S1. Why God?
Do you ever ask God the ‘why’ question? Do you ever get disappointed with God? How do you cope when things don’t turn out as you expect?
Some years ago I heard about a Christian couple where the wife had become pregnant, and found out through testing that the baby was very likely to be born with Downs Sydnrome, and the doctor asked them if she wanted an abortion. The couple prayed about it, and decided to go ahead with the pregnancy. They prayed either for the baby not to have Downs Syndrome, or for the strength and peace to cope. The baby was born without Downs Syndrome, and this was seen as an answer to prayer. Very soon after hearing that I heard of another Christian couple whose wife had also had a baby, but despite their prayers their baby had been born with Downs Syndrome. And it raises that question doesn’t it - why? Why one baby and not the other? Did God have something against one couple and not the other? Why?
For many of us as I talk with you there is often the ‘why’ question. Why am I still alive and well, and my partner not? Or why am I sick and others not? Why am I poor when others are rich? Why? Why me and not another? Why this way? ‘Why God?’ comes to our lips, or perhaps – ‘where is God?’ – or ‘what is God doing?’
Or it may be that as you look at our society and our world you get upset, distressed, frustrated with what is happening – so much suffering, so much injustice, so much oppression, so much evil – and wrongdoers seem to get away with it.
It rattles us now, such questions have rattled people for centuries, even millenia. It rattled one of God’s great prophets – Habakkuk. And today we see how he deals with it. A model for how we deal with it.
Here are some answers – but not answers to the ‘why’ questions. Rather it is the answers to the ‘how do we live in such times’ question. But you may not find them easy answers to accept, or live out.
Let’s see what Habbakuk finds.
2. Habbakuk’s why
Now you’ve been looking at Habakkuk over the last two weeks and hopefully can tell me more about Habakkuk than I can tell you. But let me remind you of the context in which this word of God comes to Habakkuk.
Habakkuk tells us in the very first verse from this book of his that he is a prophet. Given his references to the Babylonians we take it he is probably living in Judah (the southern kingdom) in the early 600’s BC. It is quite possibly near the end of the reign of King Josiah or the start of King Jehoiakim’s reign.
Habakkuk appears to be a righteous man - who is appalled at the violence and injustice which is all around him, not in the world so much as among the very people of God. Violence, injustice, wrongdoing, destruction, strife, conflict, a paralysed legal system that breeds injustice. Among God’s people. And Habakkuk cannot understand why God does nothing about it – 1:2 – how long – 1:3 – why; why do you tolerate wrong? It is our question sometimes isn’t it? Why aren’t you acting God? Why do the wicked prosper?
God graciously answers Habakkuk, but not with the answer the prophet expects. The middle of ch 1 - I am doing something – 1:6 – I am raising up the Babylonians, to come and attack Judah, and bring my punishment upon them.
Hang on says Habakkuk near the end of ch 1 – how can you do that Lord? The Babylonians are even worse than the people in Judah, they are violent, wicked, idolaters - how can a pure, holy God use an instrument like them to carry out his justice? How can God tolerate them as well?
Again God graciously answers Habakkuk in ch 2 with 5 woes against Babylon – in essence don’t worry the Babylonians too will get their punishment. They too will be destroyed, as they deserve. I am God says the Lord, and I am sovereign. I am working my purposes out and my kingdom will ultimately prevail.
3. Habbakuk’s response (ch 3)
God has answered the prophet’s cries. He has revealed to Habbakuk his plans and purposes. Ch 3 gives us Habbakuk’s response.
It’s called a prayer in v1 – and the prayer comes in v2 – 2 prayers in fact in response to God – Lord bring your glory and judgement again as you did before. But Lord in your wrath upon Israel – remember your mercy. What a wise and wonderful prayer. God who is ever just, and ever compassionate and merciful.
But he cannot stop there and breaks out into what is really a psalm.
Perhaps he has a vision of God, perhaps he remembers what God did long ago. He glorifies God for who he is and what he has done in the past.
