The Problem With Wanting God to Set Things “Right”

Whether we use the term or not, we all desire righteousness. Every one of us, to a man, desires to see our world delivered from evil and covered in goodness. What could be more obvious and universal than the desire to make things right?

And yet, as much as we yearn for the world to embrace right-ness (which is all righteousness means), our own words and actions constantly betray God’s picture of rightness. We want God to deliver the world from evil, but the evil we want him to deliver us from is also inside ourselves. This inner conflict creates a “dilemma of righteousness” that has plagued humanity for our entire existence.

We want the world to be good, but in our most honest moments, we know ourselves to be rather bad.

The prophet Malachi actually addresses this age-old dilemma in the final words of the Old Testament. Ironically, God would resolve this dilemma not simply by bringing a righteousness we expected and longed for but by bringing a righteousness that no one saw coming.

The Righteousness We Expected

When we think about God restoring righteousness, the first image that comes to mind is God swooping in, destroying evil and anyone who harbors it—including us. You may think this kind of judgment sounds harsh, unfair, and downright brutal. If that’s the case, you don’t yet understand the depth of your own sin. If we asked God to remove every remnant of evil from the world at midnight tonight, who in the world would still be here at 12:01? No one. We have all hurt others, sometimes in scarring ways, and in order for God to reinstate his perfect world without evil, our sinful selves couldn’t be a part of it.

Heaven is described as a place where there are “no more tears.” But how many tears have I caused in my life? If heaven is a place with no tears, it’s also a place with no J.D. Greear.

When we long for and cry out for justice, for righteousness, for rightness in our society, we are mirroring the God who embodies justice. He wants us to cry out for justice because his way is justice. But the justice and righteousness we long for, by themselves, will crush us. Malachi writes, “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire.” Righteousness is a fire, and we are the dry kindling.

The Righteousness We Never Expected (But Desperately Needed)

Praise God, Malachi didn’t end his book there. Malachi 4:2 foretells that for those who fear the Lord’s name, a coming “sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” Malachi, joining the chorus of the rest of the Old Testament authors, was pointing towards a coming Messiah that would provide a solution to the dilemmas of sin and evil. This Messiah would heal us so that we could be separated from sin. God will come and destroy sin. The only question is whether you will be destroyed along with it.

Four hundred years after the ink dried on Malachi’s scroll, Jesus stepped onto the scene of history and became the physical manifestation of this prophesied Sun of Righteousness. During his earthly life he went around, reversing the curse that Malachi spoke of: He healed diseases, calmed storms, cast out demons, and raised the dead. His death on the cross would become the culmination of his ministry and the definitive blow to sin’s curse, the ultimate sacrifice that purified us of evil before the eyes of God.

Jesus absorbed the curse, taking upon himself the furnace of God’s wrath so he could be the healing Sun of Righteousness to us. His first followers didn’t expect it. His opponents wouldn’t accept it. But we all desperately needed it.

Destroying Furnace or Healing Sun?

In light of Jesus’ sacrifice, we all face a choice: Will we give ourselves over to the fire in the furnace or the healing of the Sun? God has solved the dilemma of our righteousness, but it is only ours if we grasp it for ourselves. If we cherish our sin, God’s righteousness will appear like the blazing heat of a furnace. If we repent of that sin and turn to God in desperation and faith, then the only heat we will feel is the purifying fire of the Refiner (Malachi 3:3).