20th Sunday after Pentecost
October 2, 2016
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
“The Big ‘W’ Question”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is the Old Testament lesson for today from Habakkuk as was previously read.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
This sermon is about the big “W” question…”why?” Why do bad things happen? Why do people suffer? If God is still in control, then why is there still so much evil around? These questions are what people want answers to…and they are questions that are as old as time itself. Whether you know it or not, the prophet who wrote our Old Testament lesson for today asked those same questions of God and he got an answer…kind of.
But who has ever heard of Habakkuk? I mean, seriously, who knew that Habakkuk was even a book of the Bible? As a prophet he is not as well known as Isaiah and his book is not as popular as the Gospels or Romans, but Habakkuk has a lot to say for people who are confused or anxious or hurting or concerned…people just like you.
Habakkuk asked God straight out why God sees violence and oppression and does nothing about it. In Habakkuk’s day violence, oppression, social injustice, and idolatry prevailed. He had great concern why God appeared to be just sitting around allowing all these bad things to occur and seeming not to care. In verse Habakkuk points out that as a result of God’s supposed inactivity “justice never prevails…it is perverted” (1:4), which sounded about right as this was an all-time low spiritually and morally for ancient Israel.
God’s answer to Habakkuk was probably not what he expected to his “why” question. God informed Habakkuk that an answer was coming, and it was an answer that Habakkuk certainly didn’t expect. God let Habakkuk know that in addition to the current level of violence and suffering and oppression, he would be sending the Babylonians to Israel. Habakkuk had to have been near the point of fainting at that news! That would be like asking ISIS to show up at your Thanksgiving table. But that was still God’s answer.
We don’t know too much about Habakkuk the prophet, but we do know when he wrote his book and the circumstances around his life. Habakkuk lived in early 600 BC and wrote during a time when the Babylonian rise to power was as rapid as it was brutal. From 612-605 BC Babylon rose up as a world power. The former world powers, Assyria and Egypt, noted Babylon’s rise and decided to do something about it. They formed an odd coalition to take on the Babylonians, and the Israelite kings aligned themselves with the Assyria/Egyptian alliance. In 605 BC these two ancient empires clashed in the location of Carcemesh, which is in modern-day Turkey. The Babylonians routed the alliance and chased the Egyptians all the way back to Egypt. Tiny Israel stood in the way of that march and in 586 BC Habakkuk’s prophecy and the prophecy of many other Old Testament prophets came true. The Babylonians marched into Israel, destroyed Jerusalem, and took the people into exile. God had used the swift and terrible Babylonians to bring further violence and terror and oppression and insecurity on the people, and the question was still hanging in the air…why? Why did God do this? Why do God’s people suffer?
Fast forward to 21st century America. People today are still asking the same question…why? Why are we too surrounded by trouble and violence and God is just sitting on his thumbs? Every day it’s another protest after another police-involved slaying with senseless civil unrest afterwards. Every day it’s another terrorist attack. Every day it’s another innocent life ruined/lost to the epidemic that is the destructive world of drugs. Every day it’s another disrespectful athlete “taking a knee” during the National Anthem in “protest.” How do I feel about that?
God never answers Habakkuk’s why question. God doesn’t need to answer the “why” questions we pose. God owes no apology and he owes no explanation. God remains the same Lord with unwavering justice and unwavering grace. We can’t understand his ways or his thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). But God is not a mean, uncaring, unforgiving God who watches his people squirm, turn, and burn like the mean little kid who burns bugs with a magnifying glass. God knows that we suffer. God notices evil. He saw sin introduced into his creation after it was created and the perversion of his creation continues to this day.
But to respond to the “why” question, God answers “trust me.” “Watch what I’ll do,” God says, “the answer will come, although it may linger, it will still most certainly come.” And then God tells Habakkuk that the righteous will live by faith. The righteous will live by faith.
But faith in what? Faith has to have an object…if we are going to believe we have to believe in someone or in something. Were they supposed to believe in the coming Babylonians? Are we supposed to believe in those who perpetrate acts of violence in our world? No. they are not the solution…and they are not the problem. The Babylonians, the Romans, Isis are NOT the problem. The problem is sin.
God made good on his promise to provide the object of our faith. At first it was the promise. 600 years after Habakkuk, it was the fulfillment. God did send the answer, Jesus, to bring security where there is insecurity; to bring hope where there is hopelessness, to bring love where there is hate, to bring life as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Sin does run rampant on earth, but ultimately sin has been defeated by Jesus on the cross. When we ask “why” we are asking the wrong question because God gives us no answer. Instead when we are tempted to ask “why,” we should instead ask “how.” How did God take care of sin and how is he using this in my life. Ultimately we will find that his answer did come and it did not fail; Jesus died and rose again to defeat sin. And the trials and tribulations and the violence and the insecurity draw us closer to him to trust in him, for when we are weak, then we are made strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).
The message of God’s deliverance of his people is not meant to be a hidden message; it was to be made clear for all to understand (Hab. 2:2). The message of the hope of the Gospel is for us and for all to hear of the deliverance, grace, salvation, and forgiveness we have in God’s love through Christ. We don’t have to solve the “why” question, and you won’t know this side of heaven. But the answer to “how”…that answer is, has always been, and always will be Jesus.