This is part 3 in a series, so be sure to check out part 1 and part 2 if you need a little bit of context.
It’s that feeling you get when another kid that’s braver than you has the guts to stand up in class and confront the teacher about something that seems unfair. In your mind you’re thinking, “Wow! I can’t believe he just said that! He’s gonna get it now.” That’s the feeling I get when I read Habakkuk. He’s asking what we’re either too afraid or too self-centered to ask because we don’t understand our circumstances in light of God’s sovereignty. Our lives make as much sense as 2 + 2 = 13. And they’re all upside down in terms of attaching our theology to our feelings. And it hurts. And we don’t understand why. Know that feeling?
Habakkuk knew it well. So did Job. They both approached God for an explanation. And we can tell what sort of attitude they came to God with from God’s responses to them. Job gets silenced and humbled – meaning he spoke in a self-serving way and shouldn’t have spoken. Habakkuk gets a gracious answer and the delegation of a very important mission – meaning he came humbly and was ready to receive whatever answer. In short, ‘Why’ + ‘It’s all about me’ = Bad. ‘Why’ + ‘What about Your glory?’ = Good.
Habakkuk asks God for an explanation, and instead of crushing Him, God affirms his humble courage by explaining some things. It’s here, in this dialogue, that we get one of the most revealing glimpses into the inner mechanics of God’s sovereignty at work in the “real world” where we live. If you’re suffering and struggling to grasp God’s sovereignty, stop reading this blog and go read Habakkuk first – then come back and read this.
To sum up Habakkuk’s 3 short chapters, the prophet complains to God about rampant corruption and a perceived lack of justice in Israel. He asks God, “Why the delay in judging sin?” God responds by revealing to Habakkuk the rising power that He is building in Babylon. He was strengthening them up to sweep through and conquer Israel as a judgment for her sins. This answer shocks Habakkuk. In confusion, he asks God how He could prosper a violent, idol-worshiping empire in order to use them as a tool of judgment. He measures Israel’s sins against Babylon’s and concludes that God is prospering the really, really sinful ones to judge the sinful ones – which to him, seemed like a step away from justice, not a step towards it. Then God reveals more of the picture to Habakkuk, showing him that after Babylon is used as a tool to judge Israel’s sins, they will be greatly judged for theirs as well. So what is Habakkuk’s conclusion after being given a glimpse into God’s sovereign design?
“…my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd 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. “ (3:16-19).
To put hypothetical words into Habakkuk’s mouth, I imagine he would have said, “Wow! God is moving all of mankind in a grand scheme. This is going to be terrifying (being invaded and made slaves to a massive empire), but I will wait with faith for the day that our captors will be judged and we’ll be free again. God is in charge and He will carry me through this. The just will live by his faith, so I will focus on being a just man.”
How come God doesn’t always explain to us why things are the way they are? Habakkuk sums up the reason perfectly. “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait…”
God – in His sovereignty – is unfolding the most intricate series of “things” (can’t get the right word, sorry). It’s a more complex web than we could possibly imagine. He is weaving together judgments, mercies, consequences, forgiveness, testings, circumstances, encounters, and more. And He’s simultaneously serving them to nations, groups, local churches, individuals, orphans, widows, queens, kings, presidents, beggars, etc. And all of these “things” are linked to sin and its consequences because all of those involved in His plan are sinners. So He is – at the same time – judging with consequences and offering mercy, punishing pride and rewarding righteousness. And ALL of it links through the cross! The trunk to which every tiny twig is connected is the glory of God. He is weaving it all together to demonstrate His ability, power, and majesty. His intent is for us to be beneficiaries of this process, not victims of it. One of the most amazing parts of this reality is that even though our individual corner of this web of God’s creation is tiny, He explicitly states that we are no less significant to Him. His degree of care for you was nailed in plain sight for all to see. The bigness of His plan does not negate His care for each part of it. You know that saying, “better to do a little well, than a lot poorly?” Yeah, that doesn’t apply to God.
Imagine opening up the server room at one of Google’s facilities and seeing a massive screen with a visual representation of all of the bytes of data that are traveling through that room linking together seemingly endless connections and links. And that’s a design of man’s making. Now imagine how much more complex the power and abilities of a Sovereign Designer must be to manage the universe. I admit, it is hard to imagine. And that’s good because God is transcendent. But don’t let that “out of sight, out of mind,” pattern we all tend toward rob you of seeing your personal connection to this grand meta-narrative.
It was as if Habakkuk – as a representative of everyone who will ever question the sovereign choices of God with an honest bewilderment – was given a glimpse into a mere tiny corner of the most intricately designed engine that is human existence. And God’s intent in granting that tiny glimpse was to so overwhelm us with the task that He has assigned to Himself that we would fall to our knees and let go of the question, ‘why.’
I asked, “Why cancer? Why now? Why Heather? Why not me? Why two motherless children (which was hard to ask because we cried out to God for a couple of years to even have those children)? Why!?
In the intensity of a trial, your “why” is as big as the universe. But here’s the process God had to take me through (it’s the process He will take you through too if He has designed deep trials into your life): Take that “why” and hold it up to the brilliant light of a sovereign plan – a meta-narrative – in which He is weaving every minutia of detail together into a grand collective whole that will in the end exalt His abilities as both Designer and Sustainer. In time, your “why” becomes smaller and smaller, and God becomes bigger and bigger. This is a work of grace.
Say along with Habakkuk, “I’m feeling overwhelmed and I don’t understand it all, but I see God’s power at work unfolding His master plan. I will trust in Him, and I will trust Him.” There’s a difference. And we need His grace to help us do both.
How do you live under the hand of a sovereign God? You already are. Nothing needs to change in one sense. On the other hand, ask Him to show you new layers of His sovereignty and to build up your trust. He will – in His time and in His way. Were you hoping for one of those, “7 steps to living in line with God’s control over your life,” kind of answers? Nope. It’s a work of grace. It’s both passive and active – active in that you should be asking God to do that work and choosing to live in line with it by building up godly character habits, and passive in that you can’t change your own heart.
How do you live under the hand of a Sovereign God? The same way you got saved, the same way you get sanctified, and the same way you’ll be glorified.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)
“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things…” (Phil. 2:12-14).
Next post: A book review of John Piper’s “The Hidden Smile of God: The Fruit of Affliction in the Lives of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd.” This book ministered to me greatly through my darker weeks and months recently. I’m hoping to convince you to read it too. You’ll see a little bit of why. (And I promise to try to get the post length down to a more manageable size.)