By Lasserre Bradley, Jr.
Are you often grieved because of the violence that is rampant in our day? From the car bombers in Iraq to the frequent killings on the streets of the big cities of America, the acts of violence seem to be endless. Are you sometimes gripped by fear? Do you often wonder why God doesn’t intervene?
There may be many issues about which you have prayed.
Perhaps it is a burden for someone who is going astray. You have prayed for them, but have become discouraged because there is no evidence that God has heard your prayer. Perhaps it is a trial for which there is no end in sight and you are made to wonder why the Lord has not given you relief.
Many years ago the prophet Habakkuk struggled with these very issues. He asked he question, “O Lord, how long shall I cry and thou wilt not hear! Even cry, out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!”(1:2). It seemed like a very long time that God would not hear. In fact it appeared to theprophet that God was not interested in the spoiling and violence, in the strife and contention that was so disturbing to his servant. He seems to be asking, “How long do I have to carry these burdens?”
You too may have at times said, “I can only keep going so long; the burden I carry is too great for me.”
Jeremiah expressed his frustration in this regard when he said, “Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer” (Lamentations 3:8). The psalmist asked “Why standeth thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?” (10:1). How dark are those days when it seems that the heavens are brass and our prayers are in vain. How difficult those seasons when we look for answers and are unable to find them. All around us it appears that the wicked prosper, while the righteous are afflicted and suffer great trials. Why will not God intervene? Why doesn’t the God of love stop the violence and end the suffering? Habakkuk is weary of it all. But then comes the surprising answer. God has not ignored the situation. He says, “I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe”(1:5). No doubt the prophet desired a revival such as was enjoyed in Josiah’s day, but God instead reveals he is sending judgment. He is raising up the Chaldeans, a wicked and violent people who will invade the land and cause widespread destruction. Habakkuk is stunned and bewildered.
He had concluded God was not doing anything but, now that he knows what God is doing, he is even more disturbed.
You can sense the fear that grips him as he reviews the details of the invasion on the part of this arrogant nation that he describes as being “terrible and dreadful.” It obviously added to the pain felt by the prophet when he recalls that these pagans will impute their power to their own false god and burn incense to their weapons as they gloat over their victory. He reasons, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity”(1:13). How can it be that a holy God would use a violent nation to chasten his own people?
He struggles with that aspect of divine sovereignty that is often difficult for men to understand.
How could God raise up Pharaoh but still hold him accountable for his wicked deeds? (Romans 9:17-21). How could Jesus have been delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God and the men who crucified him be accountable for their sin? (Acts 2:22-24).
Though men may find it difficult to comprehend, the fact remains that God is a holy God. He is not the author of sin, he has never coerced any one to sin, he “is light, and in him is no darkness at all”(1 John 1:5). But God, according to his divine sovereignty, can make the wrath of man to praise him (Psalm 76:10). He raised up Pharaoh that his name might be declared throughout all the earth. He determined that his Son would be crucified that he might redeem the elect and that his name would be praised forever.
At Calvary we view the darkest scene of all history. A perfect man his nailed to a cross. The God-man is spit upon.
The loving Savior is taunted and ridiculed. The wickedness of depraved man is displayed in its fullness. Those who hated him without a cause felt they had conquered him when he died. But against that dark backdrop shines the brilliance of eternal glory as Jesus Christ comes out of the grave triumphant over sin, Satan and death. There he paid the price to redeem his people, and he got what he paid for. There where the very devils of hell lashed out against him the greatest work of all ages was accomplished when Jesus said, "It is finished." As we recall that great triumph we rejoice in the words of the Apostle, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33).
The marvels of the Savior's work could not be comprehended by those who stood at the foot of the cross. And so it is that God is often working to accomplish his great purposes when we are not able to understand what he is doing and what a great end he has in view. How important to learn that God is at work even when we are struggling with our doubts and fears! Jacob said, “All things are against me,” but God was planning a family reunion down in Egypt where they would be fed while others suffered the hardships of famine.
We look at present circumstance, but God looks at the big picture. We look at the immediate troubles we encounter, but God sees the end from the beginning. We look at what we can see, but God looks at the unseen.
God is not a spectator on the sidelines — he is involved in history. He raises up kings and nations and brings them down according to his pleasure (Daniel 4:24-26). He sends the rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). He sometimes sends pestilence and other judgments (Joel 1:2-4, 15). We will not always understand what he is doing or his reason for doing it; but we know that he is good. Whatever he does, he does to the glory of his name and for the benefit of his people.
Habakkuk was disturbed by what God was doing, but he found consolation to recall that God is eternal, holy, sovereign and faithful (1:12-13). He concludes God has established the Chaldeans for the correction of his people, which after all is a good purpose. He recognizes God is in control, and this impending invasion will not be a matter of chance but by divine arrangement. But he is still troubled and realizes that human reasoning has reached its limit. He now decides to go to the tower for a time of quietness and meditation. There he would wait to hear what else the Lord would say to him. In our seasons of distress and perplexity we need to spend time alone with the Lord. We need to hear what God has already said to us in his Word and make the application of it to our own situation.
The prophet came to realize, “The just shall live by his faith” (2:4). And that is where we all need to come.
If it seems that God is doing nothing, by faith we will believe that he is always active, although we cannot see it. If it seems that our prayers have been ignored, by faith we will continue to seek him because that is what he has encouraged us to do. If afflictions are pressing us down, by faith we will count it joy because we know he is working in our life to bring us to a place of greater spiritual maturity (James 1:1-4). So when the question is asked, “Why doesn’t God do something?” let us remember God is doing something. He is on his throne; he is reigning; he is working in the lives of multitudes of people; he is unfolding his providence; he is always remembering his promises. We can count on it. He says “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So even when the way is dark, the burdens are heavy and we feel alone in our troubles, the Lord is there with us — loving us, holding us up, and keeping us by his mercy. Fear is often a reality in our lives. The present is full of problems that we cannot fix today. The future appears dark and uncertain. It may be the fear of a terrorist attack, the fear of a storm or an earthquake, the fear of sickness or the fear of old age. Fear can be devastating. It can ultimately make it impossible for a person to function in the daily responsibilities of life. King David acknowledged his fear, but said “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee”(Psalm 56:3). And Habakkuk declares that “the just shall live by his faith.”
Living by faith is taking God at his word. Living by faith means trusting even when the day is dark and everything is crashing in around you.
Living by faith is not only believing God, but acting on that belief. By faith Noah built an ark when there was not a cloud in sight. Abraham left his home and lived in a strange land. He did not have to know where he was going; he knew the one Who was leading him. Faith supports us in our deepest sorrows and gives hope in our greatest perplexities. “The just shall live by his faith.” That great text is quoted three times in the New Testament, which gives it special emphasis and importance. May we all join the prophet in his expressions of confidence in his God, as he moved from fear to faith.
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