Return to Study Guide for Habakkuk -by Don Kugelberg
Who hasn’t played Peek-a-Boo with a child? You know the drill, the baby covers its eyes and you say “Where’s baby?” as if it has disappeared. When the infant uncovers its eyes you say “Here he is!” as if he’s reappeared. The baby laughs, you laugh and the game begins again. The success of the game is predicated on the fact that the young one actually believes he has disappeared. One of my fondest memories is of my oldest son, Danny, as a young child who didn’t want to go to bed. One night, he ran to the corner of the room and covered his eyes, fully expecting he was now invisible! We smile but many of us use this same operative as adults. “If I cover my eyes and pretend its not happening, the problem will go away.”
This line of thought seems especially prevalent in Christian circles when we are confronted with an issue that doesn’t fit our neat little concept of who God is. Open up your morning paper and you can’t help but be struck by the fact that we are surrounded with suffering and injustice. Society seems to be spiraling down to the depths of depravity. Echoing the words of Pontius Pilate, our culture asks “What is truth?” and finds no common answer as to whether or not it really even exists. Each member of our society is truly “doing what is right in his own eyes”.
Where is the God of justice, love, mercy and compassion in all of this? How do we as His children rationalize our Father’s apparent ambivalence to the world’s events? If we claim that God has nothing to do with the evil we see around us what does this say about His power and authority over the world’s affairs. Our thoughts begin to make us uncomfortable and we revert back to our childhood solution – “If I refuse to see or acknowledge this apparent paradox between a depraved world and a Holy and Righteous God” the problem will go away.
Where did we learn that questioning God is a sign of rebellion and a source of doubt? Did not God give us our ability to think and reason? When we become believers does it mean we put our minds in neutral and become mental robots? I believe God wants us to question what we see and what our hearts feel. I believe that many times, God uses these very times to expand our vision of who He is. We are prone to see God on our terms and as such we are guilty of the charge J.B. Phillips first leveled at us 40 years ago – Our God is too small. How do we get to from a God who is too small to a proper understanding of the real and living God, a mystery whose ways are higher than our ways, whose thoughts are unfathomable? What is the greatest commandment?
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Taking an ostrich’s approach to solving the big issues in life is not loving God with all of our minds. What’s more, its not even the model we see in Scripture!
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
so justice goes forth perverted.
Habakkuk’s cries are not new. I can hear them on Joseph’s lips as he suffered indignity after iniquity in his young life. Moses mouthed them as he saw the Israelites oppressed by the Egyptians many years later. Perhaps Daniel thought these same thoughts from his Babylonian cell. They find their ultimate in the words of our Savior as he hung on that cross “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”
I think the opening verse of Habakkuk is where we should begin our quest to enlarge our understanding of God. I use the English Standard Version of the Bible which begins Habakkuk with “The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw.” Expressed that way, it is the type of statement one tends to read over quickly, a one line introduction to the book. Other translations help us understand its intent more clearly:
“The burden which the prophet Habakkuk saw.” New King James
“The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received”. New International
“The problem as God gave Habakkuk to see it:” The Message
Habakkuk was not in rebellion, nor was he about to fall headlong into the sin of doubt. What we need to realize is that the discontent that drove Habakkuk to cry out to the Lord was authored by God Himself! Habakkuk received his burden from the Lord. It was God who initiated the conversation! It was He who whispered in Habakkuk’s ear “What do you think about all of this stuff of life which surrounds you? How do you reconcile it with who I am?”
Those questions drove Habakkuk to his knees. He had apparently been there on many occasions. When he says in verse 2 “How long shall I cry for help” it infers that this was not a one time thing. The second time Habakkuk uses the “cry” in verse 2, the Hebrew here actually translates better as “scream” as in “Or scream violence and you will not save”. Can you feel his frustration?
Habakkuk was praying fervently, crying for help, screaming out to God yet he seemed to be getting no answer for his prayers. We have an advantaged position. We look back at the prophet’s time through the lens of history and we see even as Habakkuk expresses his frustration, God is answering, He is just keeping his answers veiled from Habakkuk for His sovereign reasons. He is preparing Habakkuk’s heart for His response.
You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart.
Sometimes God uses apparent silence to draw us closer to Him. He used it to prepare David on many occasions:
My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD — how long?
I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.
Is it accidental that David was affirmed by the prophet Samuel as a man after God’s own heart? It was in the pressure cooker of his circumstances that David learned to trust the Lord in everything.
God wants us to draw near to Him and He uses the same methods to instruct our hearts. It is interesting to me that in the Psalms David asks God over and over again “How long?”
What was the original purpose of Psalms? In what form was the book of Habakkuk written? If in fact Habakkuk was a worship pastor, in what venue would His work be presented? God spent many years coaching Israel in questioning Himself. He wanted them to get it right. If they were going to stretch their understanding of Him they couldn’t commit intellectual suicide!
Notice that Habakkuk starts with the right question: “How long?” He assumes that a righteous God will act, its only a question of when.
Why does God want us to question?
James S. Stewart from The Strong Name:
The fact emerges – that man’s main concern with the dark fact of suffering is not to find an explanation: it is to find a victory. It is not to elaborate a theory: it is to lay hold upon a power.
The difference between Elisha and his servant in 2 Kings 6:15-18 was experience. He lived through the dark times with his eyes wide open and had learned to trust.
Return to Study Guide for Habakkuk -by Don Kugelberg