Common Questions, Uncommon Answers
Habakkuk 1:2-4; 3:17-19
Sunday, July 10, 2016
Over the course of June, the national nightly news carried a familiar story from summertime – massive wildfires in the Western US that were the result of the hot and dry conditions that are so prevalent during this time of the year.
One night recently, just such a story caught my attention a little more acutely than normal. The report that night was centered in the town of Weldon, California, a community of about 2,500 folks roughly 150 miles into the mountains north of Los Angeles. Numerous people there had lost their homes due to the wildfires and one of them, a man named Danny Walker, was profiled. Walker’s home had literally burned to the ground. He had lost everything. In fact, about all that he had left was his dog which he clutched to his chest in his arms throughout the report. As he walked through the charred remains of his house, Walker struggled to make any sense of what had happened. Why had his house and not someone else’s home burned? Why had the fire been so cruel in taking this place where he had lived for a long time, keeping to himself, not hurting anyone but rather just living his basic, simply life?
As Walker ponder his questions, he said this which really caught my attention, “ I am just going to have to [sic] ’figure some things out, clean up this mess and start over’ ”. I am just going to have to “figure some things out, clean up this mess and start over”. (NBC Nightly News, June 26, 2016, “California Wildfires Leave Destruction, Homelessness in Their Wake”)
I think that if the prophet Habakkuk had seen that news report featuring Danny Walker, he would have found in him a kindred spirit. Like Walker, Habakkuk realized that he and the Israelites were standing squarely in a mess. Yes, again, as we have said for a number of weeks now, the mess was their coming destruction by Assyria and Babylon and it was a mess of the Israelites own making due to their disregard for God and for God’s laws. Yet, even though Habakkuk recognized that judgement was what Israel deserved, he still struggled with the ways of God.
What caused Habakkuk such a struggle was the fact that God was using the Assyrians and the Babylonians as his agents of punishment against his people Israel. Again, Habakkuk recognized Israel’s failures. But, in the Assyrians and Babylonians, Habakkuk saw pagan nations with absolutely no regard for the things of God and he couldn’t for the life of himself figure out why it was that God would use an even more barbaric people to rectify the bad decisions of his own covenant people.
In essence, despite their failures, Habakkuk assumed that the Israelites as God’s chosen people would have gotten a break here or there and would have been shown some extra grace. Likewise, he seems to have reasoned that God would have chosen someone with a little more integrity to show Israel the error of their ways than the Assyrians or Babylonians.
As he writes about Habakkuk, Eugene Peterson says that we as modern Christians should be able to relate to this prophet on two levels. First, like him, and may I add like Danny Walker in California, we too regularly find ourselves walking around in the rubble trying to find answers to our own questions about why God has chosen to act in the ways that he has or why God appears to have failed to do anything at all.
Second, like Habakkuk, we also find ourselves admitting that as God’s children, we really thought that we would have gotten some breaks, a little extra care, or added protection. Like Habakkuk we never really thought that we of all people, as God’s children, would have just been treated like everyone else. (Eugene Peterson, “Intro to Habakkuk”, The Message, pg. 1692, NavPress, 2002)
These feelings, these questions, these quests in this life for answers are all too common. They happen countless times over the course of a year in a myriad of different ways. Why has death come? Why have my finances collapsed? Why have my children acted this way? Why has my friend abandoned me? Why has my life turned out as it has? Our questions are many. Our answers are few. God feels silent. And, we as people of faith feel let down.
Habakkuk felt that same way.
But, there is a second level on which I think Habakkuk would have found a kindred spirit in Danny Walker in the ashes of his home in California. Not only did he identify with Walker’s wondering around in the destruction of his life. I think Habakkuk would have applauded his spirit to get up and try to “figure some things out, clean up the mess and start over…”
After all, apparently, Habakkuk chose to do the very same thing. In spite of his honest questions in chapter 1 of the book that bears his name, what is equally inspiring in this little book is Habakkuk’s honest faith in chapter 3 as the text comes to an end. There Habakkuk has this to say, “though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord is my strength…”
Here in Habakkuk chapter 3 verses 17, 18 and the beginning of verse 19, Habakkuk’s common questions meet an uncommon answer. What I mean is that rather than allowing the unanswerable questions about God to cause him to throw up his hands and give up, Habakkuk renews his commitment to be faithful to God even in the midst of His questions. In essence, Habakkuk exhibits a lifelong commitment and continued trust in God despite the occasional things about God that he cannot explain. His commitment to God is greater than his questions about the ways of God. Let me say that again, his commitment to God is great than his questions about the ways of God.
This is the life that we are invited to as well – a life where our commitment is greater than our questions. When this is the case, the common questions that all of us have are met with an uncommon, unexpected response – continued faith and continued trust.
Several years ago, my older brother Mickey decided that he wanted to learn how to fly a plane. He began to take flying lessons and really enjoyed it. During that time, Ann Marie and I were home for a visit and he invited me to tag along one day for his afternoon lesson.
If you have every had the experience of sitting in on flying lessons – you will never forget it. I am not recommending it but it is very memorable. The plane was a little three or four seater and it was terribly loud. That little aircraft and the term “luxury airliner” had nothing in common with each other.
My brother was not all that experienced yet and thus his takeoffs and landings left a lot to be desired. There was nothing smooth or even about them. And, since the plane was so loud and there were only two headsets, the majority of the ride left me clueless as to what was actually going on as he and his teacher sat at the controls up front talking away while I sat in the back watching the earth below. In all honesty, there were several moments when my heart skipped a beat. I had no idea what was going on or what we were trying to accomplish and I had serious doubts and reservations about what was taking place.
But, in the midst of my doubts, I trusted the teacher, the expert, the professional who sat up front and who offered a demeanor of calm and control every step of the way. My trust in him was bigger than my doubts.
The point I make is Habakkuk’s point I think. Like his concerns, our questions and the lack of answers that are sometimes available for what happens in this life are very, very real. We don’t need to deny any of them, sugar coat them or try to explain them away. They are there and they frustrate us, confuse us, disappointment us and sometimes they flat out scare us.
But, the question is will our questions overwhelm us or will our trust in God lead us to overcome even the mysteries of the human existence.
My prayer is that our trust in God will far out pace our questions about the ways of God.
If we will, while our questions will be common, our response to them will be anything but ordinary. Amen.