Living By Faith
November 1, 2020
I once met a Jewish man whose grandparents were victims of Hitler’s invasion of Poland. The Germans killed most of his family. This man had spent much of his life questioning God and God’s justice in this world.
While he deeply valued his Jewish heritage, he questioned whether God was on vacation during the time that two million Jews were being exterminated in the gas chambers.
This man stands in a long line of people that have questioned the fairness of God.
The Psalmist asked God, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (Psalm 13:1-2)
Jeremiah cried out to God to avenge him from his persecutors. He made his case to God that he had been faithful to Him. Then he questioned God, “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?” (Jeremiah 15:20)
What a powerful image! Jeremiah asks God if he’s going to promise to deliver life-giving water only to discover that the brook is bone dry.
Job questioned God’s fairness toward him:
Will you never look away from me,
or let me alone even for an instant?
20 If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
you who see everything we do?
Why have you made me your target?
Have I become a burden to you?[a]
21 Why do you not pardon my offenses
and forgive my sins?
For I will soon lie down in the dust;
you will search for me, but I will be no more.” (Job 7:19-21)
Today we come to the very short prophetic book of Habakkuk in our journey through the Bible. This prophet wastes no time laying out his lament before God.
“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” (1:2-4)
Are you surprised that there are so many accounts in the Bible of people being this honest with God, laying out before Him their complaints about how unfair life is as they look around and see others prospering while they experience pain?
Don’t be. There are plenty of modern-day examples if we choose to see them.
These biblical voices speak for the couple that cannot get pregnant and for the couple that has experienced several miscarriages while their friends have no problems conceiving and having children.
They speak for parents that have had to endure watching a child suffer with cancer and is eventually claimed by that disease.
They speak for adults that were born in this country to illegal immigrants who are not given full status as citizens, even though they have never lived anywhere else and paid their taxes just like every other American citizen.
They speak for the unknown numbers of people that are in prison and convicted for crimes they did not commit.
They speak for soldiers who suffer from PTSD, who fought bravely for their country but cannot find any peace since they returned home from war.
They speak for people with chronic pain, who wake up every day and have to learn to live in pain.
They speak for the millions of people in Third World countries who are exploited by other countries and remain poor and uneducated because there is always someone ready to take what little they have and use it for their own profit.
They speak for minorities, whose voices cry out for equality, to be treated with the respect and dignity.
They speak for those whose pensions have been taken away by companies they worked with for decades.
They speak for people whose identities have been stolen.
They speak for those who have been abused sexually.
They speak for those who have had a family member murdered.
They speak for those who are the most qualified for a position but someone else was hired because of nepotism, political favors, or some kind of discrimination.
Not everyone blames God when life is not fair, but when people cry out to God and no help comes, then people are more inclined to join my Jewish friend and ask whether God is on vacation or whether God is even God.
At the very least, can we all join Habakkuk and acknowledge that the scales of justice do not seem to level out.
Why is that?
One reason pointed out by Habakkuk is that those in power abuse it.
C.J. Redwin in “The Traitor Prince,” said that “Power is neither good nor evil. It just is. It’s what people do with power that matters.” https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/abuse-of-power
It was Habakkuk’s experience that those who had power abused it.
Why does it always seem to be that way?
The people of Habakkuk’s day perpetrated violence. They were responsible for conflict.
The law did not protect the vulnerable. The poor and vulnerable of society, which Habakkuk referred to as the “righteous,” were hemmed in and taken advantage of.
That presented Habakkuk with a major theological problem.
It started with the belief that God is a just God. This means that as a part of God’s nature, God is fair. God is impartial. It means that God hates injustice and that God hates seeing people treated unfairly.
But if this is true, why do we live in such an unfair world?
Isn’t God all powerful?
But if God is all powerful, why doesn’t God step in and do something about the injustice that surrounds us all?
Habakkuk wasn’t afraid to ask questions like that.
As we continue reading chapter 1, we discover that God wasn’t on vacation. If fact, God was very active in the historical events of Habakkuk’s day.
Habakkuk blamed the powerful and the elite of Judah for the injustices that were all around them but Habakkuk blamed God for not doing anything about it.
Then he began his prophecy about the word of God that came to him. He said that God wasn’t going to stand by and allow the injustices of that day to continue. He said that God was going to use the Chaldeans as His instrument of judgment.
They would come out of Babylon on their horses and chariots swifter than leopards and fiercer than wolves at dusk (1: 8) He said they were going to come in like the wind and then they’d be gone (1: 11).
This prophecy likely came eight or nine years before Jerusalem was destroyed in 597 B.C.
But think how this prophecy would have been received in Habakkuk’s day.
What if I told you that God was going to bring justice, but another enemy would be involved to do it?
Perhaps you wouldn’t care.
But if God uses one group that’s morally terrible and unjust to bring justice to another group that’s abused their power even more, are we any closer to a just God?
Judah was corrupt. The leaders in power were unjust. The common people in Judah were suffering under their oppression.
Habakkuk announced that because of the unjust behavior of these people, Judah would fall to the Babylonians.
But the Babylonians were no better than the Judeans. In fact, they were worse.
