Holding on to Faith in Desperate Times
1. When Nothing Seems To Make Sense
Habakkuk 1: 1 - 11
When you look at the questions of life and death, and when you consider the problems of this death-sentenced generation, even the most fervent believer looks up to the heavens and cries out, Why? Why me? Why now? Why this? Why? The question rings across the centuries and through every generation. All of us ask it sooner or later. If you haven't yet, you will. It's a question that does not have an easy answer. Indeed, the godliest believers have sometimes wondered about the ways of God. If Job never got a complete answer, what can I expect? As I read the Bible, I don't think there is one single answer.
We get one kind of answer in the book of Genesis, another kind of answer in Job, and still other answers in the book of Psalms. Ecclesiastes takes yet another approach, and the gospels present us with a Christ whose very coming alters the way we think about everything. Finally, the book of Revelation shows us our Lord’s final victory and the final defeat of evil. I don’t mean to suggest that these various perspectives contradict each other. The problem of human suffering is so vast that we need many different ways to think about it.
That’s where the book of Habakkuk comes in. We’re going to dig deep into this little book written just before the world caved in for the people of Judah.
Major Message from a Minor Prophet
Let’s backtrack for just a second. There are 17 prophetic books in the OT, divided between the Major Prophets (5 books) and the Minor Prophets (12 books). They are not called “major” and “minor” because of their respective importance but because of their size. We’re talking about short books here. Habakkuk contains 56 verses spread over 3 chapters. Though he is a “minor” prophet, there is nothing minor about his message. He’s writing about a topic that we all think about eventually. Habakkuk is unlike the other prophetic books (major or minor) in that it records a dialogue between 1 man and God. Whereas Isaiah contains a message from God, Habakkuk records a conversation with God. If you’ve ever felt like you had a few questions for God, this is the book for you.
Here’s a bit of the background. The year is about 605 BC. After good king Josiah died in 609 BC, the nation of Judah plunged headlong into the cesspool of corruption, immorality and idolatry that had plagued it for so many generations. This time the people seemed hell-bent on their own destruction. Instead of edging toward the cliff, they seemed determined to plunge over it going full speed. It was as if the nation had a death wish and no use for God at all. Enter Habakkuk
When he saw the terrible moral decline of Judah, he prayed for God to “do something.” In his mind he thought that God would raise up another good king to lead the people in the right direction. Little did he know that God’s answer would come by way of the hated Babylonians.
Habakkuk lived in confusing and desperate times. So do we. We need to sit with Habakkuk for a while so we can find a faith strong enough for our own troubling times. Habakkuk wrote out his argument with God in 3 short chapters. Along the way Habakkuk experiences a total change. In this book he moves from . . . Fear to faith, Burden to blessing, Perplexity to praise, Confusion to confidence, Worry to Worship.
In many ways this is a very modern book in that it raises the questions that we wrestle with today. Why is God silent?! Why does He not act? Where is my Lord? We’ve all been there, even if we wouldn’t put it exactly that way. When up against problems for which there is no human solution, we look to heaven and cry, "Why don't you do something about it?" As the book opens, Habakkuk is confused and agitated. 3 issues haunt him:
Issue # 1: Unanswered Prayer v. 2
Consider the things going on in the world today: Warfare, Murder, Corruption in high places, Sexual perversion, Robbery. Those same things were happening in Habakkuk’s day. As he surveys the evil he saw on every hand, he cried out to God, “How can you let this go on?” Sooner or later we all wonder about God’s seeming inactivity. Where is God when we need him?
• A godly mother prays for her wayward son. He was raised in the church, he went to Sunday school, he knows the Bible—but when he left home, he left it all behind. For many years his mother has prayed for him, but to this day he remains a prodigal son.
• A wife prays for her husband, who left her after 20 years of marriage for a younger woman. He seems utterly unreachable, and the marriage heads for divorce.
• A husband prays for his wife, who has terminal cancer. She has 6 months to live. None of the treatments stop the rampaging tumours. The elders anoint her with oil and pray over her in the name of the Lord. She dies 5 months later.
• A young man prays fervently for deliverance from an overpowering temptation, but the struggle never seems to end. The more he prays, the worse the temptation becomes.
So we cry out with the psalmist, Psalm 10: 1 "Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"
What about the girls of Nigeria? What happened to them? In April last year 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Muslim terrorist organization Boko Haram. Most of the girls were Christian, though a few were Muslim. Their crime? They wanted an education, something the radical Muslims don’t want for their women. For a while we got concerned. Millions of Christians prayed for those young girls.
As far as we know only 57 of the kidnapped girls have escaped. No one knows what has happened to the rest, but some may have been sold as child brides or forced into sex slavery. Their kidnappers have released videos boasting of what they did. We are entitled to ask, “Lord, where are you? Why do you not do something?”
Issue # 2: Uncontrolled Perversity v. 3, 4
When lawlessness prevails, no one is safe. “2 police officers, a rabbi, a registered nurse, a nanny and a Boy Scout leader are among 70 men and 1 woman arrested on charges of trading child pornography.” The article contained this disturbing detail: “The expansion of the "Dark Web," where pedophiles hide using websites that encrypt their computers' identifying information, has fueled an explosion of child pornography.”
