Finding Certainty in Uncertain Times
National crisis has been in the headlines and on all of our minds this year. In the Book of Habakkuk, the eighth of the twelve minor prophets, we find the prophet Habakkuk grieved and burdened during a time of national crisis in his nation of Judah. Habakkuk was faithful to God and had done his best to adhere to the teachings of his godly heritage, yet he was impacted by the crisis. He prayed, asking for divine intervention, but it seemed to him that God was indifferent or absent altogether. Powerful nations were threatening Judah’s safety. The Assyrian empire was falling and the Chaldean empire of Babylon was rising. Disaster appeared to be imminent, and God was not responding.
In our day, many express apprehension about the powerful nations threatening our country—though we hear of Russia, China, Iran, or North Korea instead of the Assyrian or Babylonian Empires—so we can identify with Habakkuk’s burden. The prophet had every reason to be concerned, because the external threat toward his nation was very real. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered by the Assyrians and its people carried away into captivity more than one hundred years earlier, and Assyria had threatened at that time to come farther south to Judah. More recently, the Babylonians had begun overtaking Assyria as the dominant world power, and now that empire threatened Judah.
The internal threat was real as well. Judah had departed from her spiritual heritage. The nation had been founded upon the precepts of the Ten Commandments, but over time, the people had fallen away from God and adopted practices that were in total conflict with His law. The final four kings of Judah were evil, and there was violence and chaos in Judah and its capital city of Jerusalem. As a result, judgment was coming.
Habakkuk seeks an answer from God
The prophet was bewildered by God’s seeming inaction toward the dire situation facing his land, so he prayed. In Habakkuk 1:2 we find his words, “Oh Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! Even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save!” He was pleading, “God, won’t You settle this national crisis? Won’t You address Judah’s perilous state by punishing the wicked?”
The prophet knew that God could intervene and resolve the situation in a moment; He could simply speak the word, as He did at Creation, and it would be done. However, God chose otherwise. He responded to Habakkuk’s complaint by saying, “I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land [Judah], to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs” (Habakkuk 1:5-6).
Clearly, God had a plan, but it was not a plan welcomed by the prophet. When God announced that He would use the Chaldeans to conquer and disperse the people of Judah in order to purge the nation of their sins, the prophet protested. In verse 13, we read a portion of his objection, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity; wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?” In essence, Habakkuk was saying, “Lord, it is true that we are in a bad state of affairs morally, but look at the Chaldeans! They are worse yet, but You intend to use them to accomplish Your justice? How can that be?”
Earlier, it had seemed fitting to the prophets when God used the Chaldeans to destroy the Assyrians who had ravaged the Northern Kingdom. At that time, the Chaldean armies were regarded as the instrument of God. But when those same forces threatened Judah, Habakkuk objected. He wanted answers from God, so he purposed, “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he [the Lord] will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved” (Habakkuk 2:1).
Have you ever imagined a conversation in which someone says something to you and you respond, then they reply to your response, and you rebuff that? A mental dialog of that sort gains nothing, but that was what Habakkuk was doing. God did respond; in fact, Habakkuk did not have to wait long. In verse 2 we read, “And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” God’s answer was to be so simple that even a person going by could read it while running.
The answer came in the form of five woes, which are outlined in chapter two. The first was, “Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his” (verse 6). Verse 9 asserts, “Woe to him that coveteth,” a reminder to Judah that the Law of God given to Moses on the tables of stone included the command not to covet. Verse 12, “Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood and stablisheth a city by iniquity.” In verse 15 we read, “Woe to him that giveth his neighbor drink”—to those who were promoting or facilitating drunkenness. Finally, we find these words in verse 19: “Woe to him that sayeth to the wood, Awake . . . Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it.” Here, God was warning idolators in Judah who treated inanimate objects as if they had life and intelligence. The prophet went on to suggest that instead, the people should approach God in His house with awe and reverence.
As we consider the exchange between Habakkuk and God recorded in this book, we see uncertainty; we see faith; and we see gratitude.
Habakkuk was concerned about the uncertainty that existed during a time of national crisis, but God’s concern was about the behavior of corrupt people who needed correction. Habakkuk looked for a response from God against Judah’s enemies, but God’s attention was focused on what was happening in Judah itself. God’s response did not address the matter that the prophet felt was so urgent; instead He pronounced the five woes. In essence, those woes were saying “Woe unto you who live as if you will never give an account to your Maker.”
Uncertainty always exists. On any given Sunday, there likely are those in our sanctuary—and certainly among those around the world who are viewing our webcast—who are facing great uncertainty. This year, all of us experienced uncertainty at the same time due to the pandemic that impacted lives around the globe. That uncertainty occurred at different levels, because some were already experiencing challenges that were compounded by the effects of the pandemic, but it affected us all.
