Saturday, November 2, 2013

Seeing God's Ultimate Will through tears

Habakkuk 1:2 "How long, O Lord, will I call for help,And You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save."

A young boy trying to make sense of what happened, and why
I will never forget the night I had basketball practice as a young lad at our rural Pennsylvania high school. Both my parents were working at the time and so their pattern was that each would inform the other as to whom was going to pick me up after practice. Normally when the practice was finished, one of them would come after work and wait out front at the main pick-up area in front of the school.  On this particular night as everyone was exiting the building, I went outside expecting to get into one of their vehicles that had been kept warm by them while waiting in the chilly winter night.  They had not come, so I went in and waited, and waited, and waited.  

After a half-hour more I started to get nervous and so I began digging around in my pockets to find a quarter to put in the pay-phone (perhaps some of you reading this may remember those). When I called our house, there was no answer.  As a young man, with the lights turning off in the gym and only the janitors sweeping up before closing down, I felt abandoned.  I recall screaming into the phone - "Where are you!" - to no avail.  When I came back out of the payphone area and rounded the corner, there my parents pulled up and with tears and many apologies, informing me that each of them thought the other had came to get me.  Needless to say I was relieved and to know what had happened, as well as why it happened, afforded me much clarity.  

Meet a prophet trying to make sense of what had happened, and why?
Since that time I have had seasons of life where time and again I have found myself trying to make sense of God's purposes through veils of tears. I relate to the prophet in the Bible who through tears was trying to make sense of what His heavenly Father was doing, and why.   The prophet's name may be difficult to pronounce, however the meaning of it is clear.  The prophet to which I am referring is Habakkuk, and his name means "to cling, to embrace." The opening of his book quoted above in Habakkuk 1:2 relays to us the fact that he was crying out to God for answers.  The Hebrew word translated "cry" in that text speaks of someone crying at the top of the their lungs in search of help and deliverance.  Habakkuk's pen would had quivered as he wrote his prophecy, for his tears undoubtedly stained each line which the Holy Ghost inspired him to write. 

Able commentator George Adam Smith writes concerning Habakkuk's prophecy: Habakkuk feels justice cannot prevail in Israel, because of the disorder which God permits to fill the world. It is true that he arrive at a prophetic attitude, and authoritatively declares God's will; but he begins by searching for the latter, with the appreciation of the obscurity cast over it by the facts of life."1

Habakkuk is portrayed, in accordance to the Hebrew meaning of his name, clinging to His God while at the same time not understanding completely the God to whom He clings. Habakkuk's book is valuable because at its heart lies the search for God's ultimate will.  In this post I want us to consider what it means to see God's ultimate will through the tears of Habakkuk.  In this post today we will briefly consider how God's ultimate will is made up of various tributaries that run their course through Habakkuk's cries, complaints and comfort. Four headings will be used to walk through Habakkuk's words: God's Ultimate Will; Unrevealed Will; Permissive Will and Revealed Will.

God's Ultimate Will
When we speak of God's will in the Bible, we are talking about His overall plan and purposes for creation, salvation and eternity. Ecclesiastes 3:14 "I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him." Ephesians 1:11 reminds the reader that He works all things after the counsel of His will.  Romans 11:36 comprehensively states in few words: "For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen."  So God has an ultimate desire, purpose or will for all things, all people and all times, which lies at the heart of what is meant when we say God is Sovereign.  

Habakkuk undoubtedly asserts God's ultimate will in each chapter of His book: He states God is from everlasting in 1:12; that God will fill the earth with His glory in 2:14 and that He alone is Habakkuk's strength in 3:19.  Habakkuk knows God's ultimate will will prevail.  However the struggle of Habakkuk, and the reason for his tears lies in the fact he does not know how it will happen nor why what is obviously contrary to God's Holy character is happening? It is here where we see three more headings that fit under the larger umbrella term of God's ultimate will that can offer maybe not all the answers, but can certain bring us much relief.

