Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 (20th Sunday after Pentecost, Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
October 6, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament Lesson from the prophet Habakkuk:
The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. 2 O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted. . . . I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. 2 And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end– it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. 4 “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.
In the Church Year, we don’t hear a lot from the prophet Habakkuk. I’m going to venture a guess that not too many of us have even read the book, even though it is only 3 chapters. Habakkuk served as God’s prophet around 605 B.C. His book is unique in that he records a dialogue between himself and the Lord. His message to us in a nutshell is “hold on to the Lord, even when you don’t understand what He is up to.” Habakkuk spoke for the faithful in his day who looked around at all the troubling events in their world and asked, “Why?” Do you ever wish you could ask God some hard questions, questions that really bother you? And maybe you have, but then felt guilty for asking?
In our text this morning the prophet Habakkuk asks two questions that the Christian might indeed ask: “How long will God let the evil of the unrighteous go on? And why does tolerate it?” Was Habakkuk wrong in asking? What about when frustrations set in for you and me when we do not understand or agree with what God is doing? Words pour forth from our hearts, “What are you doing, God? Are you ignoring me? Do You not care?” Are we wrong in asking those things? When we use those words and questions we are often left with a sense of guilt and shame. “What kind of Christian am I, to speak to God like that?”
In truth, we can ask God anything. He’s not afraid of our questions, and He’s not angry at us when we ask honestly. For such soul-wrenching questions and complaints do not demonstrate a failing faith, but rather a faith that trusts in the Lord and looks to Him for the needed answer. (But a fair warning, we might not always understand the answers! And we might not always like what we hear.)
Habakkuk had more than a question for the Lord. In fact, it was a complaint. “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” Habakkuk questioned how God was running things.
We do that too. God seems to do little to stop violence in our own day: terrorists and weapons of mass destruction, the violence of tornadoes and earthquakes and fires, plane crashes and train wrecks and auto accidents. Death comes suddenly and unexpectedly to those we love. Illnesses and tragedies strike us all around.
Habakkuk, in his frustration and pain, brought his questions directly to the Lord. Rather than simply bellyaching against God and letting anger rule the day, Habakkuk, in faith, went to the Source. When we don’t understand why things seem to be going badly or horribly wrong, we’re well-advised to bring our questions and our complaints directly to the Lord in faith also. After all, God Himself is the One who can help us.
As the psalmist would lift up his eyes to the hills to see his help coming from the Lord in Psalm 121, so Habakkuk would position himself on the ramparts, at the watchpost in the tower, looking eagerly for the Lord’s help. Like Habakkuk, we can also look expectantly to God for help. He will put a stop to violence around us—someday. He will vindicate people for their faithfulness—eventually. We can be certain of this because our help has already come in the name of Jesus, the Lord our Savior. Jesus Himself is the Righteous One in whom we now live by faith. By faith we trust that God has declared us sinners to be righteous. We aren’t righteous by anything we do or don’t do. God declares us to be righteous because of what Jesus alone did as our Savior.
God’s Word tells us, “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God.” (2Cor. 5:21) Does that seem fair? Does that seem right? Jesus had no sin. He was holy, perfect, without sin. Yet, God punished Jesus for our sins. Jesus took all our sins upon Himself and suffered God’s wrath unto death so that we might have forgiveness and everlasting life. And the result is that in Jesus we are now made righteous. Because Jesus shed His blood for us, covering over our sins and washing them away, God declares us right and holy before Him. He announces that we are forgiven! And God speaks this declaration of grace to us over and over again—in Baptism, absolution, the preaching of the Gospel, and in the Lord’s Supper. “Your sins are forgiven.”
So we, the people made righteous by Christ, who live in His forgiveness, now live by faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) When we don’t understand why God is doing things the way He’s doing them, by His grace through faith, we’re always welcome to go to Him directly with our questions and our complaints. As we are reminded in the Small Catechism, “With these words[, Our Father who art in heaven,] God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.” Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Our questions and complaints we set before the Lord are offered from our faith in Jesus. They illustrate the intimate relationship the Lord has with us by grace through faith as His beloved sons and daughters. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1) You see, He is not an impulsive God, nor is He unable to accept the honest, heartfelt complaints that arise from His people as they struggle with life’s trials. In Christ, God has experienced our every heartache. Isaiah 53 describes Jesus as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) Hebrews 4:15 assures us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:15) And it is this God and Savior who invites us honestly to tell Him our troubles and lay all our anxieties before Him. For Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1Peter 5:7)
God accepts, even invites, our questions and complaints as they are offered in faith, trusting that He knows what He is doing, even if we cannot understand His ways. Questions of why? and how long? demonstrate our trust that God our heavenly Father really does listen and He really does answer our prayers. Even more, such questions show our confidence that His ways are better than our ways. And it is for that very reason we want to know why He has chosen the route He has.
Approaching the Lord with our complaints and our questions does not undermine our faith. Instead, it leads us to a more fervent trust in the Lord, despite the prevailing circumstances. That’s what dove Habakkuk to ask God and to lay his complaint before the Lord in whom he trusted. It’s the same faith that drives us to do the same. Therefore, approach the Lord’s throne of grace with all boldness and confidence. Ask your questions and lodge your complaints. Do so in faith as God’s beloved children who stand before Him in righteousness. Amen.