Life itself is uncertain for everyone, always. The Bible teaches that we have no guarantee of tomorrow. The Apostle James said, “What is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14). We are here today and gone tomorrow. We have no guarantee of another moment on this earth, so it behooves us to live for God so we can spend eternity with the Lord and with loved ones who have also made preparations to meet their Maker.
While we cannot always see or understand what God is doing, we can be sure that God is not absent. He is still on His throne and alert every moment of the day for each one of us. And while there is uncertainty in the world around us, there is also a degree of predictability. For example, the Apostle Paul stated in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” In the midst of uncertainty, be assured that God has a purpose and that purpose will work all things together for good. At another time, Paul said, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” The Apostle had suffered greatly but He had also felt great joy. He had experienced times of poverty but also times of plenty. Through those varying circumstances, he had learned—and we all have an opportunity to learn—to be content in all situations, knowing that God was taking care of him.
There is never uncertainty regarding the results of disobedience to God. The predictable aspect of disobedience is that it will bring one down. The destructive nature of sin is more powerful than a virus and more deadly in its outcome. While we cannot know exactly where sin will take one or what damage it will leave in its wake, the ultimate outcome is certain: destruction. It is like driving a car down a long, steep hill with no brakes. That car will certainly crash at the bottom of the hill, even if the extent of the damage is unknown at the top.
There has been a concerted effort in scientific and medical circles to find a remedy for the virus that has impacted our whole world. However, even when this virus is eradicated or a remedy is provided to minimize its effects, sin will still remain. Sin that is not repented of will always result in death, but a remedy for sin is available. And it is far more important that we take advantage of God’s provision—the remedy paid for by the Blood of Jesus when He suffered and died on the Cross—than that we acquire a provision to wipe out the pandemic that has spread around the globe. The Bible teaches that when we confess and forsake our sins, we have forgiveness through the merits of the Blood of Jesus. Through Christ’s atonement, we can be delivered from eternal death.
Though Habakkuk was in need of answers from God and actually wanted to dictate what those answers should be, he still was trusting in God. And God’s response was that “the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). While the Lord took upon Himself the penalty for our sins and purchased the remedy through His own Blood, we must take action. We must avail ourselves of the remedy by asking that it be applied to our hearts by the grace of God, and then by embracing and adhering to it. From that point onward, we must learn, as the prophet did, that “the just shall live by his faith.” Faith is what assures us that God can be trusted even when we don’t see Him responding or feel Him near. That is faith, and that is how we must live. If we relied upon feelings rather than faith, we would be overcome by uncertainty and adversity. However, that is not the attitude of one whose faith is anchored in God. The just shall live by his faith.
This is such an important concept that these words are repeated three times in the New Testament. For example, Hebrews 10:38 speaks of the just living by faith. In the next chapter, the writer of Hebrews went on to name some who overcame great difficulties by faith—difficulties much greater than what we are experiencing today. By faith they triumphed, and that is how we will triumph as well. Nothing can defeat us if we have faith in God! We can rely upon Him. While uncertainty exists, the mark of our faith is not how we respond when conditions are favorable, but how we respond when the conditions are unfavorable.
Job is one individual in the Old Testament who possessed faith when everything around him seemed unfavorable. After suffering the sudden loss of his family and material possessions, he asked, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” He also stated, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.” Then he continued with those unforgettable words, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” We likely are not encountering what Job encountered, by any means. However, in all the adversity that came his way, he maintained his trust in God; we read, “In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.” We can do the same.
If anything, faith is strengthened by adversity, not weakened. When we sail along calmly, with nothing troubling the sea of life, we have little need to exercise faith. It is when life is uncertain and everything seems to be turning upside down that faith is required. Our faith grows and is strengthened in times of adversity.
Finally, we find gratitude in the Book of Habakkuk. Verse 17 and 18 of chapter 3 give the prophet’s conclusion after he had poured out his heart to God: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls. Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.” He had his salvation. When our gifts disappear, we still have the Giver on our side. If we have nothing but have God, we possess what is most important.
The secret to maintaining a spirit of gratitude is to focus upon God rather than circumstances or feelings. Our feelings are not reliable. Right now, many in our world are in distress, and understandably so if their faith is not anchored in God. They are wondering, worried, and anxious. If we focus on our concerns and let them dominate us, we will find ourselves in a worse state yet. If we focus upon God, we will have a sure footing, and that surely is a reason for gratitude.
Habakkuk knew this. He concluded his prayer with the affirmation, “The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.” Deer run across rough and dangerous terrain and up steep places with sure feet, and that is what God promises to help us do during times of uncertainty. If we will hold onto our faith and use that faith to look to God with a grateful heart, we will overcome even in troubled times.
God can help us attain higher ground in our spiritual lives than we had when the trouble began. So in these times when the future is uncertain and situations around us cause dismay in the natural, remember the conclusion Habakkuk reached: that in spite of trouble, he would trust and rejoice in God. We can do the same, and we will thrive spiritually as we make that our purpose.