Nobody likes a complainer, right? I’ve worked in several offices in my time, and it seems like in most of them there’s one doofus who loves to complain. But when it comes to complaining to God, it gets a little. . .complicated.
There are theologians and other big brains whom I greatly respect who say that all complaining is wrong and sinful. They point to passages like Romans 9:20—“But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “‘Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Of course, to add a wrinkle, Paul’s quoting a prophet here, which is ironic considering we’re looking at a prophet today who’s complaining—very loudly.
But on the other side, how are we to deal with the Psalms? As we discussed before, you can find pure “praise” Psalms which have nothing but good to say about the world and how God is running it. But you have to look for those. Most of the Psalms have something to complain about, and either implicitly or explicitly they’re blaming the Lord for what’s happening, because, he’s. . . well, sovereign, right?
Dennis Prager, a Jewish talk-show host I listen to, makes a strong point about Judaism vs. Islam. Islam means “submission,” and questioning Allah is not very encouraged. In contrast, Israel—stemming from Jacob’s all-night wrestling match—means “he struggles with God,” and it was after this wrestling match that God blessed him.
I came to the conclusion that it’s not the fact of complaining per se that’s the problem. It’s the attitude behind the complaint. Are we respectful? Do we acknowledge that he's good, that he has our best interests at heart, and that he really knows what he’s doing? Do we fully understand that when it comes down to it, he owes us nothing except judgment?
So that brings us to today’s passage. The prophet records a conversation he had with the Lord, one that wasn’t all sunshine and roses and kittens. He’s looking around, and what he sees isn’t pretty. The poor and needy are being trampled. God’s standards are being mocked and ignored. And worst of all—what always makes situations like this worse—it seemed like the Lord was silent. Was he blind to what was going on? Was he impotent to act? Or did he just not care?
The Lord finally responded, but not in the way Habakkuk was expecting. He was undoubtedly hoping to hear from the Lord that salvation was coming, that the Messiah was about to arrive, wrong would be made right, and God’s enemies would finally be given what they deserved.
No. The Lord told him that he was going to deal with the situation by. . .sending Babylon to come in, kill a lot of people, and carry off the rest into exile. God was going to hand Judah over to the Babylonians, and these ruthless thugs would have a free hand.
And let’s be clear about this. The Scripture is not presenting the Lord as just “allowing” these things to happen. God was coming to judge his people, and he was using Babylonian soldiers as his tools.
I’m trying to imagine Habakkuk’s face when the Lord gave his response to the complaint. He was complaining about injustice in society, and it seemed like God was going to make it worse! We’ll get to the prophet’s second complaint tomorrow, but for now, let’s ponder this for a moment. When we question the Lord about what he’s doing, we should be mindful of this: We might not like his answer. His ways are as far above our ways as the heavens are above the earth. He really knows what he’s doing. Instead of asking for a specific answer, maybe we’re better off just trusting in him and knowing that he does all things well. To our knowledge, God never gave a direct answer to Job as to why he experienced the things he did. Instead, the Lord had a face-to-face encounter with Job and showed Job his incredible wisdom and sovereignty, and that was enough.
Instead of asking for a specific answer, maybe what I need is more of him.
Lord Jesus, you’re my Shepherd, and I trust you. Or at least I want to. I do believe, please help my unbelief.