The Faith in Complaint (Habakkuk 1:1-4)
My son is a young entrepreneur. This year at the beginning of school he decided to up his resale game. He invested in a batch of Ray-ban brand sunglasses at wholesale prices. He bought matching Ray-ban brand cases to go with them, so he’d have a nice package to sell.
…The order was supposed to take two weeks, and two weeks later the cases had arrived, but…
no sunglasses. They were shipping from overseas. The tracking ID listed them as on – literally “a slow boat from China”– for weeks… until a month after that they had finally supposedly arrived in Chicago. Well somehow, they stalled out in Chicago and despite any inquiries he made, they didn’t move, and they didn’t move, and the seller had no more information than he did, and the shipper didn’t respond, and they ended up just disappearing and never coming.
He went through the maze of customer service personnel with the seller, and the online wholesaler, and the shipper, but the sunglasses were missing and they were each sure it was not their fault. The seller didn’t know what happened and couldn’t do anything about it. The wholesaler didn’t know what happened and couldn’t do anything about it. The shipper didn’t know what happened and couldn’t do anything about it. I felt so bad for him – that was a lot of money for his stage in life. He was out his investment with only a bunch of empty cases to show for it. No one was in charge.
So who was he supposed to complain to?
Of course, we have bigger problems than this right now. The world is reeling from the effects of a virus. People are suffering and dying; they are frightened and confused. There is misinformation, conflicting information, and information overload. The elderly and the minority die disproportionately. There is a chasm between the secondary effects on the rich and the poor. There is ineptitude and injustice by those who should protect the vulnerable.
The systems we have continue to fail people. But what can we do?
Who are we supposed to complain to?
When we read Habakkuk we see he had big problems too. Habakkuk1:1-4
1 The oracle which Habakkuk the prophet saw.
2 How long, O 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 wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed
And justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous;
So that justice is perverted. (NIV)
Habakkuk was a prophet in the kingdom of Judah. Judah was the southern half of the divided kingdom of Israel, near the end of the 500s BC. The northern kingdom of Israel had already been conquered by the Assyrians and only Judah was left.
It was long after the glory days of David and Solomon. There had been a succession of kings in Judah, a few good, but mostly bad. They had strayed far from God’s commands with idolatry and oppression. They were off the path of following God, and the effects were assaulting Habakkuk everywhere he turned. There was injustice and violence in his community; there was suffering and wrong. He saw the forces of evil and chaos at work. Who did Habakkuk see destroyed? What violence did he witness… and suffer? Who did he lose when justice was paralyzed?
Who was he supposed to complain to?
Habakkuk brought his problems straight to God. His demand was “how long!?” and his cry was “you do not listen!” and “you do not save!”
I guess no one told Habakkuk that you aren’t allowed to talk to that to God. You have to be proper with God. You aren’t allowed to make accusations! It’s disrespectful!
You’re supposed to only ever say good things to God, aren’t you?
And when God answers, the answer is NOT what Habakkuk had been hoping for.
God says he already has a plan in motion…But it’s to use conquest by the new vicious world power, the Babylonians, to correct Judah. The answer is terrible news, and Habakkuk doubles down on his complaint. Among other things, in 1:13 he says:
13 Your eyes are too pure to approve evil,
And You can not look on wickedness with favor.
[so] Why do You look with favor
On those who deal treacherously?
Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up
Those more righteous than they?
More stuff you aren’t allowed to say to God! “I guess you like the bad guys? Why is wickedness winning??” Why does Habakkuk question and accuse God? Why doesn’t someone stop him and defend God?
The answer is embedded in the complaints. In Chapter one, verse 12 Habakkuk says
“Lord, you are from everlasting. God, you are my Holy One. You are my Rock. Because of you, Habakkuk says, ‘we will not die.’”
