HONEST TO GOD

HABAKKUK 1:1-6

 

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           Did you know that the minor prophet Habakkuk is directly responsible for your being in this church?  Did you know that without Habakkuk there might have not been a Protestant Reformation, and without the Protestant Reformation there would not have been a Presbyterian Church and without a Presbyterian Church there would not have been Anderson Grove Presbyterian Church? 

            I’m serious.  Take out your pew Bible, turn to page 763, and look with me at the end of verse four in the second chapter.  Habakkuk writes, “the righteous live by their faith.”  Now turn with me to page 914 of your pew bible, to Romans 1:17.  There the Apostle Paul writes, “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”  Paul, of course, was quoting Habakkuk, and years later when Martin Luther was reading through Paul’s Letter to the Romans he read this quote, “the righteous will live by faith,” and it bowled him over.  After all, what was the bumper sticker on Martin Luther’s Volkswagen?  “Salvation through faith, not works.”  At the very core of the Protestant Reformation is that we are put right with God through faith and not works, so if Habakkuk had not uttered these words, and if the Apostle Paul had not quoted his words, and if Martin Luther had not been reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans, there would have been no Anderson Grove Presbyterian Church.

            Of course, when we think of the founders of our Protestant faith we normally think of Martin Luther, and John Knox, and John Calvin, but not Habakkuk.  In fact, we hardly know how to pronounce his name.  Is it Habakkuk or Haba-kook, or Haba-kuck?  And not knowing too much about him has to do in large part to the fact that Habakkuk was a contemporary of that great prophet, Jeremiah.  Jeremiah even had a song about him, something about a bull frog, and Habakkuk had no song about him.  Habakkuk, however, had a couple of things going for him that I do not want us to miss.  One was his great honesty, and the other was his great trust in God.  Let’s begin with his honesty.

            One scholar said of Habakkuk, “One cannot overlook the audacity of the man,” and we’ll see that this morning.  We’ll observe Habakkuk standing nose to nose with God, accusing God of blowing it, and demanding God justify his behavior.  Turn with me to the beginning of the prophecy, and we will see what has him so upset with God.

            The year is 600 B.C.  Habakkuk looks at the southern kingdom, at Judah, and sees what many of us see around us today - violence, strife, injustice, lawlessness.  To Habakkuk his nation, his homeland, is heading in the wrong direction, and to make matters worse, God doesn’t see to be doing anything about it.  So Habakkuk complains to God.  Verse 2:

 

            O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?  Or, cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?

            Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble?  Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.

            So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.  The wicked surround the righteous - therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

            Habakkuk could be saying these very words today.  We’ve heard or voiced similar complaints.  We look around us and we see violence and strife and justice not done, and we say with Habakkuk, “O Lord, how long shall we cry for help, and you will not listen?”  In other words, the bold, the honest, the audacious Habakkuk says, “God, I’m holding you responsible for these conditions.  I’ve mentioned them to you before, and you haven’t done a thing.  When, God, are you going to get off your duff and make things right? 

            Well, God answers Habakkuk’s plea for action in sharp and specific terms in the next two verses.  God replies,

 

            Look at the nations and see!  Be astonished!  Be astounded!  For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told. 

            For I am rousing the Chaldeans, (that was another name for the Babylonians), that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own.

 

            Not exactly good news for Habakkuk.  God is going to use the Babylonians to deliver God’s judgment upon Judah, and that strategy appalls Habakkuk.  Absence of judgment is one thing, but this kind of judgment was worse.  God is going to judge the evil in Judah with an even greater evil.  It’s like God saying to us, “I’ve heard your complaints and I’m going to send “Ahmud I”m a big nut job” from Iran to beat some sense into you!”  Does that compute?  No, it doesn’t and it didn’t compute for Habakkuk either.   Habakkuk thinks God’s plan stinks and does not hesitate to tell God so.  Verse twelve:

 

            Are you not from of old, O Lord my God, my Holy One?  You shall not die.  O Lord, you have marked them for judgment; and you, O Rock, have established them for punishment. 

            Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing; why do you look on the treacherous, and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?

 

            In other words, “Judah is bad.  I know.  I’ve been harping at you about them for years, but God, Holy One, Babylonia is worse.  Is it really in your best interest to use a more wicked nation to judge a less wicked one?”

