TEXT: Habakkuk 1:13
The scripture reading today is only one verse. It says it all, because Habakkuk is asking the question that all of us have asked at times: “Oh Lord, if you are good, why is life sometimes so bad?” As he wrote this, Habakkuk understood that his nation had sinned and offended God. He understood that the nation deserved God’s judgment. But what he could not understand was why God would use a nation more evil than his own to punish them. It was one thing to discipline the nation; it was another thing altogether to punish it with a nation as evil and cruel as Babylon. Somehow it just didn’t seem right.
We are like Habakkuk in that we sometimes wonder why God does the things he does. Life doesn’t seem fair at times, and we can’t understand why it turns out the way it does. If life was meant to be good, why do bad things happen? Or as Erma Bombeck asked: “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?”
- Why isn’t life fair?
- If God is righteous, why does he tolerate evil?
- Why does he allow those who are evil to prosper?
- Why does he allow the righteous to suffer?
- Why do really good people sometimes have so many struggles, and some people who are really bad seem to have all the benefits and blessings of life?
Those are the questions that Habakkuk was asking, and which God answers in this brief book of the Bible.
All of us have been where Habakkuk was. We have all been knocked off our feet by the circumstances of life. We have been staggered by things which have occurred, and our minds have been sent reeling. Through the years I have had many people say to me: “I know you are not to question these things, but…” I’m not sure where we got the idea that we are not to question the things that happen to us in life. I THINK THAT IS HOW WE GROW…How will we understand if we never ask questions and think seriously about the great issues of life? How else will we work through them?
As I read the Bible, I see many of the great people of the Bible wrestling with God.
- They don’t understand, and they want answers.
- They want life to make sense, and to have some assurance that God is aware of what is happening.
- They are seeking for some final resolution.
Many of the Psalms were written because of unresolved questions in the psalmist’s life.
- He does not hold back in his language and expression about how he is feeling, whether he is feeling angry, sad or joyful.
- The prophets grapple with God over what he reveals to them.
- Sometimes they are even angry with God.
- Certainly Job wrestled with God over the loss of his children, his wealth and health.
I believe God expects us to wrestle with him over these things. He invites us to come and struggle with him. He honors those who seek to know him and the answers to life. NOBODY CAN REALLY EXPLAIN THE THINGS THAT ARE HAPPENING TO US AND NOBODY CAN ANSWER THE QUESTIONS THAT WE HAVE IN LIFE EXCEPT GOD!
Our problem is that we don’t want to go to the effort of struggling with God. We just want to give up. We want to assume that God is unfair and unconcerned, and leave God behind. It is the easy way to walk away disappointed with God — never really grappling with him.
- I see the great people of the Bible wounded in their spirits crying out to God, even yelling at him.
- I see them asking the difficult questions. I hear them demanding justice.
But I do not see them giving up and walking away as they nurse their disappointment.
- I see them asking questions, but asking them with the belief that there are answers, even if it is not the answer they want.
- I watch them come boldly to God expecting that he will answer.
Jeremiah said to God: “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1).
This is exactly what Habakkuk does.
- He argues with God.
- He is angry.
- He cannot understand what God is doing, and he does not agree with it.
- But he comes to God; he does not run from him.
- He does not pout.
- He comes boldly to God, because he knows God.
- He asks the difficult question because he is sure there is a reasonable answer.
He may not like the answer. He may not even completely understand it. But he knows there is an answer, and that if he wrestles with God long enough, God will honor his quest and reveal things to him that he would never have understood otherwise. In fact, much of what we know about God through the Scriptures is because we have the record of those who faithfully wrestled with God until they reached a point of understanding or resolution. That is what the book of Habakkuk is all about.
I appreciate the humanness of Habakkuk. He did not pretend to have all the answers. He demonstrated that even though he was a prophet, he struggled with some of the same questions that others had. Just because he had questions did not mean he did not have faith.
We are a lot like Habakkuk. We have questions. We wonder about many things.
First, like Habakkuk, sometimes
1. WE WONDER IF GOD IS REALLY THERE FOR US.
- Is God really there when bad things happens to good people?
