“What’s going on God?” is what I wish I would ask when life stops making sense to me. To my discredit, more often than not, I get angry and depressed. As we follow Jesus through every valley and sinkhole of life, we have to hold onto the truth that these ugly circumstances have a purpose, even when they don’t fit our expectations of God or our lives.
This is one of the reasons why I love the Book of Habakkuk. When God’s activity in the world stopped making sense to him, he dug in his heels, waited and prayed to God until his faith caught up and he was able to rejoice in God in the midst of hardship. Habakkuk is a great example of faith. It’s a shame he doesn’t get much play in the Christian world today. For a guy who is quoted in both Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews about the righteous living by faith, you’d think he would be one of the go-to prophets everyone thinks about. Alas, he may be underrated, but his experience with God is well worth meditating on.
What I have found in my time in Habakkuk is a relatable story about the lengths God goes to free us from our idols, and how tightly we grip them. You do have to step outside of Habakkuk’s book to see this, but only to one of his contemporaries, Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 8 the prophet is given a vision of different forms of idol worship within the Temple of God. Each picture of idol worship takes place closer and closer into the sanctuary. This vision revealed just how deeply infected the nation had become with idol worship. Even the priesthood, those set apart to lead the nation in right worship, and intercede for the nation before the Lord had abandoned their position and rejected God themselves! The nation was lost and freely mixed worship of other deities, forces, and idols along with the God of their fathers. It is in this spiritual environment that God shows Habakkuk the impending destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
“You appointed them to execute judgment; my Rock, you destined them to punish us,” (Hab. 1:12). The Babylonian conquest and subsequent exile of the Judeans wasn’t some random tragedy or cruel twist of fate. Habakkuk’s prayer dialogue with God reveals that He is behind the scenes, sovereign, and in charge of world affairs. The Babylonians were used intentionally by God to bring attention to the sins of His people, and lead them to respond in repentance.
The desolate state of idolatry and sin that God’s people were in didn’t happen overnight (you can read the books of Kings and Chronicles for that part of the story). The messages and warnings of prophet after prophet were to no effect, and finally, God moved in a way that wouldn’t go unnoticed. After the Babylonians, God’s people became exceptionally averse to idol worship, keeping themselves against any influence toward it, (Ezra 9 & 10).
We can all find ourselves in the story of the Israelites here. Stubbornness to sin is a sad unifier. What should amaze us, however, is the great lengths God goes to shake us out of our rebelliousness. Faced with a bunch of worshipers that won’t stop worshiping other things, you would think God would replace them, but that simply has never been the case. God’s love and patience defy our human understanding. The process might be painful, but in the end, God is in the business of completely reconciling us to Himself, which inevitably means stripping us of our “other gods.”
I don’t know what your idols are. There are numerous idols, and while we share many, our particular attachment to any of them is unique from person to person. Take people-pleasing, for example, the idol of approval. For some this idol appears in close relationships; for others, with strangers. Likewise the idol of control and security can be broken down, such as control over other people or control over money. We all have idols, and probably more than we realize. Rest assured, however, that God knows them and He knows how much damage they cause your heart, mind, and soul.
I know from experience the heaviness and pain of bad circumstances that make us feel like God has either forgotten all about us or decisively turned against us. Let me tell you, neither is true! The story of Israel reminds us that hardship is actually a grace of God intended to lead us closer to Him, and away from the damage and pain of sin. God works with us in the midst of a broken world, and so the process is painful, but it is not harmful. It is God producing good within us. I believe we need to hold onto this perspective to work alongside God during our trials. That’s why it’s important to remember people like Habakkuk. Through Him, God showed not only Israel, but all of us who have come after, His unending faithfulness to us – a faithfulness that allows us to hurt if it means we will be the better for it in the end.
The book concludes with a psalm that Habakkuk sings. The prophet looks around him and sees no visible signs of hope, and yet exclaims, “I will rejoice in the God of my salvation,” (Hab. 3:18). When you find yourself suffering in hardship, remember that God is powerfully at work for your good, and let that truth lead you to grow in trust, and rejoice.