The “Dark Web” refers to the vast “underground Internet” that can’t be accessed through search engines like Google. The “Dark Web” is said to be many times larger than the Internet most of us know and use every day. Pornographers, drug traffickers, violent criminals and terrorists of every variety use the “Dark Web” to hide their evil deeds. In this case, the police were able to crack the case because they were able to penetrate part of the “Dark Web.”
Technology is good when it is used for good purposes, but when put in the hands of evil people technology unleashes uncontrolled perversity in the world.
Issue # 3: Unexpected Answer v. 5
Taken by itself, those words might lead Habakkuk to think that God is going to send a mighty spiritual awakening to Judah, a revival that will rid the nation of idolatry and bring them back to God. God is going to send something, but it’s not a revival – v. 6.
Nothing God said could have surprised Habakkuk more than this. He knew about the Babylonians. They were the most hated and the most feared nation on earth. No one could stand against them. No one could defeat them. They were cruel and vicious in their appetite for destruction. If they wanted a city, a province, a nation, they took it. Look at how God describes them in the next few verses: Ruthless and impetuous (v. 6) Feared and dreaded (v. 7) Law to themselves (v. 7). They are swift as leopards, ravenous as wolves, and they swoop on their prey like eagles dropping from the sky. They gather prisoners like sand. They mock kings. They laugh at fortified cities. They never stop. Here is God’s ultimate indictment of them: “Whose strength is their god” (v. 11).
The point is, these are nasty people, and God knows how bad they are. It’s not like he’s raising up the Little Sisters of the Poor to judge Judah. He’s not calling on the Boy Scouts to do the job. When God decides to judge Judah, he picks the meanest nation on the block to do the job for him. Nothing about that made sense to Habakkuk.
Perhaps you are familiar with the story of Meriam Ibrahim, the 27-year-old medical doctor in Sudan who was arrested, tried and convicted of apostasy and adultery. Her crime? Supposedly converting from Islam when in fact she had been raised as a Christian. They accused her of adultery because she had a child with her husband, a Christian from Sudan who emigrated to the United States. That is, the “adultery” was really a charge of having sex with her own husband because they didn’t recognize her marriage to a Christian. Sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy and sentenced also to 100 lashes for adultery, she was given a chance on the stand to recant her Christian faith. Time and again the prosecutor badgered her to renounce Jesus. She refused each time. Finally she said, “I am a Christian and I will remain a Christian.” As a result of her faithful witness, she was not only kept in jail but put in shackles. The authorities would not even unchain her when she gave birth in prison. Through it all, she steadfastly refused to renounce the name of Christ. After millions of people protested, she was allowed to leave Sudan with her husband and 2 children and is now in the USA.
What if God allows this for a purpose? Very often in the Bible, things had to get worse before they could get better. Have we reached that point? I hear many people say that we need a revival in South Africa. I certainly agree with that. I also hear some people say that we are on the brink of a great movement back to God. I don’t know if that is true or not. I certainly hope it is. But we can pray and work to that end. Why have we as a nation turned away from the truth? Why the collapsing moral standards? Why have we so quickly accepted gay marriage?
I think the answer is clear. As a nation, we don’t need God. We’re doing fine without him, or so we think. Remember the miracle of the 1995 elections – how many people prayed. But soon things returned more or less to normal. What happened? We turned toward God but we didn’t turn to Him. There’s a big difference. We turned in his direction, but we did not repent of our sins. Turning toward God is good but it never lasts. Only turning to God can change a nation.
Three Important Insights
1. We see only a part of the picture.
When it comes to understanding what God is doing in the world, we are like ants on a Rembrandt. We crawl across the dark brown and think all of life is dark brown. Then we hit green and think, “Oh, this is better. Now all is green.” But soon comes the dark blue and then a splash of yellow, a streak of red, and then another patch of brown. On we journey, from one colour to another, never realizing that God is actually painting a masterpiece in our lives using all the colours of the palette. One day we will discover that every colour had its place, had a reason, nothing was wasted or out of place. Just as there is a time and a season for everything, there is also a colour for every stage of life’s journey. When the painting is finished, we will discover that we were part of his masterpiece from the very beginning.
2. God isn’t limited to what we think He ought to do.
We continually make the mistake of thinking that our plans and God’s plans are the same plans. They aren’t. Some wise person said it this way: “Write your plans in pencil and give God the eraser.” Here’s another way to say it. If your God always does what you want, he’s probably not the God of the Bible. God will be no man’s servant. He’s God! He does whatever he pleases.
3. We need a bigger God.
Habakkuk got his mind messed up because he thought he knew what God should do. In ch. 1 he was wrong twice, first when he thought God was ignoring Judah’s sin and second when he couldn’t believe God would use the Babylonians to judge his own people.
We need a God who is bigger than our puny ideas. We need a God whose ways continually surprise us. How big is your God?
Prayer - Father, as we go through this story of a man who wrestled with you, we’re glad you included it in your book so we would know how honest we can be with you. Thank you that you listen to us in our complaints and you don’t turn us away. Open your Word to us so that our vision of who you are might grow. We need a big God, and we’ve got one! We thank you for that. In Jesus’ name, Amen.