And the LORD answered me:
“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith. (ESV)
The past two years have served to test our faith severely. Many of us have lost friends and loved ones. Some have thankfully survived the onslaught of Covid-19 but not without significant damage and prejudice to their health and pockets. Others have lost jobs or suffered a drastic loss of income or have even had to close their businesses. Not to mention the devastation recently caused by typhoon Odette, which has also claimed lives and destroyed houses, homes and buildings and trees and electric posts. And it seems we’re not out of the woods yet. So far Omicron has proven to be milder than Delta, but whether there’s another deadly variant out there, just waiting to spread and cause havoc once more, we do not really know.
I guess we’re less fearful now than when this pandemic started. Understandably, our fear is greater when we are confronted by the unknown. Now that we’re more familiar with this invisible enemy, our fears have lessened but we remain fearful nonetheless. Despite, the pandemic-fatigue that has undoubtedly set in, we can easily go into panic mode at anytime because we know by hard experience that the threat of covid-19 is not a figment of our imagination: it is real and it is deadly and we don’t know if we’re next.
We’re not out of the woods yet. God has been teaching us a lot of lessons all throughout this crisis, and it’s time to take stock of what he has taken pains to teach us lest we forget the valuable lessons he wants us to learn.
And in this regard, the book of Habakkuk can help us a lot. Habakkuk was written probably around 2,600 years ago. It is only 3 chapters long and consists of only around 56 verses. We don’t know much about Habakkuk the prophet. Some say he was the one who fed Daniel when Daniel was in the lion’s den. Whether that is true or not, the important thing is that this book may be short but it deals with a profound and even mysterious theme that has perplexed God’s people for millennia: How can a holy and righteous and loving God allow terrible suffering and injustice to come upon his own people?
Habakkuk’s prophecy, which he wrote probably during the reign of the wicked king Jehoiakim, concerns Judah, the southern kingdom when Israel separated into the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. The book can be divided into two parts. The first part – the first two chapters – have to do with Habakkuk’s complaint about God’s incomprehensible ways with respect to suffering and injustice and how troubled Habakkuk was by God’s incomprehensibility. And the second part – chapter 3 – has to do with how Habakkuk’s faith came out triumphant.
Let’s go to Habakkuk’s first complaint. God seemed to be tolerating the corruption and wickedness of Judah. The leaders were oppressing the people, the law of Moses was despised and neglected, the people were worshiping Baal instead of Yahweh, God’s temple was being neglected and falling into ruin, and parents were killing their own children as burnt offerings to the false god Molech. No wonder Habakkuk, in great anguish, cried out, “Why do you make me see iniquity and why do you idly look at wrong?”
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted. (ESV)
God answered Habakkuk’s complaint but his answer dismayed Habakkuk even more.
“Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.
For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
to seize dwellings not their own.
They are dreaded and fearsome;
their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. (ESV)
The cure was worse than the disease! As the saying goes, Be careful what you ask for: You might get it. You want justice? Here, I’m giving it to you. I will punish Judah for their sins. I’m sending the Chaldeans – the Neo-Babylonians – a people so fierce, so wicked, so cruel that the destruction of Judah is all but assured.
Instead of being satisfied with God’s answer, Habakkuk complained – again! We’re never satisfied with God’s ways, are we? He can do nothing right in our eyes. We think we’re better and wiser than he is. But I can understand Habakkuk’s dismay. The Lord himself anticipated Habakkuk’s response when he said in verse 5, “I am doing a work that you would not believe!” Yes, it’s unbelievable: the holy and righteous God is going to use as his instrument of chastisement a people so wicked that compared to them you might as well call Judah righteous. This was Habakkuk’s predicament and perplexity.
And in chapter 2 God answers again — the gist of which is contained in verse 4: “The just shall live by faith.” In other words, God is saying, “I don’t have to explain myself to you. And you don’t have to understand what I am doing; you only have to trust me. And if you’re truly righteous, if you’re really someone who belongs to me, you will do just that.”
God goes on in chapter 2 to say that after has made use of the Chaldeans to punish his people, he will turn towards them and also punish them for their cruelty and wickedness toward His people. And by the time we reach chapter 3, we find out that Habakkuk has learned his lesson; he has chosen to trust and be triumphant instead of remaining troubled by all the injustice and unfairness of it all.
We learn two things from the book of Habakkuk in relation to the difficulties that we continue to face:
I. OUR FAITH CAN SOMETIMES BE TROUBLED BY –
A) God’s Apparent Indifference.
You have prayed for the healing of a loved one who has covid. You cry to the Lord day and night, and through it all he remains silent. Finally, your loved one dies. Your faith is shaken.
B) God’s Seeming Unfairness.
We’ve lost friends and loves ones who are relatively young and faithful servants of Lord. We’ve prayed to God for their healing and recovery but they died anyway – in spite of their faithfulness and exemplary Christian lives.
The fact that we are faithful to God does not mean we’re exempt from the troubles that are common to humankind. “No trial has overtaken you but such as is common to man.” (1 Cor. 10:13) “There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people who get what the wicked deserve, and there are wicked people who get what the righteous deserve.” (Ecc. 8:14)
The incomprehensibility and unfairness of it all is unbearable, but that is how God works. “Then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.” (v. 17)
In the face of this faith-shaking, faith-troubling perplexity and predicament, how can our faith overcome, how can our faith emerge triumphant?
II. OUR FAITH CAN BE TRIUMPHANT, if we remember the following:
A) God Is Sovereign.
1. God is in control of creation.
Jesus said, “Peace be still” and the wind and the waves obeyed him.
2. God is in control of circumstances.
He is in control even of those things that we consider to be the products of mere chance. Proverbs 16:33 – “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” (ESV).
3. God is in control of calamity.
Where did this pandemic ultimately come from? Here’s the Bible’s answer:
Habakkuk 3:5 — “Before him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.” (ESV)
Isaiah 45: 7 — “I form light and create darkness. I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord who does all these things.”
Amos 3:6 — Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the LORD has done it? (ESV)
What is our response to all this?
Habakkuk 2:20 — “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”
Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
Conclusion of Part 1
Believe it or not, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is actually an encouraging truth and much to be preferred over the idea that calamities are random events that God neither foresees nor controls. If God is in control, even if we don’t understand why he allows such things to happen, we trust that his wisdom and love will never allow these things to happen in the first place unless some great good were to come out of it (see Romans 8:28).
Let us pray …
(Manuscript basis of the message preached to Ikthus Bacolod on January 23, 2022)
© Dennis M. Cortes 2022