As you have gathered by now, this morning, we are beginning a series called Vantage Point in which we will be studying the Book of Habakkuk.
The book of Habakkuk unfolds as a conversation between Habakkuk and God.
Just to set some context, Habakkuk is a prophet in Judah, the southern Kingdom of Israel. He is a part of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen race who was in covenant with God and were supposed to be following the commands of the Law. But Habakkuk looks around his nation and he doesn’t see a people characterized by righteousness and justice. He sees violence, injustice, and wrongdoing, which frustrates him to the point that he cries out to God. We find his complaint in Hab 1:1-4.
1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.
2 How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
Why, God, are you letting the wicked get away with their wickedness? See, from Habakkuk’s vantage point, from where he is sitting, God is just letting it slide. Habakkuk’s thought process is like most of ours. Things should go well for good people and they should go poorly for bad people. We want to see the wicked punished. We don’t want to see them get away with their wickedness or injustice.
At the root of Habakkuk’s complaint is a question. That question in two words, is, “Why, God?” In one simple word, the question is “Why?”
We can relate to this passage and to Habakkuk because we often ask the very same question. “Why God.”
I know that I have. Many of you have. Perhaps you’re asking it right now. If you aren’t or if you haven’t, then chances are: you will.
Consider the circumstances that drive us to ask that question. When do we normally cry out to God and ask, “Why?” Isn’t it usually those tough, unpleasant, painful situations and difficult circumstances that drive us to ask “Why God?”
With the economy the way it has been since 2008, there’s instability in our places of employment. Perhaps you have lost a job. And your response may have been, “Why God?”
The answer may be “Because I want to use you as a light in a different corner of this dark room.” Then again, the answer may be because you kept showing up late, calling in, and doing a crummy job. This is a wake-up call, so shape up, bro! I don’t know.
Perhaps your boyfriend broke up with you. You thought this was the guy you were going to marry, so you cry out, “Why God?” Maybe the answer is because he was becoming an idol and taking the place of God on the throne of your heart. Maybe the answer is you are a daughter of the king of kings and that man is not fit to be the prince in your life. Perhaps God is protecting you and your heart, reserving it for a man after God’s own heart.
Perhaps you didn’t get into the school of your choice. So you cry out, “Why God?” The answer could be, the school of your choice was across the country and I want you closer to home because you need the fellowship of your current local church where you have the necessary accountability to strengthen your faith because you’re not quite strong enough to go off on your own and swim against the current of culture. And then again the answer could be, you slept in class, didn’t turn in assignments on time, and you slacked off; you didn’t do well enough in high school to get into the school of your choice. This is a wake up call, sister! I don’t know.
Perhaps you had a miscarriage, or got word that you have cancer or your spouse cheated on you, or you can’t have a child and your response may just be like Habakkuk’s “Why God?” Why?
- Sometimes, one way or another, we find out why. Sometimes, God peels back the veil and shows us why.
- Sometimes – many times, the answer for me has been, “to humble you.”
- Sometimes it is “to teach you.”
- Other times it is “Because I have something better in store for you.”
- Other times it is “Because I want you to do something for my kingdom that you wouldn’t have been able to do in your previous situation.”
Sometimes we never find out why. Sometimes it remains a mystery and we never know the answer.
But…the good news is that God DOES know…and HIS vantage point is so much better than ours.
While our vantage point is earthly & limited, God’s is infinite & unlimited.
Let me illustrate further the contrast between our vantage point and God’s.
When I was in my early twenties I used to be all about souped up lowrider Japanese cars, specifically Hondas. And I’m short. So a short dude riding in a lowrider can’t really see too far ahead. But here in Texas, everybody else was in a truck with a lift kit and monster truck tires – not to mention they were all like a foot taller than me. On the road, they had a much better vantage point; they could see a lot more ground, their line of sight covered a much farther distance. Often I would come around a bend on the highway and I couldn’t see over the cement barrier so I would come upon a traffic jam and be surprised by it. Now if I was a foot taller in a F-150 with a 2’ lift and monster truck tires, I would have seen that traffic jam early enough to say, “I should take this next exit and use the frontage road.” That’s where everybody else had a better vantage point than I did.
Now compare their vantage point to that of a bird. A bird flying around has an even better vantage point – for he can see for miles. A bird flying overhead would look down on us poor souls sitting and traffic and say, “They should have taken the loop. Sucks to be them.”
