular wickedness too soon could awaken him to the real condition of his heart and bring him to repentance.
“Obviously you are making excellent progress [in tempting your patient]. My only fear is lest in attempting to hurry the patient you awaken him to a sense of his real position. He must not be allowed to suspect that he is now, however slowly [heading in the wrong direction]….Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without sign posts.”
- Screwtape to Wormwood (C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)
Did you catch what Lewis is teaching? Satan often wants to gradually lead us in the wrong direction. The slope is gentle, the path easy on the feet. There are no signs announcing 10 MILES TO HELL or CAUTION—MESSED UP LIFE AHEAD. The last thing Satan wants is for people to be aware of the true condition of their souls.
In the book of Malachi, the prophet is speaking to God’s people, who have gradually lost their way and don’t even realize it. Listen to some of the exchanges between God and the people:
“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty. “It is you priests who show contempt for my name. “But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’”
- Malachi 1:6
“You have wearied the Lord with your words. ‘How have we wearied him?’ you ask.”
- Malachi 2:17
“‘Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’”
- Malachi 3:7
As we will see in this series, the pastors and the people are not sincerely asking for direction. Instead, they were sarcastically denying that they have a problem. Ever met one of those people who really lacks a sense of self-awareness? They don’t realize how they are coming across to other people or how the things they say and do affect those around them. They are utterly blind to their own faults and failures.
One of my mentors used to say to me, “Make sure you have people in your life that can help you with your blind spots.” And that’s what the prophet is doing for God’s people. He’s there to help them see some things they aren’t seeing. He’s determined to help them become more spiritually self-aware. But before you decide to read this book as a history lesson, keep in mind that all of us need to be challenged to see areas of our lives where we need to change. We need to be open and receptive to that challenge.