- Is God really there with us when a young man from a good family takes his own life?
- Is God really there when a wonderful Christian woman with a vibrant faith loses a battle with cancer and leaves children behind?
- Is God with them when a young child dies from meningitis or some other deadly disease? If he is, where is he? And why didn’t he do something about these things?
One of the things we learn is that God does not play favorites.
When my wife was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, one of the first things that came to my mind was that I have prayed for her every day, even while she’s not yet pregnant. (HINDI PA BA TAPOS NA ANG DAMI NA NIYANG PINAGDAANAN SA KANYANG PAGBUBUNTIS, HINDI BA PWEDENG MADALI NAMAN…YUNG WALANG HUSTLE?) I was thinking that I am not only a child of God, I am his servant, a pastor at that. My family faithfully follows God, live out the Christian life and are also involved in ministry. We believe in God and love Him. Should we be spared from these kinds of things? Should we get some kind of special treatment?
NO! THERE IS NO SPECIAL TREATMENT. I suppose if there was some kind of guarantee that nothing bad would happen to you if you believed in God and were obedient to him, then perhaps most people would believe God and obey him — but what would their motive be? Would they live for God for the payoff? Being a Christian would be like some kind of cosmic insurance policy: I do this and God spares me from that.
Now you might ask me, “Where is God when evil enters our world?” He is right here with us in this fallen world. We cannot forget that he came here to live with us in the person of Christ. God’s own Son was not spared from hunger, rejection, suffering and death. He came to this world with all of its evil with his eyes wide open. He did not get special treatment, and because he did not, he also wanted to know if God was there. He echoed the cry of the psalmist on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). Do you think Jesus actually lost faith in his Father at that point because he said that? NEVER. The thought is absurd. HE WAS EXPRESSING AN EMOTION — THE SAME EMOTION YOU AND I HAVE WHEN WE ARE HURTING AND CONFUSED. We know that God is there, we just don’t know where at the time.
A pastor’s kid named Jeremy told a story that he was approached by people who asked him about his daughter that was diagnosed with leukemia…They wanted to know how this had affected his and his wife’s faith. It is a fair question, and a good one which people should be permitted to ask. But, in a way, it took Jeremy by surprise. It had never occurred to him to question or to give up his faith. He looked at the person, and said, “This is what our faith is for. You don’t have to lean on your faith when everything is going great. You don’t give up your faith, this is the time faith grows and sustains us. It is what enables us to go through these times.”
It would be one thing if we gave up our faith in God for something better, or even something different, but what is there? Give up our faith for what? Bitterness? Despair? Hopelessness? Rebellion against God? THERE IS NOTHING ELSE!
This is not a time to run from God, it is a time to get to know him in ways which would have been impossible before. It is a time to go deeper with God.
- He is there, even if we are temporarily blinded by our pain.
- He is not hiding, we are just have to see him in a new way.
- We don’t recognize him as he is camouflaged in the tragedy.
He says to us, “It is I; don’t be afraid” (John 6:20).
But we not only wonder if God is there, secondly,
2. WE WONDER IF GOD KNOWS WHAT HE IS DOING.
This is a common feeling when we are faced with what seems like a senseless tragedy.
- Your child dies in an automobile accident.
- Your young husband dies suddenly, leaving you alone with children and no income.
- You lose your job or experience serious financial loss.
- The doctor tells you that you may not have long to live.
- Your spouse leaves you and your whole life is turned upside down.
- You are cheated of many of the things life is supposed to give.
- You believe in God and live for him, and still these things have happened.
Does God really know what he is doing?
Our problem is that GOD DID NOT CONSULT US.
- We do not agree with how things are going,
- and God did not do it the way we would have done it.
- We don’t understand his thinking, and we think there is no reason behind his actions.
Since we cannot understand what is happening we think that God does not know what he is doing. Since we are out of control, we think that somehow God has lost control. Since we do not know what God is doing we don’t think he knows what he is doing either. But God says to us, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
- Did the Israelites think God knew what he was doing when they were trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea?