Now, while the bird’s eye view is better than that of the monster truck, it is still limited and it pales in comparison to the God’s eye view. God’s vantage point is unlimited. He sees and knows all – not only the 3 dimensions of space, but time and circumstance; His vision is unlimited. His knowledge is unlimited. It’s not limited by space, or time – or anything.
With all of that in mind, consider the following: if God is love (and he is)…and if God is gracious (and he is)…and if God works in all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (and he does), then shouldn’t we trust him?
I mean, if my friend was driving behind me in his monster truck and had the ability to see a traffic jam ahead and he called me and said take the next exit, I would trust him because he had a better vantage point – mine was limited. How much more should I trust the God who loves me and knows what is best for me – the God who is ultimately making the calls in my life – the God whose vantage point is far better than that of my friend in a monster truck?
So, while our perspective is limited, God’s is unlimited; our vantage point pales in comparison to God’s, so we should trust Him though we cannot see over the next cement barrier; though situations seem to be mounting against us, we can know that God, who loves us and is for us, not only sees these barriers, but sees what lies beyond them and we may trust Him with the outcome.
BACK TO HABAKKUK
Habakkuk is presenting his complaint before God and he is doing so from his own limited earthly vantage point. Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for – God’s answer.
5 “Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
6 I am raising up the Babylonians,
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
7 They are a feared and dreaded people;
they are a law to themselves
and promote their own honor.
8 Their horses are swifter than leopards,
fiercer than wolves at dusk.
Their cavalry gallops headlong;
their horsemen come from afar.
They fly like an eagle swooping to devour;
9 they all come intent on violence.
Their hordes advance like a desert wind
and gather prisoners like sand.
10 They mock kings
and scoff at rulers.
They laugh at all fortified cities;
by building earthen ramps they capture them.
11 Then they sweep past like the wind and go on—
guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”
So Habakkuk presented his complaint before God. The wicked are getting away with wickedness. How long are you going to let this happen? Aren’t you going to take care of this?
And God’s reply is “Why yes. Yes, I am. Don’t you worry, Habakkuk. I’ll take care of the wicked. They will get theirs. I’m sending the Babylonians in to teach them a lesson. The Babylonians are going to serve as my hand as I give Israel a ginormous cosmic spanking.”
Now, this is one of the many reasons I absolutely love the Bible and why in my humble opinion, Christianity is valid over and against all other religions. You can look back through history and see how the very things that God promised would happen did indeed happen just as God foretold them. In this case, God told Habakkuk that the Babylonians would be God’s instrument to punish the wicked Jews. History tells us that within decades of Habakkuk’s vision, in 586 BC the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and carried away the inhabitants to serve as slaves in exile. That’s just amazing!
So this is God’s reply: “Habakkuk, you want me to deal with the wicked? Will do. I’ll bring the Babylonians against them and take care of them for ya.” How do you think Habakkuk felt about that reply? Let’s see Habakkuk’s response.
12 Lord, are you not from everlasting?
My God, my Holy One, we [or you] will never die.
You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;
you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.
13 Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?
Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?
14 You have made people like the fish in the sea,
like the sea creatures that have no ruler.
15 The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks,
he catches them in his net,
he gathers them up in his dragnet;
and so he rejoices and is glad.
16 Therefore he sacrifices to his net
and burns incense to his dragnet,
for by his net he lives in luxury
and enjoys the choicest food.
17 Is he to keep on emptying his net,
destroying nations without mercy?
Habakkuk is like “um…God, you’re doing the opposite of what I was hoping for. Maybe you didn’t understand my question. See, I’m asking why are you letting wicked people get away with wickedness? I don’t think you’re picking up what I’m putting down. I’m asking why you’re letting evil people in Israel get away with evil. I want you to deal with the evil people in Israel. And your answer is the Babylonians? You’re going to let the Babylonians come and lay waste to your people. Okay, I know my countrymen in Israel are bad, but the Babylonians are worse. They sweep through the nations, killing the men, raping the women, enslaving the children. So you’re letting worse people get away with even worse things? Not what I expected. Not what I wanted. Not what I had in mind.”
We learn an important principle here: God hears our pleas and God answers prayer, but in His way (not necessarily what we have in mind).
Let’s think about this in terms of vantage point.
Consider Habakkuk’s vantage point as he looks around at his countrymen – these people all around me are evil. At least compared to me. By comparison, I’m righteous. I want God to deal with these wicked people and give them what they deserve. And not by the hands of the Babylonians; they are even more wicked than the people I’m complaining about.
