2017.02.19 Sunday Sermon
God’s Ways Are Higher—Habakkuk
Last week, I finally went to go see the movie “Silence.” As you may have already heard, there’s a lot of discussion (and some controversy) surrounding the message of the movie. Personally, I enjoyed the movie. I thought it was well made, for the most part anyway, and I thought it touched on a theme that we often don’t engage in enough in our Christian circles.
One of the main themes the movie touches on, as the title portrays, is “God’s silence,” and more specifically, “God’s indifference and inactivity.” It’s a difficult topic to talk about, because it seemingly casts God in a not-so-compassionate light. Isn’t God supposed to be good? Isn’t he supposed to be merciful? Isn’t he supposed to listen to the prayers of his people? Then why such inconsistency?
The next book up in our six-year journey through the Bible is Habakkuk, and this book addresses some of those same themes—the indifference of God and the inconsistency of God. We continue through the Minor Prophets with Habakkuk. Habakkuk was a prophet in the Southern Kingdom of Judah who ministered around 600BC, long after the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen back in 722BC. He warned of the fall of Judah to the Babylonians, and the prophecy was realized soon after with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC.
The problem that was going on in Judah was the unfaithfulness of God’s people. There was so much wickedness in the land, and at first, Habakkuk was shocked by a different kind of God’s silence. As the prophet became more and more burdened in his heart regarding the wickedness of God’s people, he wondered why God seemed so indifferent to all the evil. Why wasn’t God cleaning things up in Judah?
Well, God’s response came, and it equally shocked Habakkuk, though in a different way. God’s remedy was to use the wicked nation of Babylon to punish the wickedness of Judah. This time, Habakkuk could not understand God’s inconsistency. How could a holy God use a wicked nation to punish his own special people?
Does God sometimes seem indifferent to your troubles? You pray and pray, but it seems like he’s just not listening. Much like in the movie “Silence” where God seemed silent in the midst of brutal persecution of his faithful people in Japan. Or much like what Habakkuk first encountered in seeking righteous correction for his countrymen.
How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? 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. (Habakkuk 1:2-4)
Or Does God sometimes seem inconsistent to you? You worship him as a good and loving God, but it seems like he allows bad things to happen. Much like in the movie “Silence” where God seemed to allow the torture and death of faithful Christians. Or much like what Habakkuk encountered next when he couldn’t comprehend God’s decision to raise up the Babylonians to destroy Judah.
Lord, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, you will never die. You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Habakkuk 1:12,13)
The book of Habakkuk addresses a very important reality that Christians must understand and overcome if we are to mature in the love and knowledge of our good and faithful God.
One of the modern “Christian myths” that ought to be eliminated says that when you trust Jesus Christ, all your problems go away. Not true. Well, it’s true that your biggest problem—your sin problem—has been solved, but with that solution comes a whole new set of problems that you didn’t face when you were an unbeliever.
We believe that God is good and faithful and just. But then we encounter problems like: Why do good people suffer and evil people prosper (Psalm 73)? Why isn’t God answering my prayer? When I’m trying to do my best for the Lord, why do I experience the worst from others?
Christians who claim to be without problems are either not telling the truth or not growing and experiencing faith in the context of real life. Perhaps they’re just not thinking at all. They’re living in a religious dream world that has blocked out reality and suppressed honest feelings and internal struggles.
Like Job’s friends, they mistake shallow optimism for the peace of God, and the good life for the blessing of God. Don’t be mistaken! The true peace of God is NOT positive thinking, and the true blessing of God is NOT a comfortable life with no worries, or what a typical Japanese would consider, “Good luck, good health, and good fortune.” Those are not the signs of the true blessing of God. People who believe such things are horribly mistaken. You never hear them pray what David and Jesus prayed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
But Habakkuk wasn’t that kind of a believer. As he surveyed his country and his people, he found himself struggling with some of the same serious problems. Habakkuk anguished over God’s inaction. He was tormented by God’s inconsistency. Things were not well with Habakkuk, both within and around him. But he also did the right thing: he took his problems to God.
Habakkuk wanted to see God do something more, particularly in the area of justice for evildoers. The book of Habakkuk pictures a frustrated prophet, much like Jonah, but Habakkuk channeled his frustration into prayers and eventually praise to God, rather than trying to run from the Lord as Jonah did. I’ll touch on this more at the end.
And that’s our takeaway from reading and studying this book. We’re going to have problems in life, whether we’re Christians or not. We’re going to face troubles, hardships, suffering, and bad health, whether we’re Christians or not. It’s the broken, fallen world that we live in, and their involvement has nothing to do with God’s goodness.
Why? The answer is simple, but not because the issue is simple. Actually, much like trying to critique the movie “Silence” or answering a question like, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” it’s complex and complicated.
So, I don’t mean to simplify the issue or give a simple answer, but the answer must remain simple for the reason that we cannot fully understand. It is impossible for us, as finite human beings, to fully understand God, who is infinite (we learned this last week in the nature of the Trinity).
We can wonder and we can ask, but the solution to the problem is not in the question. The answer is that, simply, God’s ways are higher, much much higher, than our ways. It is impossible for us to fully comprehend all the ways of God. We do not have the capability. We do not have the faculty. It’s like a child trying to understand quantum physics. It’s like me trying to understand trigonometry and calculus. It’s just not possible, simply because God—his thoughts, his ways, his reasoning, his process—is way too big for us.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8,9)
We have to be realistic and humble, and just accept this truth. We also should know and accept that God makes no excuses for his actions. He doesn’t need to justify himself, much in the same way he replied in the book of Job.
So, after we accept this reality, what we can do and are called to do is to follow Habakkuk’s example. First, he prayed.
Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)
Habakkuk prayed for his people and his nation. We, in the same way, are called to pray when we face troubles. Even when it seems like he isn’t listening, we are called to pray. Even when it seems like he’s ignoring, we are called to pray. And even when it seems he has gone silent, we are called to pray. Pray for mercy. Even if the outcome we desire never comes, what we can do is keep praying for mercy.
And ultimately, he praised God.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17,18)
When we trust in the Lord fully, praise rises up. Take careful note of the fact that Habakkuk’s prayer and praise was not dependent on his desired outcome. He leaves the outcome to God. Even when the outcome seems bad to him, and even when he cannot understand its goodness or reason, he praises God. I believe he is able to do that because he trusts God. He trusts in God’s sovereignty. He trusts in God’s decision. He trusts in the fact that God’s ways are higher than what we can comprehend.
Like Habakkuk, if we are able to pray and praise God in the midst of suffering and troubles, regardless of what we would consider a favorable outcome, we gain strength and courage to face and overcome those trials. Like the faithful Japanese Christians in the movie “Silence,” and the many who have endured hardship and disease with courage and joy, let us reflect that same courage and joy as a testimony of our God.
Habakkuk ends with this testimony:
The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:19)