January 10, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite Christmas movies, or really of any genre, is Christmas Vacation. In it the Griswold family Christmas celebration as gone about as wrong as it could go. The house is destroyed, the presents and tree are ruined, and the eagerly awaited bonus check for the swimming pool is membership in a jelly of the month club. It’s a rotten holiday all around. When the wife says that everyone should go home before it gets worse, Clark utters the only possible response: “Worse, how could it get any worse? Take a look around you Ellen, we’re at the threshold of hell.”
Now, I’m fairly certain we’re not at the threshold of hell, but take a look around you, what do you see? Unless you live alone in an isolated cabin in the mountains, there’s not a lot of good to see. Our country is fiercely divided by politics, race, and Covid. Friendships are ruined over of opposing political opinions. Extremism has incited rioting, looting, and the destruction of people’s homes and business. America’s in decline, and in no small part due to the corruption that permeates politics, the big technology companies, and the media we let into our homes on a daily basis. Can you imagine it getting any worse? Sadly, I can, and I don’t like it one bit.
Habakkuk was a prophet who lived around 600 BC, and he didn’t like anything he saw one bit either. At the time, Israel was caught in the crossfire between Egypt in the south and Babylon in the north, and as the Babylonians conquered the Egyptians, they gobbled up much of Judah with them. Everywhere he looked, Habakkuk saw corruption and wickedness. When he delivered the Word of the Lord, the people didn’t respond with “Thanks be to God”, they responded with curses, threats, and thanks to other gods. What really angered Habakkuk though was the suffering of the faithful. He says, “The wicked surround the righteous” and then he says to God in very bold words, “Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?” In other words, “Don’t you see it God? I can see it! Take a look around you God, we’re at the threshold of hell!” Habakkuk pours out his heart to God, with a little bit of anger too.
Like believers of all times and places, Habakkuk learned that when you ask God a question, you had better be prepared for the answer, and Habakkuk got an answer he wasn’t prepared for. He asked what God sees and God answers that He sees His people, the ones He chose out of all the nations of the world, rejecting Him. He sees them enjoying their sin, and not giving a thought to repentance or judgment. So, when Habakkuk asks God if He can see, God says, “Yes, and I can see it’s going to get worse.” Worse? How could it get any worse? How about the impending punishment coming in the form of the Babylonians? And yes, God sees the so-called innocent suffering, but it can’t be avoided. Everyone will be punished for their sinful unfaithfulness.
When Habakkuk asks if God sees what’s happening, we know what he’s really asking: “So God, what are you going to do about it.” This is the big question, isn’t it? Isn’t it what we all want to know? Where is God in all this ugliness? Why is He turning a blind eye to all the wicked sinfulness that we can’t help but see? Like Habakkuk we want to know why He isn’t helping the innocent. Why isn’t He doing something?
Really though, is anyone truly innocent? Nope, not one. God sees the Babylonian army not only as a just punishment but also to lead the people to repentance. Let them see that because He’s a jealous God, He takes sin seriously. The upheaval in our nation, the violence against the innocent, the wickedness and corruption, the strife and contentiousness are a result of choosing sin over God. What we see is what we deserve, and the only response is to repent. We must repent of our own sins and the sins of our nation. Repent of your sin of not speaking out more forcibly against abortion. Repent of your silence when your faith is challenged. Repent of not loving your neighbor. Repent for playing fast and loose with God’s commandments. Repent of being more afraid of what’s on earth than God, who is above heaven and earth. See yourself, see your sin and repent.
Like every other person who gets an answer they don’t like, Habakkuk pushes back. But once again, God sees something Habakkuk doesn’t. He sees the Babylonians receiving the punishment they deserve. Sure, they’re God’s instrument against His people, but that doesn’t excuse their own wickedness. While God will rescue His people, He will eventually wipe the Babylonians from the face of the earth. He says, “You will have your fill of shame instead of glory…The cup [God’s wrath] in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory!” Habakkuk claims there is no justice, God shows Him that there is.
We often wonder why there doesn’t seem to be any justice in the world, but the truth is, we don’t necessarily see it. There’s nothing that escapes God’s notice, nothing. The wicked in this world, those who incite hatred and violence, those who abuse and take advantage of others, and those who reject Him will be justly punished. God sees this just as clearly as if it already happened.
The other thing God sees is your deliverance. He sees the end of suffering. He sees the end of wickedness and corruption. He sees the end of hatred and discord. He sees the end of Sin and Death. He sees His Son hanging on the cross as He turns His back. He sees His Son’s bloody body, covered in the consequences of your sin. He sees His Son’s empty tomb. He sees His Son’s triumphant return when wickedness will be punished once and for all while His people are rewarded for all eternity.
And you see all this too! Just not with your eyes. God says, “The righteous shall live by his faith.” Living by faith means that you trust His promises. The Lord promises Habakkuk, and you: “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” Don’t lose hope! Even when you’re overwhelmed by all that you see, even when you think that if it gets any worse you can’t go on, even when you think that there’s no reason whatsoever to make plans for the future, look to the God whom you cannot see.
Living by faith means not living in constant fear and anxiety about the future. It means that we have hope. It’s easy to look at the future and see no purpose for it, that it’s easier to just give up, but faith means that we keep our eye on the Lord and know that He is in control. Living by faith means that we know that while faith doesn’t keep suffering from us, it does enable us to survive and persevere. Living by faith means that we trust God, that He has a divine plan that cannot be changed, that He’s the Almighty God. Living by faith is knowing that your cries and sighs of repentance have been heard and your Sin is forgiven! Do you see Him? Do you see your deliverance? Do you see that no matter how bad things get, that one day, all will be better? Do you see the promise that while things will probably get worse, the God who rules heaven and earth is your loving God? See Him: the one who sees you, gives you peace and hope, and saves you.
Habakkuk’s last chapter is a song praising God for his salvation, and he says this: “Though the fig tree should 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 take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength.” No matter what happens; whether things get better or worse, whether we step across the threshold of Hell or step away from it, we live by faith. This means we live trusting that Him, who we cannot see, is far greater than anything we do. We can’t see everything, but the Lord does so we don’t need to fear anything we see or ever will see.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen