Yesterday’s message …
Started a series based on a book many long-time church goers did not even know was in the biblical library — Habakkuk;
Explained that Habakkuk’s genre is that of complaint or lament;
Required some knowledge of the Babylonia siege and subsequent exile, as well as the internal moral compromises that made Israel so vulnerable;
Landed at this bottom line: God will use REAL pain to protect you from FAKE joy.
So please go ahead and fill in the blank, and this one isn’t hard at all: ACHES AND _. Of course! Pains. There’s aches, there’s pains, there’s pains you have, pains you dread, pains you work with, pains you listen to on Sunday mornings ….
And I have to admit, I am a complete baby when it comes to pain. Like paper cuts have been known to ruin my entire day, sometimes my entire week. So bad, I put pictures of them on social media, begging for sympathy (AV). Of course, there has been worse. The sprained knee in 5th grade football that had me on crutches, the injured rotator cuff in college that for awhile made me serve underhanded, the degenerated disc that coincided with turning 40. You know what I’m saying because you all tell me about the kinds of pains you have. Even the most bewildering of all – fibro myalgia & chronic fatigue syndrome where the diagnosis is so murky and the treatment so haphazard. Aches. Pains.
Then, of course, there’s the deeper pain. When that friend betrays you. The parent forgets you. The spouse leaves you. The job fires you. The nation disappoints you. The church misguides you. You, me, and all of us have aches, and we have pains, and some of the time the biggest pain in our life is the one we’re living with or listening to.
Well, Habakkuk knew a thing or two about pain. First there’s his NAME. Is it Hab AK uk or is it HAB ak uk? Significantly worse than Talbot, which is pretty bad itself. Then there’s the fact that in the biblical library he only gets a tiny little book stuck in the middle of a whole bunch of other tiny little books. Like he has been relegated to permanent, eternal anonymity. I’d for sure have a major chip on my shoulder. And there is the condition of his people, the Jews in Jerusalem in about 612 BC. They are so corrupt, so dishonest. The privileged few live at the expense of the oppressed many. The elites in Jerusalem are living it up because they’ve taken advantage of the common folks. Violence, double talk. Using people for their pleasure. And as happens so often, when a people get hollowed out morally on the inside, they’re more vulnerable to pressure from the outside. Which was certainly true of Jerusalem as they were under the lingering threat of the mighty Babylonians.
And so Habakkuk, whom we believe probably worked in the Jerusalem temple as a worship leader – an ancient times Chris Macedo, if you will, complete with track jacket attire 600 BC – sees the pain all around him and does what is for him the most logical thing to do: he belly-aches about it to God. He’s got the fine art of whining DOWN. Look at 1:2-3:
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.
Whoa! So NERVY. Reading places like this in Scripture ALWAYS makes me smile at those folks who say with the best of intentions, “You can’t question the Lord!” I’m always tempted to answer, “Oh yeah? Tell that to the people who made it in the bible, because it’s FULL of people complaining to him and questioning him!” I love the fact that our God is so self-assured, so emotionally secure, that he inspires words that question his job performance. Love it. Liberating.
And look once more at Hab’s complaint here in 2:3:
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.
Why do my eyes even have to SEE this stuff? Once I see the gory, I can’t unsee it. My kinfolk are getting happy and joyful in the midst of the misery of their own family. Then in 2:4, he summarizes this particular belly ache:
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
Ah, so the Law – Genesis through Deuteronomy, if you’re Jewish it’s the foundation of life and of community – has been rendered inoperative. Everything is upside down: bad is good, misery is joy, wicked is holy. The foundation of who we are as a people has been shoved aside and forgotten. It’s gory and I have to look it straight in the eye. Really, when you think about it, these verses are kind of a prayer asking God when is he going to make Israel great again? Why has he let it get away with being wicked?
And so I just want you to know that that particular frustration you may feel – when it comes to our land, our politics, the church in general and even the church specific – you’re free to vent to God. I can’t promise you’ll get an answer, much less one you like, but Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God would rather you frustrated with him than ignore him.
Yet Hab, who has to SEE the gory, gets an answer, and it’s not REMOTELY what he expected. He has asked a domestic question: WHY IS MY TOWN SO WRETCHED & why do the wicked prosper so joyfully while the oppressed suffer so miserably? And then he gets an INTERNATIONAL answer, a not-so-subtle reminder that God’s agenda is always bigger than ours. Look at 1:5:
“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.
You haven’t seen anything yet, what’s-your-name. What?! Oh yeah. Look at 1:6:
I am raising up the Babylonians,[a]
that ruthless and impetuous people,
who sweep across the whole earth
to seize dwellings not their own.
Gulp. The Babylonians, who are oppressors, vicious, enormous. It’s almost like saying Rhode Island is gonna go up against TEXAS. 100x the land and 10x the people and 50x the army. And they’re coming for you, God says. You think you’re having INTERNAL pain? Just wait til you get a load of the Babylonians. And note what it says: I am raising them up.