He sees or remembers God coming from the south, that is where those places are in v3, Teman and Mt Paran, in the south – the Babylonians swept in from the north, God comes from the south, the direction from whence the salvation of the Exodus and the Conquest took place.
And it is God coming in glory and splendour and power, sovereign over the realm of nature, powerful over plague and pestilence, as in the Exodus. Shaking the earth and the mountains as at Mt Sinai. Here is the eternal God coming – and the people in the south, in Cushan and Midian, who are the first to see, are in anguish and distress.
For this God is the divine warrior in vv8-15. A warrior arrayed against his enemies and against the enemies of his people. A vision replete with images from the past – the judgements on Egypt and the exodus with waters split and lifted high; Moses and Mt Sinai, Joshua and the conquest of the land when the sun stood still and arrows flew – here are God’s mighty acts of judgement on his enemies, on nations which are threshed in v12. Here is a God come to crush wickedness and wicked people, and save his own people. Here is God’s answer in technicolour glory – divine judgement, divine salvation. This God is a saving God, who will come in mighty power to defeat his enemy and the enemy of his people. If God did that then, he can save his people now.
And confronted with the vision of this God, this God of such power, might, and glory, Habakkuk is struck with awe and fear. V16 – my heart pounded, my lips quivered, decay crept into my bones, my legs trembled. Who wouldn’t be like that – we think of the coming of God as a nice time, no this is the powerful Almighty, the king of kings, the divine warrior, who comes to fight for his glory and his people, and bring his judgement and anger against his enemies and theirs. The coming of this God is not a nice friendly visit.
But thankfully this is a God who is for his people. A God who is faithful to his promises, faithful to his covenant, faithful and powerful to save and deliver. He has done it in the past, and Habbakuk, and we, need to know he will do it again.
And the response of Habakkuk? Look at v16b – I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us. God has promised so it will happen. It may take a long time, but it will come.
Mind you, before they are destroyed, the coming of the Babylonians will be horrible for those living in their way. V17 anticipates the awful results of the coming invasion of the Babylonians – devastation will be Judah’s lot – no figs, no grapes, no olives, no crops, no livestock. In an agricultural economy, this is devastating. No fruit or food, no medicines, no oil for light or cooking, no material for clothing or blankets or tents. None of the basics needed for human life. And in case you think Habakkuk is over-exaggerating read Lamentations to see how bad it really got in those dark days of the Babylonian assault.
Yet Habakkuk can say in v18 – despite all that, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. This is Habbakuk’s God. My Saviour. Habakkuk knows that even in such desperate circumstances; even amidst total suffering and loss, the Sovereign Lord is his strength, and he will give Habakkuk complete, sure-footed confidence and a future. Habbakuk is to trust in God, in his covenant God.
Habbakuk started his book in depression and doubt. He ends in confidence and joy; having learnt to trust and rest in God’s appointments and await his working, in a spirit of worship, with full trust and joy in God, regardless of circumstances. Why? Because God will save his people.
We know that God did act – in 539BC the unthinkable happened. Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians and many of the Israelites returned to the land. God was again shown to be trustworthy and faithful to his promises.
4. Our response?
What do we do with Habbakuk – this great little book?
Habakkuk is God’s word to his people. It is God’s answer to us who also feel that God’s ways are unfathomable, perhaps even unfair and unjust. To us who struggle to comprehend the ways of God, who share Habakkuk’s troubled doubts. Who ask why. It doesn’t give us an answer to the why question – instead it points us to God.
And that is the answer God says we need.
How will you respond when evil and suffering invade your world? When circumstances are not good for you? When you don’t know why? When you don’t like what you see or what is happening?
Habbakuk’s answer – God’s answer to us – is to turn to Him. Our ultimate strength is not in our physical abilities, or in the strength of others, but in God alone. And sometimes God acts to humble us so we will realise this and put our trust in him. God is still God whether he provides good things for us or not. Our assurance is not based on visible yet temporal blessings, but in an unshakeable relationship with our covenant God.
