Living in uncertain times

This morning I glanced at the headlines of the newspaper and commented to my wife, “The Lord must certainly be coming back soon.”

It wasn’t just the headline about China’s financial troubles and the resulting uncertainties in our stock market that triggered that comment.  It was also the moral chaos that we have seen unfolding in our culture:

  • The Supreme Court decision to uphold gay marriage.
  • The intolerance of supporters of gay rights against those who are opposed to gay marriage (it appears it is no longer possible to have a civil discussion about civics in this country).
  • Court decisions being treated as law (and note that the Supreme Court decision is not a law — it’s a decision based upon interpretation of law, and there is a vast difference between the two, though that has been overlooked by most pundits in the ensuing discussions).
  • The looming likelihood that decisions like Obergebell v. Hodges will force judges, civil servants, lawyers, and others to support that decision in their duties (e.g., a county employee forced to issue a marriage license to two gay men). If a believer is in that position, he or she will have a decision to make:  either support what the law or government is compelling him to do, or resign his position.  And if believers follow their biblical consciences and resign, that will leave an even larger moral vacuum in the political and social arenas, which will lead to even broader moral degradation and decline.
  • The abomination and horror of abortion being revealed in all its sordidness with the Planned Parenthood videos.  And for all the appropriate outrage being expressed in the Christian community, the lack of response by many in the secular, legal, and governmental communities is yet another indicator of the lack of morality in this country.

So those things and more led to my comment this morning.  But I could be wrong.  While we say with the biblical writers, “Even so, come Lord Jesus,” He may not come for another generation or century or longer.  And as we wait for Him, morality may worsen and persecution may increase.  In fact, there is much biblical affirmation of that reality as well.  Consider Paul in 2 Timothy 3:

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.  But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

That doesn’t sound like an encouraging word.  And if our security is on this earth and in our possessions, it isn’t.

But there is another perspective we must cultivate — a way of thinking that the ancient prophet Habakkuk models for us.  You may remember that Habakkuk complained to the Lord about the lack of righteousness among the Israelites — the violence, sin, wickedness, anger, lawlessness, and perversion.  And through it all, God was apparently being silent: “How long will I call for help and You will not hear?” Habakkuk lamented (1:2).

So God said, in so many words, “Don’t worry, I’m sending the “fierce and impetuous” Chaldeans to judge the Israelites (1:5-11).  To which Habakkuk complained, But they aren’t righteous — “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?” (1:13).  In other words, “Yes, Israel needs discipline and judgment, but not at the hands of someone even more wicked and unrighteous than Israel!”

So God’s final comment to Habakkuk is that the Chaldeans (Babylonians) will also be judged for their wickedness (2:2-20).  And Habakkuk is rightly humbled by God’s response, remembering that God is fearful (3:2) and God is righteously sovereign over the earth (3:3-15), so let the judgment of the Chaldeans come on Israel (3:16).

And in saying that he is ready for the destruction of the Chaldeans, Habakkuk is affirming that there is much that will be lost (3:17):

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls…

Habakkuk is not anticipating crop failure from a drought.  He is anticipating the devastation of an invading army.  This army will consume and destroy all their crops — fruit, oil, and grain — and all their animals for eating.  There will be nothing for their livelihood to sell others and there will be nothing to eat.  Both their sources of income and their most basic food stocks will be vanquished.  They will have nothing.

And though he anticipated a total loss and the likelihood of poverty and starvation, Habakkuk writes,

Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places (3:18-19).

His joy is in God, not in his wealth or his food.  God is His strength, not his position and possessions.  Habakkuk was not being either fatalistic or pollyannaish. He is resolutely depending in the Lord and fixing his hope on the weight of glory that is far beyond all comparison; he was looking at the things which are not seen rather than the things that are seen; he was looking at the eternal, not the temporal (2 Cor. 4:17-18).  And as he looked to the Lord and considered the bondage and oppression of the Chaldeans, he saw the liberty provided by God and saw himself as a bounding gazelle in the mountains rather than a bondaged slave of an oppressor.  No matter what the Chaldeans brought, in God Habakkuk was free.

As one commentator has rightly noted, “God’s sovereignty is more than a topic of theological discussion.  It is an important fact.  It has practical relevance to everyone.”

In Habakkuk’s day, God’s sovereignty enabled the prophet to rest and rejoice in the face of looming discipline and intense suffering.  And it will do the same for us today as we look to God and rest in our Savior.  Maybe the Lord will come today.  Maybe he will tarry for a generation or more.  And if he tarries, things may become very difficult for believers.  Yet we will exult in the Lord; we will find our joy in the salvation He has given us in Christ; we will find our strength and boldness in God; and we will enjoy the liberty of satisfaction in him and freedom from sin to be a greater joy than freedom from the chains given to us by our oppressors.

Come, Lord Jesus.  And if you delay, give us joy and strength and confidence in You.

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