Holding on to Faith in Desperate Times
2. Questions for God
Habakkuk 1: 12 - 2: 4
What do you do when you’ve prayed to God and you don’t like the answer you’ve received?
*You applied for the university/college of your dreams, but they said no. *You interviewed for a new job, but they found someone more qualified. *You asked God for healing, but the doctor says the chemo didn’t work. *You prayed and prayed to find a husband, and after all these years he has not yet found you. *You asked her to marry you, and she said no. *You sunk your life savings into a new business only to see it fail within a year. *You moved across the country to take a new job, but it didn’t work out, and now you are unemployed—again. *You never intended to end up divorced, but here you are. *You planned on having more children, but it isn’t happening for some reason. *You volunteered to serve on the worship team. They said they’d get back to you. Evidently they lost your number.
We’ve all been there, most of us many times because that’s the way life is. You have your dreams, you make your plans, you sincerely seek to do God’s will, you pray to the Lord, and when the answer comes, it’s not what you wanted. What do you do then? We don’t talk about this very often but we should.
Your plan and God's plan are rarely the same. Live long enough and you’ll discover that God’s plan and yours often are not the same. We all know that we should pray “Your will be done,” and most of us do, but it still jolts the spirit when we discover that God has a completely different plan in mind.
That’s Habakkuk. He doesn’t like the answer he received. First, he thought God was ignoring Judah’s sin. Second, he thought God would never use Babylon to judge Judah. Wrong both times. What do you do when God doesn’t live up to your expectations? How do you respond when the Lord’s answer isn’t what you wanted?
Habakkuk was troubled by something that troubles all of us. He couldn’t reconcile his view of God with the injustice he saw all around him. We see suffering on every hand, and we wonder where it comes from and why God allows it. Why are Christians being massacred in Iraq? Why did the tornado land here and not there? Why was this girl kidnapped and that one escaped? Why would God allow a child to be born with a disability?
The list of questions seems endless. In my first message I talked a lot about the world situation, both in Habakkuk’s day and in our own day. In this message we move to a deeper level. When we consider the sadness we see all around us, we can sit around and offer all the commentary we want. At some point we’ve got to deal with God. Brings us back to the little book of Habakkuk. This is the story of one man who wrestled with God about the hard questions. In 3 short chapters he brings us face to face with the deepest mysteries of life.
When we read this book, perhaps the most striking thing is the change that takes place inside Habakkuk. In 3 chapters he moves from . . .Fear to faith, Burden to blessing, Perplexity to praise,
Confusion to confidence, and Worry to worship.
It all boils down to this one fact. “The Babylonians are coming, and you can’t stop them. When they reach Jerusalem, they will conquer it and eventually they will destroy it. I am using them to judge Judah for her sins.”
When Habakkuk heard this, he objected vehemently: “God, how can you do this?” That’s the key to the book. It’s a dialogue between a frustrated man of faith and a God whose ways he cannot understand. All our questions lead back to God because he is the one with whom we have to deal. All smaller issues lead us back to the one who sits on the throne of the universe. In the last half of Habakkuk 1 the prophet has 3 questions for God - then he will make a decision that shapes everything else in the book.
Question # 1: Who Are You? v. 12
Sometimes what we need is a good dose to theology to strengthen our faltering faith. When faced with the news that the hated Babylonians would soon invade Judah and nothing could stop them, Habakkuk goes back to what the theologians call the “first principles.” Look what he calls God: Everlasting—You are sovereign. Lord—You are the personal God of Israel. God—You are the strong one, the Creator, the majestic ruler. Holy—You are in a class by yourself and set apart from sin. Rock—You are the only safe place.
These are not small points. As Habakkuk tries to get his mind around the shocking truth that God is about to use Babylon to judge Judah, he goes back to what he knows to be true about God. This is a vital first step for all of us. Consider it this way:
If you remove God’s sovereignty, you will forever question His wisdom.
If you remove God’s loyal love, you will forever question His faithfulness.
If you remove God’s majesty, you will forever question His power.
If you remove God’s holiness, you will forever question His fairness.
If you remove God’s protection, you’ll forever question His goodness.
The question is not, “Do I believe in God?” but rather “What sort of God do I believe in?” That’s a key question we all have to answer. As I reflect on my life, I realize that I have learned a great deal. I have a better understanding of God now. I have learned that faith is a choice you make. Sometimes you choose to believe because of what you see; often you believe in spite of what you see.
Faith is a choice - As I look to the world around me, many things remain mysterious and unanswerable. But if there is no God, and if he is not good, then nothing at all makes sense. I have chosen to believe because I must believe. I truly have no other choice. If I sound confident, it is only because I have learned through my tears that my only confidence is in God and God alone.
I have tried to do in my own way what Habakkuk is this verse. Time and again when faced with mysteries I cannot explain, I go back to the First Principles of life: God is good. God is holy. God is just. God knows all things. God is love. God makes no mistakes. The Bible is true. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. Someday he will return to the earth. The Holy Spirit is real. I am sealed with the Spirit. God is always with me. All things work together for my good and God’s glory. God will complete his work in me.