How could God bring justice to Judah by using a people that were worse than the Judeans to do it?
Habakkuk recognized this dilemma.
Here is what Habakkuk believed about God:
- God is everlasting. (v. 12)
- God will take care of us. (v. 12)
- God uses others to carry out judgment. (v 12)
- God will not tolerate evil, or wrong.
Habakkuk struggled to square what he wanted to believe with the world around him. How many of you have had that problem?
Habakkuk was asking, “Where is the justice when one unjust, repressive, government is replaced by another unjust repressive government?” (“The New Interpreter’s Bible,” Vol. 12, p. 639)
Babylon was more wicked than Judah. Habakkuk wanted to know where the justice was in that.
So Habakkuk asks, “When then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” (1:13b)
He compared the Jewish people to fish that were being pulled up with hooks and caught up in nets. He was greatly bothered that the Babylonians came in and destroyed the city without mercy while they celebrated and rejoiced.
So Habakkuk laid his second complaint before God. He said:
I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.
The Lord’s Answer
2 Then the Lord replied:
“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
3 For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.
4 “See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness— (2:1-4)
There are times, now may be one of them, when you feel that in your personal life or in the world in general that evil is winning the day.
You may have called on God and you may not see any evidence that your prayers have moved the needle toward righteousness. You may be discouraged. Doubts may have crept into your mind.
If so, then the prophet Habakkuk is more modern than ancient. He speaks a language that you understand. He pleads with God on your behalf.
What word did Habakkuk get from God?
- He said that the revelation awaits an appointed time. Some things do not make any sense and we are not going to know the reasons for them now. One day they will be revealed to us but only in God’s timing.
The Apostle Paul wrote: For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Cor. 13:12)
2. The second thing that Habakkuk got from God is that there is an end coming where the fate of the unjust will be sealed, but we will have to wait for it.
There is always going to be a gap between the evil that is present and running loose and justice that has not caught up with them yet. However, the word that came to Habakkuk is “Don’t lose heart.” That gap is going to close in God’s timing.
The enemy may be puffed up now, but don’t despair. God is a God of justice and a day is coming when “every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
A day is coming when Jesus will judge every single person.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, “I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:31-40 NIV)
When you read that passage, the criteria Jesus uses to separate us into two groups has to do with what we do with the power we have.
Do we treat others fairly? Do you take care of those in need? Or do we act like the Judeans and only take care of ourselves?
3) Thirdly, Habakkuk got this word from God: “The righteous shall live by faith.”
So what do you do if you believe in a just God but you live in an evil world? What do you do if you believe that God will take care of you but you feel as if you are sinking beneath the waves and those that are in power are persecuting you? What do you do if you believe that God will not tolerate evil and yet it seems to be tolerated? What do you do if you believe God is from everlasting and if anyone can do anything about this evil mess we are in, it’s God, and yet we still suffer?
Habakkuk says that righteous people live by faith.
Habakkuk says, “Don’t give up.” Even though there is a gap or a lag between what you see and what you may be experiencing now, Habakkuk says that does not mean that God is not working to bring about justice.
The writer to the Hebrews said that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2This is what the ancients were commended for. (Hebrews 11:1-2 NIV). People like Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Esau, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, David, and Samuel.
Our faith is built on shoulders of people like these and also of Christians in the early church who were persecuted for their faith under the tyranny of the Roman empire.
Imagine what it must have been like for the early Christians who were following a risen Savior who had ascended into heaven. Before that, Jesus preached about the coming of the Kingdom of heaven. He told them he’d come back for them one day. The early Christian church lived with a belief that Jesus’ return was imminent. Any day Jesus might return and lift them from their suffering.
As the writer of Hebrews encouraged them to hold onto their faith in the midst of their suffering, he reached back to these words from the book of Habakkuk.
32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.37 For,
“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”
“But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.”
39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
Today is All Saints Day. It is a day to remember those that have gone before us that have lived their lives by faith.
They have been examples. They have blazed the trail. They have shown us by their example how we should live.
This morning we remember
Robbie Kinney, and
Now I want to pause and allow you to speak the names of friends and family that you loved and are now among those present with the Lord, people who lived their lives by faith. (Pause to remember. Name those people).
We extinguish these candles which represent their physical lives which are no longer lived among us and for which we grieve, but notice that their light still burns in the Christ Candle. Through Christ, all of these saints of God continue to live, which is our hope for all of us.
Our sins were crucified with Christ but in Christ, we are also raised to new life because Jesus defeated death.
This is the reason Jesus could say that he was going to prepare a place for us and that he would also come back to take us to be with him one day.
We affirm the words of the Apostle Paul who said to “To live is Christ, but to die is gain.”
As we live by faith, I pray that you will trust that God will take care of now and your eternal future. It is a mysterious journey, but one that we accept by faith, as we live by faith.
Just as there is a gap between the injustice of this world and the justice that is promised, there is a gap between the suffering we experience and the peace of an eternal world, where our deceased friends now reside.
One day, these gaps will be closed. How do we know?
We accepted this by faith.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)
Let us commit to living our lives by faith so that God will be please with us and we will be an example to others.