That’s stunning. God is so sovereign, so in charge, that I can make my enemies accomplish my will and they don’t even know what they’re doing. That’s what’s getting ready to happen with the Babylonians. And then God goes on in 1:7-10:
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[b] 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.
Gulp. Dogs and cats living together! Normal human language fails when trying to describe the might and the aggression of the Babylonians, so the best I can do is approximate. And then the Babylonians – who even though they are God’s instrument are still responsible for their sin – get described this way in 1:11: Then they sweep past like the wind and go on— guilty people, whose own strength is their god.”
Boom. I kinda love it. Holding a mirror to Israel – violent, oppressive, taking joy in causing misery – and saying WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO YOURSELVES WILL NOW BE DONE TO YOU. BY A BIGGER AND BADDER VERSION OF YOU.
So you get to this end of God’s answer to Hab’s FIRST belly-aching episode and the logical question is WHY? Why would God answer him with the promise not of deliverance but devastation? Not of provision but of more pain? Why? And even more painful question since we know all the stuff described here HAPPENED. About 15 years later BOOM – the Babylonians, who are so strong they can only be described like wild beasts – did overrun and ransack Jerusalem and take its best & brightest captive to Babylon where they served as slaves. So why this answer now and that reality then?
And I think the answer to that question goes back to the nature of Hab’s complaint, the type of people he is originally praying for; his own. God’s chosen. The Jews. Insiders. They’re having joy, having fun, but it’s FAKE BECAUSE IT COMES AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHERS. And God loves them way too much to let them get away with it. He loves them too much to let them get what they want, especially when what they want is more fake joy, more “sin” disguised as fun. Because here it is: God uses REAL PAIN to protect you from FAKE JOY.
Yes, he does. He has and he will. If you’re trending towards some fake joy – a temporary high that comes at the expense of others, a short term fix that violates your long term commitments to family and to faith – God is certainly not opposed to using pain to get you to stop. My gosh, what happens if you put your hand on the element of a hot stove. Whoa! Burn like the devil! But did you know that people who are born without pain receptors in their appendages are liable to keep their hands or their feet on the unit so long that it causes permanent damage and they don’t know it’s going on? God uses psychic and relational pain in our lives to make sure that doesn’t happen to us. There are so many times and so many ways when God simply loves you too much to let you get away with it! God uses REAL PAIN to protect you from FAKE JOY.
Sometimes I wonder if this was the lesson I learned with my 1986 Toyota Celica. Loved that car. Red. Sporty. I thought it was cool. GT, so I changed gears. Loved it loved it loved it. Until the time on that CT freeway where a guy comes out of nowhere and rams me from behind – I was going 55 (ok, 63) which means he was sort of spinning at 80 or so, which meant my little Celica was all tore up. Taken from me LIKE THAT. Other than some stiff necks, we were OK … better than the red Celica’s rear end. Ultimately that car – as cool as it was! – could never be the source of my joy. God uses REAL PAIN to protect you from FAKE JOY.
Just think of all the FAKE JOYS we pursue! Like a Happy Meal? Whose happy when you buy one or ten? McDonald’s shareholders! If it really worked, you’d just have to buy ONE in your whole life and happiness would be yours or your kid’s. Nope. Or, more seriously, ambition. Man, I was identified as an achiever recently and I know how that longing to accomplish and achieve ever more can just suck you dry. It’s been so interesting over the last couple of years the number of high profile preachers – and I mean HIGH PROFILE, with attendance in the FIVE FIGURES – who have fallen. Some to sex, some to alcohol, some to abusive patterns. And each one of them, I now see, had this FAKE JOY that came with immense size and fame. But apparently God loved them too much to let them hang on to it, since hanging on to it was killing their souls. It’s all been stunning to see.
There are other fake joys in this place. Even today. It’s the affair. It’s the drug. It’s the good life. It’s the kind of theft that doesn’t give a second thought to what you give to God as long as you accumulate plenty for you. Bleh. All of it temporary. All of it deceptive, all of it God will intervene to protect you from an dif he has to slap you hand with real pain to get you to STOP he will. But would it be grand if you could abandon the fake joy before you had to endure the real pain? Wouldn’t it be marvelous if you recognized what’s vain and what’s temporary for what it is and rebuked it on the spot? God uses REAL PAIN to protect you from FAKE JOY.
I happen to believe it would be even better than that if you and if I could see what it means to abandon all the fake joys for the relentless pursuit of the real. I mean, goodness, God is so relentlessly pursuing US that he will use his enemies – Pharoah, Babylon, Persia – to bring us back! If he’s that relentless in pursuing us, what an honor we have to return the favor. It’s a bit like CS Lewis put it:
Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water … If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably, earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.
For the rest of this series, I want to invite you into something. Instead of the fake joy of staring the day in the world, how about the real joy of starting it in the word. We’ll send the devo to you every morning in your inbox (or have it there?), and you give God that first 15 minutes of the day and you might just find yourself avoiding his redemptive pain altogether. REFRAIN and the real joy starts in the morning, in the word.