And He is our covenant God – in Jesus. Jesus who brings in the new covenant – we remember it when we have Communion – this is my blood of the new covenant. Will God destroy the enemies of his people – yes. He has conquered the evil one through his death and resurrection; he now promises one day to put an end to sin and suffering and injustice and wickedness, and to finally bring his pure holy justice to all people. And he will. We are not to despair – but to live in faith in God and His word. That key verse of ch 2 – v4 – the righteous will live by his faith.
As God strengthened Habakkuk to endure, and not just endure but to leap joyfully in the exhilaration of a life lived with God, so that strength and joy is still available to all those who put their faith in the God of his people.
Our joy will be found wanting if it is in material things, in other people, in the circumstances of this world. But it will never be found wanting if it is in God. He is our answer. Joy through an intimate and personal relationship with the Lord.
Over the last few weeks, or perhaps years, I’ve found myself getting disappointed and upset when things don’t go as I planned. That is not helpful and not godly. My joy is to be found in God. It’s not to say it is wrong to enjoy the good things in this life – but I ought not to depend on them.
My joy is to be grounded in God. And my ability to do that is a choice I have to make – hence Paul’s command in Phil 4. It may not always be an easy choice to make, or a quick one. But God is the God of our eternal salvation, the salvation of our soul, that is our hope, and so we can rejoice in him even in our greatest distresses, because that will not be lost. Indeed Rom 5 reminds us that suffering leads to hope, which does not disappoint us. Our hope is not false - because Jesus has died for our sins, and through faith in him we have been reconciled with God, and received the Holy Spirit.
The righteous will live by faith.
How do we do that? How do we do that when the present looks so grim? Same way Habakkuk did – remember God’s saving acts in the past, and his promises for the future. Habakkuk’s faith and trust were based on the knowledge of what God had done in the past. So too for us – yet we know so much more, for we know Jesus. We remember his coming into the world and pray that he will again; we know his ministry to show the blessings of the kingdom of God which is coming, and we pray they will come in all their fullness; we know his death to destroy the enemies of God’s people – death, sin, the devil, the flesh, the world, and we pray that they will finally be destroyed; and we know his resurrection to glorious life, the first fruits of all who believe, and we know his ascension to rule now at God’s right hand, and we pray that we too will be finally glorified in Him.
When we don’t know what God is doing, take time to remember what we do know of God. We remember these things, we pray and hope for these things, we live by faith and trust in light of these things. For God has done them, God has promised to do them, God will do them.
We know God will save us from this world of evil and suffering, for he has saved his people in the past, he has promised to save them in the future, and he is a saving God. Our great deliverance will come. We don’t look forward to pain and suffering, we don’t enjoy the circumstances we find ourselves in often, it may get worse before it gets better, but Habakkuk teaches us to wait patiently and joyfully in God. God may not spare us from difficulties – but he promises to carry us through them.
We often face the dilemma that our faith in God is based on feelings. I feel God doesn’t care, I feel God is powerless or inactive, I feel like God doesn’t love me or has deserted me, I feel like there are no visible signs of God’s love for you. You may well feel those things, but - feelings and emotions and whims can lie. We need to finally base our faith in God on facts – the facts seen in Jesus. In Jesus we see that God loves you, he has acted to save you, and he will carry it through, for he is powerful and faithful.
Don’t set your hearts on the things of this world, even other people, and don’t tie your happiness to them, for they can be taken away in the twinkling of an eye. Rather set your hearts on God and tie your happiness to him, who is our Saviour and our strength. Jesus tells his disciples in John 15:9-11 that our joy is to be found in relationship with God. There is no hope and no real joy anywhere else.
When all else is gone, your God is not gone if your faith is in the true and living God.
Faith means loving, serving and worshipping God regardless of circumstances. And the question at the end of the day is - will we affirm Habakkuk’s faith in a faithful God and emulate his praise? The answer God gives us to our why questions is to rest in God and his timing, joyfully trusting in his sovereign plans, purposes and promises.