Meditations on “God of Transformation: 11: Is it too bad?
Hab 1:3,4 Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
Again and again in these studies I refer to us living in a ‘Fallen World’ a world where sin entered with Adam and Eve and the perfection that was, was lost for ever, or at least until God remakes the heavens and the earth.. Because it is a Fallen World things go wrong and no more so than by the activities of mankind. If we look at the big issues, whether it is the threat of nuclear war, the threat of biological warfare, the threat of terrorism, or even the apparent threat from global warming, they all have one thing in common – they are caused by human activity. If you consider social upheaval it is the same, whether it be global slavery, or global suppression of woman, or individual actions like child abuse, wife beating, sexual infidelity, marriage breakdown and divorce, theft, burglary, violence on the streets, murders or rapes. And with all this things comes a major question: why doesn’t God do something about it?
This is the ultimate question behind Habakkuk’s questioning: God why do I see so much wrong and you seem to be doing nothing about it? It was the cry of one of God’s faithful children living in the midst of an unfaithful nation. Why is this nation allowed to carry on like this, is at the heart of Habakkuk’s cry. He doesn’t ask why is this nation like this because as a prophet he knows the answer – it is man’s sin, but he still has the overriding question, Lord, why do you put up with it.
The Lord’s answer in verses 5 to 11 of chapter is basically, “I’m not, I’m bringing the Babylonians to discipline Israel which only brings further questions from Habakkuk that might be summarised as, “But hold on, you are a holy God, a good God, how can you look on evil men such as these under the king of Babylon?” (v.12-17) He is still struggling with the things he thinks he knows about the Lord. There is a pause and so he determines to go and watch and wait to see what the Lord night say (2:1). Eventually the Lord replies, “Yes, what you say is true but even as I use Nebuchadnezzar and his armies there will come a time when I will hold them to account. It may appear to take some time but be patient for it will happen. Indeed I will deal with everyone who does evil in whatever form it appears. These things will happen to the unrighteous. The righteous will live by his faith for I am still reigning from within my temple” (2:2-20)
Habakkuk prays, “I have seen and I have understood, I have seen you act with your mighty power, I have seen you bring justice and discipline, and I have seen you deliver your people and I understand you are Sovereign Lord (3:1-16) and so, however bad things get I will rejoice in my Lord who enables me to do all I need to do.” (3:17-19).
Do you see the transformation that has taken place in Habakkuk, who started from a place of questioning and finished in a place of implicit truth. How did it come about? First he questioned God. The Lord is not afraid of us asking questions. However, if we ask questions we also need to have an ear that listens for answers. Habakkuk got a quick first answer but that left an even bigger question. The Lord often doesn’t give us glib answers but wants to take us into deeper understanding. The need for deeper understanding often means we will have to wait on Him until He speaks and often He holds back on speaking, perhaps to provoke us to draw closer and closer with more urgent prayers. As we persist so He then answers.
Habakkuk challenges us to realise that God does want us to be people of understanding. I’ve always been struck by a little verse that describes some of David’s warriors: “men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chron 12:32) Oh that the church had in it men and women who “understood the times”, who recognized what God was doing in His world, who are able to stand with faith and courage in a day when everything is not going right.
However to be a person of understanding means we will be both people of the Word, who spend much time in the Bible (for understanding of His ways), and people of prayer, who wait on God with listening ears and open hearts (to see how He applies it). When we do that we will become people who can realise we are in the midst of the judgment of God when terrorist or other action happens, and still be confident in God. Reading the book of Revelation suggests that the end time will include times of upheaval and if we are in those times, we should expect it, but they also call us to be people of faith and trust. Trust is about having foundational confidence in God (which Habakkuk eventually got to) and faith is about stepping out when God speaks to do His bidding.