Consider God’s vantage point as he looks around every person is evil. At least compared to Him. From God’s point of view, every person on the planet has been stained by sin. They are all unholy. All have sinned and fallen short of His glory. While Habakkuk looks around and thinks that some people deserve God’s wrath for their wickedness, God looks around and from His vantage point every person deserves his wrath for their wickedness. Not just some, but all.
We look through Habakkuk’s eyes and we can appreciate where he is coming from. We look around the office and we see
- the affair
- the shady business deals
- the strip clubs and personal vacations on company credit cards
We look around at school and see people cheating on papers and tests and we want to see them get caught and punished.
We see the person speed past us zigzagging lanes and we want to see them pulled over by a state trooper when we pass them in five minutes.
We, like Habakkuk want to see justice. We want to see wickedness dealt with.
But we also have the Bible, so we can appreciate God’s perspective and we recognize that from His vantage point we are no different from the unfaithful spouse or the speeding zigzagger in terms of being a sinner. We just sin in different ways. And like them, we should get what we deserve. The wages of sin is death, separation from God, the wrath of God. So this has a humbling effect on us.
- We don’t want what we deserve (in terms of God’s wrath).
- We would prefer pardon.
- We would rather receive grace – undeserved mercy, unmerited favor.
- We would like for God NOT to deal with us as our sins deserve.
So knowing what we know, seeing what we see, what shall we do? We do what Jesus calls us to do; we do to others what we would like others to do to us. We take our desire for grace and extend grace toward others; we back off a little bit. We get a little less focused on making sure that wicked people get what they deserve. We consider the grace we have been shown and we aren’t so quick to go to God to complain about how the wicked aren’t being punished – they aren’t getting what they deserve. Why? Because from God’s vantage we are part of the wicked category and we don’t want to get what they deserve. Since we didn’t get what we deserve, we got grace, we grant grace to others.
THE PAIN HAS A PURPOSE
Notice again the nature of all of these “why God” situations. The urge to cry out “Why God” usually springs from personal pain and suffering.
- Your pastor is moving away
- Death of a loved one
- your baby momma best friend’s cousin’s boyfriends sister posts something bad about you on Facebook.
At the core of such situations lies personal pain or suffering. The good news is that we serve a good, holy, righteous, merciful, loving, gracious God who knows what is best for us and I would be willing to bet you that
whatever pain God brings into our lives (or if you prefer the term allows in our lives) it has a purpose and that purpose is for our good and His glory.
Whether he is
- teaching you a lesson
- or stretching your faith
- or humbling you
- or preparing you for something great
- or removing an obstacle or a barrier that stands between you and something better or more fulfilling
- the pain present in the Why God moments is for a purpose.
Perhaps neither Habakkuk nor the nation of Israel understood why being destroyed by Babylon would be good for them, but history tells us that after their exile to Babylon, while they weren’t perfect, idol worship practically ceased. They learned their lesson. God used this cosmic spanking to discipline them and it worked. It was for their good.
My five year old thinks I’m being mean when I put her in the corner. From her 5-year old vantage point, she doesn’t see right now that it is for her good that I discipline her, but when she gets older, when she looks back at this time of her life from a different vantage point [maybe a 25-year old vantage point] she will understand (hopefully) that my discipline was for a purpose and that it was ultimately for her good.
Whatever God does in the lives of his children, whether they understand it or not, is for a purpose and it is for their good. For the circumstances, situations, issues, battles, you name it- they are coming from a good, merciful, loving God who is for his people, and whose vantage point is far better than ours. We should trust Him – no matter how painful and pointless it may seem in the moment.
MOVE CLOSER TO GOD’S VANTAGE POINT
As we experience these “Why God” circumstances our goal is to do our best to take off whatever blinders we have on, step outside of our comfort zone and move from our vantage point to God’s and try to see things from God’s perspective instead of ours.
There are 3 ways that we can move closer to God’s vantage point:
- Consider the cross
- Seek Him in prayer
- Spend time in His word
The first way to move closer to God’s Vantage point is to consider the cross. The cross was the most unjust act in human history. So it’s not like God doesn’t know what it’s like. When we complain to God about injustice and unfair situations, we are talking to a God who has been there done that. He humbled himself came in the form of a man – a perfectly holy and righteous sinless man and was treated with scorn, contempt, spit on, rejected, humiliated, and hung on a cross by the very people he was sent to save. That is injustice, violence, wrongdoing. And so when we want to complain because of injustice from our vantage point, God’s like, “Hey let me tell you, I know all about that, come see things from my vantage point.” Step into the sandals of Jesus and consider the cross.