God's unrevealed will.  Habakkuk 1
Whenever you see "how" and "why" questions in the Bible, that indicates a lack of knowledge or answers.  Habakkuk asks God in Habakkuk 1:2 "How long"?  Then Habakkuk asks two why questions: "why do you let me see iniquity?" (Habakkuk 1:3) and "why has God made men who creep" in Habakkuk 1:14.  There are aspects of God's will that we as believers can never know.  Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law." Whenever the disciples probed Jesus about the exact time of His coming, His response to them in Acts 1:7 was - "He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority." Clearly there were details about the Father's purposes and reasons for doing His will that would not be revealed to Habakkuk.  

Unless God reveals His intentions by His Word, the matter remains closed.  Why does God not disclose everything? Among the numerous answers that we could give, let me suggest just two: to leave room to live by faith and not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) and to discover the glory of His wisdom and purposes (Proverbs 25:2). You and I can hardly understand what is revealed, let alone what God has chosen to keep hidden.  However, along with Habakkuk we too can say that the same God who has an unrevealed will is the same Good and Powerful God who has both a permissive and revealed will.  So then in God's ultimate will there is undoubtedly an unrevealed side, however there is also a second aspect, namely...

God's permissive will.   Habakkuk 1-2
God's permissive will had to do with what He allows and yet does not advocate.  Habakkuk complains about God's permission in 1:13 "Your eyes are too pure to approve evil,And You can not look on wickedness with favor.
Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up?" In Habakkuk 2 we see Habakkuk crying out in prophetic taunt against the idol makers and ruthless of Israel who have been permitted by God to continue.  Truly we know from passages such as Genesis 50:20 and Romans 8:28 that God permits what He hates in order to accomplish the good He intends.  

God is certainly not the author of evil, yet He wills to use the decisions of good and evil willing agents, as well as good and bad circumstance to accomplish whatsoever comes to pass.  Acts 2:23 perhaps most clearly drives home this point: "this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death."  As one writer has noted, the gear works of an old clock run counter to one another from the back, however when you flip the clock to see the front, its face depicts perfect timing running in the same direction.

So we see through Habakkuk's tears God's ultimate will, which contains His unrevealed and permissive wills.  But there is one last aspect that is perhaps the most comforting, namely...

God's Revealed Will.  Habakkuk 2-3
After pouring his heart out in Habakkuk 1, Habakkuk states He will wait until he hears from God.  Habakkuk 2:2 gives us these words: "Then the Lord answered me and said,'Record the vision and inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run.'" God has spoken, and is revealing.  Remarkably its not until you get into chapter 3 that you discover that God's will runs like a mighty river through the book, with the various tributaries of unrevealed, permissive and revealed wills working in and among the chapters.  Certainly Habakkuk's tears fall into those first two tributaries of God's unrevealed and permissive wills, however it is in this final tributary of God's revealed will that we see God dry those tears.  

In Habakkuk 3 we see the prophet break out in song.  Certainly he relates the fact that the trials of this world are still in his line of sight.  He even goes as far to say that even though crops may fail (3:17), animals may die (3:17) and the farm so to speak be ready to fold (3:17), yet....  .  Now whenever you see that word "yet" or "nevertheless" in scripture, that little word cancels out whatever was just written, and prepares you to see that truly reality of the situation.  Notice how Habakkuk closes his book in 3:18-19 "Yet I will exult in the Lord,I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. 19 The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’feet, And makes me walk on my high places. For the choir director, on my stringed instruments."

There truly is nothing more comforting than the words of God in the Bible.  These scriptures are God's revealed will for both us and our children. (Deut. 29:29) By these words our souls are preserved, saved and profited. (1 Timothy 4:13-16; 2 Timothy 3:16)  Many a saint's tear stained Bible has brought comfort and the peace that surpasses all understanding.  Why? Because when God speaks through his words, the heart is able to say in the words of the song: "it is well with my soul". 

Through the tears of Habakkuk we have witnessed God's ultimate will and its various parts: God's unrevealed, permissive and revealed wills.  Though we may be as a child trying to make sense of why and how, the important thing to know is the Who, God Himself. As Chuck Swindoll states: "The Sovereignty of God may not answer all of my questions, yet it surely does relieve me of all my fears."

1. George Adam Smith. The Book of the Twelve Prophets - Volume II. Harper and Brothers Publishers. 1928. Page 132-133

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