In chapter three verse two he says:
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Revive them in our days,
in our days make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
When Habakkuk demands, “How long!?” he calls on the God who is eternal. The God who is Holy. And faithful to redeem his people. He calls on God to revive his powerful works of old. To make them alive again. He hasn’t forgotten that his God is the “Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
Habakkuk says to God, “in wrath, remember mercy.” This word for wrath is not a word for anger. It’s a word for chaos, for agitation and turmoil. For the roiling powers of destruction in the world. In the myths of the ancient Canaanites – the people groups surrounding Israel – the forces of destructive turmoil were represented by the chaos waters.
God’s answer to Habakkuk’s “doubled down” complaint is a promise that God will still bring justice. And the book of Habakkuk ends with an extended vision in chapter 3,
which is all about God showing up – God is coming from Sinai in power to battle the chaos waters.
Beginning in 3:10 we read:
10 The mountains saw you and quaked;
The downpour of waters swept by.
The deep uttered forth its voice,
It lifted high its hands.
11 Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
They went away at the light of Your arrows,
At the radiance of Your gleaming spear.
12 In indignation you marched through the earth;
In anger you trampled the nations.
You went forth for the salvation of Your people
For the salvation of your anointed.
You struck the head of the house of the evil… [NASB]
God shows up to revive God’s rescue from slavery, to show his just anger at evil, to battle the chaos waters, to bring salvation of God’s people, and to crush the head of evil.
Habakkuk sees that God will bring justice. His prophetic visions tell him that things are going to be rough for a long time, they are going to get worse before they get better, but in the end, God will be there to do battle, to win the victory against chaos and against evil. God will show up, in person, in the flesh and blood Jesus, the anointed one, the Christ, the one God saves and the one who brings salvation. God promises through the Lord Jesus Christ that “the God of peace” – the God who brings peace by justice and victory – “will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
This is a powerful God. The vision is so powerful its terrifying. By the end of it Habakkuk says that his heart pounded, his lips quivered and decay crept into his bones.
So… why did Habakkuk think he could make a complaint? Why did he think he could object and accuse? Why did he think he could talk like that to God?
Yes, God is a source of terrifying power… but not only terrifying power. God is also holy and faithful. He is from everlasting. He is the source of justice in a world of injustice. He came in the person of the Son, Jesus, to dwell with us in our world of injustice. And now, long after the vision of Habakkuk, we live knowing that Jesus is coming again to complete the victory, to crush evil and make everything new.
When there is no one in charge, of course there’s no one to complain to. When those supposedly in charge are unjust or uncaring, or when they don’t have enough power to do anything, why would we bother?
But when the one in charge is Good enough to listen, and Strong enough to save, we have someone to complain to. We can lament like Habakkuk. We can bring anger and sorrow and indignation. We can bring questions and doubts and complaints. We can talk like that to God.
Habakkuk’s impertinence turns out to be Habakkuk’s faith. Because God is loving to hear and powerful to act, even if sometimes the answer is that things are going to be rough for a long time.
There is no rebuke for Habakkuk’s complaint. No one needed to have stopped him. God didn’t need to be protected from a demand or an accusation.
We can be Habakkuk and bring it all to God. We can stand beside others being Habakkuk and let them bring it all to God.
- We don’t have to protect God from anger at injustice and wrong; God knows.
- We don’t have to protect God from hard questions; God can handle them.
We can say, “How Long?” and “Why don’t you Save?” We can demand an answer. Sometimes the answer is that it’s going to be difficult for a long time, but there is faith in asking the questions. Faith that there is someone to hear. There is someone in charge.
And because of that faith, we can end where Habakkuk ended.
In Chapter three, verse 17-18:
17 Though the fig tree does not bud
And there are no grapes on the vines,
Though the olive crop fails
And the fields produce no food…
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength. (NIV)
When we see the forces of chaos and evil in our community – Our trust in God is the foundation for bringing the hard questions. We have faith in the Jesus who lived the chaos and evil with us, and is coming back to bring God’s peace.
- We trust God to be good when things are not good.
- We trust God to be powerful when we don’t know how long the victory will be.
And God leads us to rest in the Sovereign Lord while we wait.
Photo: Butterfly in Peppersauce Canyon outside Tucson, Az. Photo Copyright: Deanna Munger