Another way to move closer to God’s vantage point is to seek him in prayer. To go ahead and ask Why God. But don’t stop there. Pour your heart out to God and keep that discussion alive. The longer you spend in prayer the closer you get to God’s vantage point.
We see this over and over in the Psalms as the Psalmist begins by asking God those “why” sort of questions. The longer he spends in conversation with God, the closer he gets to God’s vantage point and reaches a place of comfort. One brief example is:
Psalm 13:1 starts, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
…v5-6 BUT I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD for he has been good to me.”
The third way that we can get closer to God’s vantage point is to spend time in his word. The more time we spend in the scriptures the better we get to know God and his character, his ways, and his will. The more clearly we will see and the better our vision will be as our vantage point converges with God’s.
The closer we get to God’s vantage point, the more comfort we will find in our Why God situations.
One important thing to keep in mind is this: Understanding what God is doing doesn’t always bring comfort. Trusting God does.
Imagine with me that you need to have a major surgery. This is the kind of thing that requires a specialist. So you look up the experts in Central Texas and find only two. You go to meet with them to try to decide between the two.
You walk in and meet the first surgeon, Dr. Chikovsky. He has shaky hands. He has one lazy eye and a patch over the other eye. After he introduces himself, he launches into an in depth explanation of the intricacies of the surgery first in medical terms and then in laymen’s terms so that you understand everything about the operation down to the most finite detail.
Then, you consult with the second surgeon, Dr. Williams. Dr. Williams has steady hands. He seems very alert. You see all of his certificates, degrees, and awards on his wall. You looked him up online and he has an immaculate track record. But this one doesn’t tell you anything about what the operation will entail as far as medical mumbo jumbo or even laymen’s terms. He just tells you that he is going to fix your problem.
The first one told you more about the operation and gave you more understanding, right?
But which one do you trust more? Which one gives you more comfort?
Just because the first one gave you more info, more understanding, do you find more comfort with him doing it? Understanding does not necessarily bring comfort, trust does.
So, you say, “I don’t need to know how you’re going to do it, doc, I just need to know that you’re going to do it and I need to be able to trust you. You have a good track record, you have a steady hand, from what I can see, you’re trustworthy and I will take comfort in that, Dr. Williams, you’re my guy.”
In the same way, understanding exactly what God is doing doesn’t bring us comfort. Trusting God does.
- God has an immaculate track record
- he is trustworthy and
- he has a steady hand, in fact, a mighty hand.
See in our culture, understanding is our desire. Our culture says, “I want to know how and why!” instead of JUST trusting God. The desire to fully understand is what led to the fall in the garden; the fruit seemed good for obtaining understanding.
- Israel didn’t understand how God was going to free them from slavery in Egypt but he did. He was trust worthy.
- They didn’t understand how God was going to deliver the Promised Land into their hands because those Canaanites were BIG and by comparison, Israel was like grasshoppers but He did. He was trustworthy.
- They didn’t understand how this man from Nazareth could be of any worth, the guy whose mother and brothers they all knew. But he was. God is trustworthy and we have every reason to TRUST him.
It is in trusting God that we will find comfort – not in understanding everything about what he is doing or why he is doing it.
While we want the answer to those why questions that spring from painful situations, while we want to understand, when did understanding ever really bring comfort? Sometimes understanding brings more pain – in fact that’s what the author of Ecclesiastes seems to say in Ecc 1:18 In much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.
My son eats like 5 hot dogs a day. He finds great comfort in that. One day he will gain understanding of a hot dog’s contents. Do you think that he will find more comfort from that understanding?
Understanding does not necessarily bring comfort, trust does.
After all God’s ways are above ours and his thoughts above ours. That’s not a cop out; it’s just reality – our understanding is truly limited. So when we are in a why God situation, instead of pressing for understanding (as if that would truly bring comfort) let us TRUST God.
That is where the comfort lies because He is truly trustworthy since His vantage point is far better than ours.
At this time, Jennifer is going to share a song with you that really drives home some of the points that I have made this morning. You may have heard this song on the radio. Regardless of how familiar you are with the song, I want to challenge you – don’t zone out! Really meditate on these lyrics and how they relate to our vantage point when it comes to the circumstances in our lives and let’s work on making the shift from our vantage point to God’s.
And remember: when we cry out to God, he hears us, and he answers, but he answers in his way, not ours.
The good news is that his way is far better.