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Habakkuk: A Prophet For Our Times

The prophet Habakkuk cries, “I can’t handle this! I see rip-offs, rampant injustice, and corruption, and when I complain about it, God says he’s going to send somebody even worse to punish them!” Some of us can relate to that.

God tells Habakkuk, You’re going to have to wait for answers – probably longer than your lifetime.

We understand that God is a God of justice. But what rattles us is that we also know that God is sovereign, and is not obligated to rectify injustice at all in this present world – at least, not on our timetable. (Check the fine print on the contract. Habakkuk is part of that fine print, as is Psalm 73.)

So we have two large groups of Americans who are fearful that the Supreme Court may pull off a hideous act of injustice, and may certify the election (or reelection) of a President that is owned by one or more hostile foreign powers. We are afraid that years of evil will be rewarded. We are fearful that Mao’s way will prevail: the way of brute force (if not the literal barrel of a gun).

God has allowed far worse to stand. Look through history. Has the injustice done to African slaves or Native Americans ever been truly punished on earth? You can say that Babylon was punished for bulldozing Jerusalem, but that took a lifetime before it happened. For Christian martyrs in the first 300 years, it took 300 years for them to be vindicated, but no one ever saw their killers punished, at least, not on this earth.

So we may not, and probably will not, live to see God’s justice, and it may be beyond this life. The challenge, as Habakkuk saw, is to live with the results of an earthly power struggle permitted by a sovereign God. Habakkuk’s answer? “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)

Perspective helps. 26 centuries later, we can see little reason why it made any difference whether Judah was allied with Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, or no one. The real issue was foreign deities, any deity other than the one true God. That was what brought Jerusalem down, and it must have been tough for those who rejected idolatry to resist being angry with those who would be ultimately responsible for the nation’s downfall.

But resist we must. Habakkuk shows us how. In a concluding passage that is worthy of our 2020 Thanksgiving season, Habakkuk sings, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

Trust in a sovereign God is always the hardest when evil appears to be on the throne unchallenged, and the bank account is empty. Habakkuk shows us how trusting God anyway is the only way to truly live.