            And Habakkuk does not leave it there.  He demands an answer.  He demands that God justifies his decision and explains the rationale for this action.  The second chapter begins with these words:

 

            I will stand at my watch post, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

 

            I like this guy.  I especially like his relationship with God.  It reminds me of Teyve’s relationship with God in Fiddler on the Roof, and St. Teresa of Avila, who after falling off her donkey into the mud said to God, “If that’s how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so many enemies.”

            Of course, the question is, is it OK to talk like this?  Is it OK to be completely honest with God?  Is it OK to question and challenge God?  After all, isn’t talking like this a sign of disrespect, a lack of awe and reverence?

            Not necessarily.  In fact, some of God’s favorites have been those who disagreed with God and challenged God.  For example, do you know what the word “Israel” means?  Translated literally it means “God-wrestler.”  Israel was a nation of God-wrestlers, who mixed their protests with praise.  Being honest with God puts us in good biblical company.  Jeremiah complained, “O Lord, you deceived me.  You are stronger than I, and you have prevailed.  Because of you, everyone mocks me.”  Job, that great example of patience and righteousness screamed at God, “I call to you, O God, but you never answer and when I pray, you pay no attention.  You are treating me poorly.”  Even Jesus in the Garden wrestled with God.  “I know the plan, but would you consider a change of plans, a plan B?”  And then on the cross Jesus honestly cried out, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”  And folks, none of these outbursts led to disobedience.  You see, it’s OK to disagree, it’s not OK to disobey.  And the church is the new Israel, the new “God-wrestlers.”

            And God can take our honesty.  In the book The Fire of Your Life, Maggie Ross recounts the story of Emma, a Holocaust survivor, who at 4 PM every day stood outside a Manhattan church and screamed insults at Jesus.  Finally, the pastor of the church, went outside and said to Emma, “If you are so mad at Jesus, why don’t you go inside and tell him?”  She disappeared into the church.

            An hour went by, and the pastor, worried, decided to look in on her.  He found Emma prostrate before the cross absolutely still.  He thought, “O my God, God struck her dead.”  Reaching down he lightly touched her shoulder to see if she were still alive.  She looked up at him, tears in his eyes, and said, “He was a Jew, too.”

            You may be wrestling with God this morning.  If so, get it on the table.  Honesty with God is biblical.  The best of saints have done it, but let me tell you, if honesty is good, trust is even better.

            Remember where we left Habakkuk?  We left him standing at the watch post, waiting, demanding that God explain himself.  Well, God did explain.  Look with me at chapter two, verse two:

 

            Then the Lord answered me and said: Write a vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.

            For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie.  If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.

 

            In other words, “I’m working on the problem.  At the right time my purposes will be fulfilled. In the meantime, wait for that hour to come.  Trust me that I am at work.”

            And what do you think?  Does that appease Habakkuk?  Does he say, “OK, God I trust you.  I trust that you will make it all right in time.”  Well, listen to his words at the end of the prophecy.  Habakkuk listens to all God has to say, and then Habakkuk responds.  Chapter three, verse seventeen:

 

            Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.

            God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feel like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.

 

            Note, at the end of this prophecy, Habakkuk’s circumstances have not changed.  Destruction and violence still mar his community.  Stronger nations devour small nations.  The arrogant still rule, the poor still suffer, justice does not always prevail.  The world in which Habakkuk lives has not changed one iota - the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vine - but Habakkuk has changed.  He’s moved from honesty to trust, from protest to praise.

            How about us?  When the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vine, when we find ourselves in the midst of an evil world or in our bed of pain, when our enemies confront us, or family and friends prove untrue - can we join Habakkuk in a song of praise?

            As a child, a woman would run through her living room where a colorful clown mask hung on the wall.  Underneath the grinning chin of the clown hung a silver cord with a black ball on its end.  When the cord was pulled, hilarious laughter echoed throughout the house.  The cackles and chortles coming from the clown were contagious.  Everyone would join in with gales of laughter.  It was magical.  Now that woman, reflects back on those days and that clown mask in her childhood living room and she writes these words:

 

            Today I live in a more complicated world.  Some tasks seem so tedious.  Others overwhelm me.  Daily encounters often shake the foundations of my inner-peace, my ability to rejoice.  Sometimes I stand alone, rejected by a friend or neighbor or fellow-worker or family member.  My spirit is broken.  I’m caught off guard.  Then I glance toward my living room coffee table.  I see a fine, silver cord dangling from a shiny black book.  Pulling it gently breaks open the pages of my bible.  The Word of God is my “Laughing Box.”

 

            Honesty is good.  Trust is even better.  Amen.