- Did they think God knew what he was doing when he had them wander in the wilderness for 40 years?
- Did Daniel think God knew what he was doing when he was thrown into the lion’s den?
- Did the disciples think God knew what he was doing when Jesus went to the cross?
- Did they question God when the temple was destroyed 70 years later and Jerusalem was laying in ruins?
None of those people could figure God out at the time. BUT AS THEY TRUSTED HIM AND SOUGHT HIM IN THEIR TRIBULATION, GOD PROVED FAITHFUL. (HINDI MO MAN MAUNAWAAN ANG GINAGAWA NG PANGINOON, MANATILI KANG MANAMPALATAYA DAHIL PAPATUNAYAN SA IYO NG ATING PANGINOON ANG KANYANG KAPANGYARIHAN AT KATAPAT…)
A third doubt that haunts us is:
3. WE WONDER IF GOD IS PUNISHING US.
We begin to wonder if we have done something wrong and God is punishing us for some of our past sins. We say with David, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (Psalm 51:2-3). At least this sort of explanation makes sense to us. We can blame ourselves and say that we deserve it. BUT THE PROBLEM IS, THAT IS NOT THE WAY GOD OPERATES. He says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). God cannot be punishing us for something he has forgotten. The Bible assures us, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:11-14).
In 1981, a California radio station sent out a strange warning to a car thief. Police were in the midst of an intense man hunt. There was something on the front seat of the car that the owner did not want the thief to have. It was a box of crackers. The reason was that the crackers were laced with poison. The man who owned the car was taking the crackers home to use as rat bait. The police, and even the owner of the car, were now more interested in finding the thief to save his life than in punishing him for his crime. But the thief did not respond because he was afraid it was some kind of trick. He could not believe they wanted to help him.
There are many people who hear God calling them, but they are running away thinking that he wants to punish them for their sin, when he is actually trying to save them. We have mistaken God’s intentions and run away from him when he is the only one who can really help us.
The fourth uncertainty that occurs to us is:
4. WE WONDER IF GOD STILL LOVES US.
Surely if God loved us he would not allow something like this to happen to us.
- We begin to wonder if God is not more mechanical than personal.
- He exists, and he is there, but he has no emotion.
- He does not ultimately care, because that is not who God is.
- He is not personal and loving, he is impersonal and mechanistic.
- This is the God of the Deists — he winds the world up like a clock and then goes off to other endeavors.
But this is not the God of the Bible.
Here is one of the greatest lessons of the book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk is talking about the Babylonians and how they are so confident that they totally rely on themselves. They are so strong and so dominant that they do not believe they even need God. Then Habakkuk writes: “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright — but the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).
THE RIGHTEOUS WILL LIVE BY FAITH. This is one of the most quoted Old Testament passages in the New Testament. We find it in Romans, Galatians, Hebrews and 1 John. Christians through the years have been strengthened by this important reminder.
- We do not live by emotion.
- We do not go by the appearance of circumstances.
- WE LIVE BY FAITH.
We know God loves us because God has said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3). Our faith is not in circumstances or feelings, our faith is in the truth, BASED ON HIS PROMISES…BASED ON HIS VERY OWN WORDS…and THAT TRUTH CONTAINS ALL OF HIS LOVE FOR YOU AND FOR ME…A KIND OF LOVE FAR MORE THAN WE CAN EVER KNOW. He knows what he is doing and he is in control. He is working out his eternal plan and we are a part of it. His rewards in eternity will more than make up for anything we may experience here. This assurance was what enabled the psalmist to say, “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation” (Psalm 13:5).
Habakkuk had real questions, and he was not afraid to confront God with them. And neither did he abandon his faith. In spite of his questions, he was able to say, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
The invading armies would destroy the crops of Judah. They would slaughter any animals they could not carry off. They would cut down all the fruit trees. But Habakkuk’s faith and security were not in the things in which other people placed their hope. Habakkuk knew that, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Because of his faith he knew that God was there. He knew that God knew what he was doing. He understood that God was not punishing him. And most of all he was strengthened by the knowledge of God’s love for him.
- Rodney Buchanan