Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Just Shall Live by Faith

Following the death of our son Micah, we have had occasion to ask the question—Why, God, why? Why did you take our son from us? Even if you have not lost a child, you may have also asked the same question of God. Whether your suffering has taken the form of death, cancer, sickness, divorce, or unemployment, you have had occasion to wonder what God is doing through these circumstances.

In the Old Testament book of Habakkuk, the prophet Habakkuk had the distinct privilege of hearing God respond to his “Why?” There, Habakkuk questions God’s plan for the nation of Judah. Despite repeated warnings, the nation of Judah continued to fall deeper and deeper into idolatry and further and further from God. The northern kingdom of Israel had been annihilated by Assyria about 130 years earlier. Now, because the southern kingdom of Judah will not turn away from its idolatry, God has decided that He will chastise the nation of Judah.

In Habakkuk 1:6, God tells the prophet what He is about to accomplish: “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans [also known as the Babylonians], that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own." God predicts to Habakkuk that the nation of Judah will be handed over to the Babylonians. Amazingly, God will use an evil king and his evil army to annihilate God’s chosen nation.

You can almost hear Habakkuk’s incredulous response to this. What!!! You are going to deal with Judah ’s idolatry by allowing evil King Nebuchadnezzar to destroy us? You are dealing with the idolatry in your own people by allowing a far more idolatrous and evil man to triumph over us? If you are a just God, how can you let this happen?

Pastor Wilson Benton says that God gives Habakkuk a two part answer to his concern: a “partial” answer and a “profound” answer. Wilson Benton, A Profound Answer to the Pressing Question, Why? Be Still My Soul, edited by Nancy Guthrie.

First, God assures Habakkuk that just because Nebuchadnezzar will be used to punish Judah does not mean that he himself (or his evil, idolatrous nation) will escape punishment. In fact, over the course of five “woes,” God describes the coming punishment of God and of His own coming glory. God is telling Habakkuk that someday, the idols of the Babylonians will break, their bloodthirsty arms will stop swinging their swords, and their self-aggrandizing mouths will become silent. Eventually, the one to whom all attention and honor is owed will receive it. “The Lord is in His Holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” Habakkuk 2:20.

Second, God gives Habakkuk the simple yet profound answer, “The just shall give by faith.” Habakkuk 2:4. God is calling us to trust in him, to believe that He is working out circumstances in our lives for our ultimate good, even when we have no clue as to how such terrible things could be for our benefit. “God’s ways of preserving and purifying his people are mysterious to the believer; and yet God calls his suffering people to show faith that God’s purposes for the world will at last prevail.” ESV Study Bible, 1720.

A few minutes after my son Micah died, my brother Scott, who was in the room with us, asked if he could read from scripture. He read, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36.

Scott’s scriptural encouragement was appropriate because, in such moments of grief and loss, when we have no earthly explanation for what has transpired, we must be reminded that God’s ways are often incomprehensible to us. We are temporal, finite beings, living in space and time without understanding half of what God is doing through us. We cannot understand God’s multi-multi-variable calculus involved with every decision.

My firstborn son’s earthly body lies still in the grave. We cannot enjoy birthday parties, holidays together, or continue our bedtime stories. We have no other option but to trust in the sovereign goodness and favor of God, even in the face of seemingly irredeemable suffering. We do not know how one little life lost to a little pea in July of 2009 impacted others; what impact that impact had, in turn, on others, and on down the line, perhaps for years and years to come. And we can hardly begin to grasp the joy of Heaven. We do not yet feel the touch on our skin of loved ones long departed but now embraced, or the laughter and joy of communion with all of the saints.

It was because of Habakkuk’s faith in the sovereign goodness of God, even in days of tremendous hardship, that allowed him to sing,
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the field yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no heard in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Habakkuk 3:17-19.

Praise be to God, for He has brought salvation, and will one day return in power. When he returns in power, then all of this, our present suffering, will be redeemed, and all of the "whys" will be silenced. I pray that we bear our present sufferings in joy, praising Him for what He has done and what He will do.

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