Just saying this again brings faith to my heart. That’s what I mean by going back to the first principles. That’s exactly what Habakkuk is doing in v. 12. Despite his confusion, he’s giving a testimony to his own faith in God. That leads us to the second question.
Question # 2. How Can You Do This? v. 13
Here we reach the heart of the problem. We all understand that there are moral inequities in the universe. Some people seem to have it easy, while others suffer for years. I don’t see any way to deny that observation. How do we explain this?
Habakkuk’s particular problem stemmed from a seeming conflict in God. If God cannot tolerate wrongdoing (a true point), how then could he use the Babylonians to judge Judah (also a true point)? Babylon’s sins were far greater than the sins of Judah.
Is this not a contradiction? The answer is no. There are no contradictions with the Almighty, but it is true that he does things that seem to us to be inconsistent. The key here is the little phrase “seem to us.” God’s ways will not always make sense to us, not even when they are viewed with the eyes of faith. Perhaps a better way to put it would be that in the short run (which is all of life for all of us), God’s ways will sometimes not make sense to us.
We simply don’t know why things happen the way they do. Sometimes we find out later. Sometimes we will not know until we get to heaven.
Every thoughtful person wrestles with this at some point. Eventually we are forced back to the First Law of the Spiritual Life: He’s God and We’re Not. God is sovereign and we are not. Every mistake we make comes because we forget this basic fact. It’s good for all of us to remember Psalm 115: 3 “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.” Whenever I read that verse, I want to say, “Any questions?” No, not from me.
At this point, God has not yet answered Habakkuk’s question. That will come in the next chapter. For the moment, let me simply note that any answer must go back to the truth that God is God and we are not. Until we grasp that, we will continually struggle with the Lord.
Question # 3. How Long Will This Last? v. 17
The “he” in this verse refers to the whole Babylonian army (personified by King Nebuchadnezzar) as one person. He keeps on conquering one nation after another, and no one can stop him. To him men are like fish, and he’s got the net. Guess who he’s fishing for now? Judah!
In the face of this crushing evil, Habakkuk wonders when it will all end. Will no one stop Babylon? Will his reign of terror go on forever? Who can stand in his way? This touches the deepest question we have when life crumbles in around us: How long will this last? Most people can stand up under trouble if they know it will eventually come to an end. But if it never ends, how will we survive?
So there you have Habakkuk’s 3 questions:
Who are you, Lord? To which Habakkuk supplies his own answer.
How can you do this? For which no answer is given.
How long will this last? For which no answer is given.
These are all honest questions, the kind we all ask in times of trouble. We should note that Habakkuk is an utterly honest man who, when he has doubts, does not hesitate to tell them to the Lord. He doesn’t cover up his doubts with pious sayings nor does he rush to give glib answers. He answers the only question he can answer, and he waits for God to answer the other two. He’s confident in God but confused by what God is doing in the world. He’s a believing man with serious questions he can’t answer.
Habakkuk’s Decision 2: 1
It describes some sort of wooden tower that the prophet built. There, alone, he would watch and wait for God’s answer to come. Habakkuk did not know how the Lord would answer or how long he would have to wait. He just knew that having said all that was on his heart, now it was time to wait on the Lord. Remember, he still doesn’t understand how God can use the wicked Babylonians to judge Judah for her sins. It doesn’t make sense to him. He knows Judah needs to be broken because of her sin, but he cannot reconcile himself to God using the Babylonians as his appointed fingers of crushing judgment. Thus his decision: “I will wait on the Lord.”
As we come to the end of this message, we have already reached a turning point in this little book. Having laid out his complaints before the Lord, Habakkuk now waits for an answer. While he’s honest about his complaints, he’s also wise enough to take them to the Lord and leave them there.
Can God be trusted? What kind of God do we believe in? As I was thinking about that question, 2 thoughts came to me:
He’s not the God we think He is - He’s much better than that. God’s ways are better. God’s heart is better. God’s thoughts are better. God’s plan is better. All that God is and all that God does is better. Because that is true, we shouldn’t be surprised that we continually run into the problem of not understanding him. It shouldn’t surprise us when his answers don’t always line up with our desires.
What do you do when you’ve prayed to God and you don’t like the answer you’ve received?
You can try bargaining but that doesn’t work. You can get angry but that doesn’t help. You can ask God some questions, which is what Habakkuk did. You can go back to the “first principles” and remind yourself of who God is. That’s also what Habakkuk did. Most of all you can decide to wait on the Lord in faith and hope and in confidence that what doesn’t make sense now will make sense later. As you wait remember that God doesn’t keep time the way we do.
For the moment we will leave Habakkuk right here. He’s in his tower looking, watching, and waiting for the Lord to give him an answer.
Waiting is good for the soul, especially if you are waiting on the Lord. As you wait, remember that God has not forgotten you. You are on his mind right now. He sees you in your confusion, your fear, and your distress. Do not despair, but as you wait, rest your weary soul on this mighty promise from God: “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40: 31).