Thursday, June 21, 2007

How to glorify God when questioning Him: Principles from Habakkuk

In Scripture (and in real life), we have many examples where people question God out of unbelief and thereby incur His displeasure. Yet, there are also some examples where people question God in such a way, to which He is pleased to respond. Habakkuk is a such an example for how we can express our questions to God in a way that glorifies Him.

When questioning God, acknowledge what God has revealed about Himself to be true.
Your eyes are too pure to approve evil,
And You can not look on wickedness with favor.
Why do You look with favor
On those who deal treacherously?
Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up
Those more righteous than they?
- vs. 1:13
Habakkuk was living in the midst of great wickedness and injustice, both from within Israel and from the coming Babylonians. And yet, he did not give in to the temptation of denying God's holy, just character. Nor did he give in to the temptation of denying God's sovereign control over this world. Rather, Habakkuk persevered in faith in what God had revealed about His own character to be true, even though the circumstances around him seemed to tell him otherwise. Habakkuk lived by faith in God's Word being true even though he could not perfectly understand how a holy and sovereign God could permit such evil.

Likewise, when encountering circumstances we do not understand, we must first acknowledge those truths that we do understand to be true from God's Word. When calamity strikes and everything seems to be falling apart, we must first remember that because of Christ, God is now our loving Father, who ordains all things for our good. As we continue struggling with sin in this life and become discouraged, we must first trust in the truth that Christ came to save sinners and that He promises to forgive all those who repent and come to Him in faith. When our future is unclear and a thousand questions fill our minds, we must rest in a God who knows all things and is in control of all things. Glorify God in your questioning by acknowledging what God has revealed to be true.

When questioning God, make the glory of God your highest concern.
LORD, I have heard the report about You and I fear.
O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years,
In the midst of the years make it known;
In wrath remember mercy. - vs. 3:2
What first initiated Habakkuk's concern wasn't just wickedness in the world in general, but particularly wickedness and injustice among the people of God (vs. 1:2-4). Israel was supposed to a special display of God's glory and kingdom in this world. Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations in the way the lived out God's law. But instead, we see that Israel became as wicked as the surrounding nations and failed in this task. For Habakkuk, this was a terrible evil and it had to be addressed by God. For God to fail to address Israel's rebellion would be for Him to deny His own Word, His own authority. At the heart of Habakkuk's plea was his concern for God to defend His Name, to vindicate His promises before the watching world.

Likewise, when we question God, we must also have God's glory as our ultimate concern. Yet, often I fear that Christians struggle with this concept because they think of God's glory in an ethereal, abstract sense. But the amazing truth that we see in Scripture is that God, in making a covenant with His people, has graciously tied His glory to our good. Therefore, when we plead our case before God, we can do so in a way that understands our welfare to be connected to His reputation, to His name. To behold the glory of God is the highest joy of the Christian. So glorify God in your questioning by making His glory your greatest concern.

When questioning God, be persistent in your prayers.
How long, O LORD, will I call for help,
And You will not hear?
I cry out to You, “Violence!”
Yet You do not save. - vs. 1:2
Habakkuk's complaint in this verse did not come on a whim. Rather, it is the fruit if a much longer period in his life when he has repeatedly seen injustice in this world and has had his heart grieved by it. He has been praying to God and questioning Him for a long period of time, and even though God has not yet answered, Habakkuk has persevered in his prayers.

This perseverance in itself is pleasing to God. Jesus reminds us of this in Luke 18 with the parable of the persistent widow. Yet as I reflect on my own life, what is striking is not the simply the challenge of persevering in prayer itself. I've often persevered in prayer over the course of years for many things: a new job, relationships, a certain problem... But what is striking is that Habakkuk has persevered in prayer over the injustice that he sees around Him... over the way God's name is being blasphemed among the nations because of the wickedness of Israel. These are the things that grieve Habakkuk's heart and consume his prayers. I don't know if I've ever had a persistent portion of my life where I was given over to such prayers. May God create in us a similar, lasting, persevering concern for eternal, rather than temporal, matters.

When questioning God, have a heart of total dependence on Him
Are You not from everlasting,
O LORD, my God, my Holy One?
We will not die. - vs. 1:12
The reason Habakkuk has so long persevered in His questioning is because God was His only hope for life. Habakkuk had built His life on the hope that the God of Israel is the one true God and that He would one day establish His Kingdom in this world and set all things to right. This was something that only God could bring about. Habakkuk had no plan B, no contingency plan, no exit strategy. If God somehow failed to keep His promises to do this, then Habakkuk would be undone. This kind of wholehearted dependence should also mark every Christian.

And so, like Habakkuk, as we watch the news, as we encounter difficulties, as we see the fallen-ness of the world around us, we must understand that our only hope is the truth of the Gospel. Namely, that God has reconciled sinners to Himself through faith in the blood of His Son. There is no plan B, no contingency plan, no exit strategy. If the Gospel is false, then we are all undone. But if the Gospel is true, then like Habakkuk, we can look forward with the eyes of faith to the day when God will indeed establish His kingdom here on earth and set all things to right. It is when we do so, that we can rejoice with Habakkuk:
Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. - vs. 3:17-18

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