I dislike conflict, which means I used stuff resentment until I explode.
Though that doesn’t preclude having it out with Him. But conflict with God is painful, because when I am angry with him, when I question and doubt him, I feel as if I have lost my last friend in the world.
And so sometimes, my heart is sad and cold and angry, while I say, most spiritually, “Well, I am sure God has a purpose in this. I am sure it will work out for good.” Which, well, yes, is true, but perhaps the heart needs to cry and cry, before it reaches “calm of mind, all passion spent” in Milton’s phrase.
* * *
I just read the little book of Habakkuk. Habakkuk reaches peace and confidence, but not before puzzled and outraged questioning! Not before lamenting!!
He is disgusted by the injustice and violence he sees among God’s people, Israel.
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.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted. (Hab 1 1-4).
God tells him that is justice will be done, through a new superpower he is raising up, the Babylonians. (An aside: Can we read China today?)
* * *
Habakkuk is even more outraged. The cruel Babylonians?
As men before and after him, he attempts to reason God into sense.
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?
* * *
Catherine Marshall said, in the probably the first Christian book I ever read, Beyond Ourselves, that when we ask God to guide us we have to accept by faith that he is doing so. Similarly, when we ask God a question we need to remember we are not speaking into a void, but instead should remain attentive to what answer he might choose to give.
Habakkuk does that:
I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me.
And the Lord tells him to write down the vision, and make it plain.
“Oh the Babylonians are merely my instrument of discipline for Israel,” the Lord replies, coolly. “But they too will suffer the consequences of their wrong-doing.”
Has not the Lord Almighty determined
That the people’s labour is only fuel for the fire
That the nations exhaust themselves for nothing?
And that’s the end of the story. All this heaping and gathering and spending will come to nothing, and “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.” Completely full, as the waters cover the sea!!
The Lord ends by reassuring his prophet,
“But the Lord is in his holy temple;
Let all the earth be silent before him.”
* * *
And then Habakkuk remembers: God! How the Lord rescued Israel from Pharaoh. How the Red Sea parted. How the sun stood still at Joshua’s command.
The Lord is in control, he realizes, and so he will wait for wicked Babylon to be judged just as wicked Israel will be. He decides to wait for God’s timing.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
There are going to be dreadful times. Even though the Babylonians will devastate Israel, God is permitting it for a reason, as discipline. God is still in control. So he will rejoice in God by faith.
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,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God, my Savior.
* * *
I LOVE this—that we can choose to rejoice in the Lord, and be joyful in God, our saviour despite our circumstances. For always, though much is taken, much remains.
And, interestingly, when I remember to praise God by faith for the very things in my life or my family’s life which are difficult, it’s as if all the lights come on, and the sun shines!!
* * *
And here is the other reason Habakkuk resolves to rejoice through it.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.
Whatever happens, God will give him strength, nimbleness and agility to go through it. Will take him to the spiritual (or worldly) heights, and strengthen him while he is there.
* * *
And this too is a movement in prayer, from restlessness, stress and discontent to peace and surrender. “Calm of mind, all passion spent.”
And perhaps we need to ask the honest, angry questions to hear the true answers, and move to a deeper faith.