Some persons had argued that the wicked not only prospered, but also escaped judgment. Malachi, in Malachi 4:1-6, proclaimed the coming day of the Lord, when evildoers would be burned. A great day is coming, a great terrible day. For some it will bring vindication and joy, for others destruction and distress.

Disillusionment can be destructive. Malachi wrote in a time of great disillusionment. He wrote during the Persian period of Israel’s history, between the time of the return from exile and Nehemiah’s reform. The people of Israel must have been really excited when they were allowed to return to their own country and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. This was the time they had been looking forward to, the time when everything would finally be good for Israel.

But the excitement soon faded and the people had to come to terms with the harsh realities of living in a broken, impoverished nation. Things were not good. Disillusionment gave way to cynicism. Though the temple had been rebuilt, both priests and people were negligent in their worship. It was easy to slip into immorality. The structures of family life began to break down.

“Look out for yourself” was the rule, and the rich exploited the poor. Those who tried to do what was right were especially disillusioned when they saw that the wicked prospered and the righteous did not. We see similar things happening today. We see this also among Americans, who find the American dream of prosperity and upward mobility becoming to be one of the deepest sources of spiritual malaise in our day. It may already be doing more mischief among us than we imagine.

The disillusioned need to get in touch with something that will not disappoint them. Malachi responds in a surprising way. He speaks of coming day of judgment. That doesn’t seem like the best response to make to a poor, hurting nation. Yet, many of us have learned to understand Biblical teachings about judgment as reference to those experiences in which we are forced to look at our lives in the light of that which is truly ultimate: the reality of God. Many different kinds of experience can push us into that kind of self-examination, even the experience of disillusionment.

Judgment is never comfortable. It forces us to reckon with the inadequacies of those things upon which we have hung our hopes. But if judgment is allowed to run its course, it will put us in touch with the reality of God, which will not disappoint us, and it will invite us to re-organize our lives around it.

Judgment can lead to healing. Malachi promises that, for those who revere the name of the Lord, a new day will dawn and bring healing and a recovery of vitality. How can that happen? The Lord is the source of real life and goodness and vitality. Life shaped by an ongoing interaction with God will offer what no political system, no prosperity, no other maker of promises can.

How blessed are those who have discovered that neither prosperity nor the lack of it can give or prevent fullness of life! And how blessed are those who have discovered where to look to find life’s fullness. They may have discovered something that will be the hope of the world in the coming years. Believing in something trustworthy can again hold our lives together. We should allow Jesus to be in control!

J.B. Morris leads the Rock Hill United Methodist Church.