Has God ever surprised you?
Has He ever intervened in your life in a way that was different than what you expected?
I suspect that the answer is “yes” to both of those questions. Let’s zero in on this a bit more … Has there ever been a surprise from God that was unwanted or unpleasant?
A Lesson in Habakkuk
If you have experienced one of those challenging surprises, have you ever wondered why His actions were surprising? Why didn’t you see it coming? Why was it so hard to accept? I think the answer is, in part, that God acted in a surprising way, not because God was acting inconsistent with His character, but because our understanding of God needed enlarged.
This is what happened in Habakkuk’s case. Habakkuk is a very small book of the Old Testament describing a time prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Habakkuk cries out to the Lord concerning the sins of the nation. Habakkuk wants God to intervene. While he does not state it explicitly, it appears that he expects God to bring revival or to bring individual judgment on the wicked individuals. This action, from Habakkuk’s perspective, would result in the nation’s return to a right relationship with God, and presumably the blessings to follow.
God, however, does not intervene according to those desires. His intervention comes through the wicked Babylonians (1:5-11). The Babylonians would be God’s instrument of judgment. In 1:12-17 Habakkuk reminds God of the wickedness of the Babylonians; their disregard for life, justice, the Lord, and their unending conquests. Habakkuk cannot believe it. God is surprising him. God is responding in a completely different way than was anticipated.
I have talked to many people who struggled like Habakkuk did. Maybe it was a cancer diagnosis, maybe it was being the victim of horrible acts against them, or maybe they were impacted by a loved one who has been injured or killed. The circumstances have been varied, but the result has been the same, “God! How could you allow this? How can this fit into your sovereignty? I don’t understand!”
So what now?
Habakkuk receives two basic answers to the “what now?” question.
First, a person must live by faith. God will bring appropriate judgment against Babylon (there are 5 “woes” against Babylon in 2:6-20. A woe oracle in prophetic literature was, simply stated, a pronouncement of judgment to come); but, before that judgment occurs, God is free to use whatever means necessary in order to act according to His own word and character. The nation of Israel had been repeatedly warned and yet she did not change. God decided to bring the punishment, that He told them to expect. But Habakkuk, and all the other righteous ones in the nation, will need to live by faith in the midst of this judgment. It is this truth that Paul uses in Romans 1:13 and Galatians 3:13, and the writer of Hebrews uses in 10:37-38, to stress the necessity of faith in salvation and sanctification. When something happens in life that is difficult and surprising, the answer is not to hate God or run from God. The answer is to live by faith. Thankfully, the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus speaks louder, regarding the love of God, than any calamity speaks against it.
Second, a person must worship. After Habakkuk’s complaint in 1:12-17 and God’s answer in 2:1-20, Habakkuk responds in chapter 3 with worship. He bows in prayer asking the Lord to remember mercy in wrath (a request very consistent with Exod 34:6-7); he remembers the great work of God (vv. 3-12); he remembers the faithfulness of God (vv. 13-15), and he reiterates his trust in the Lord (vv. 16-19).
Sometimes we are surprised by the way the Lord works (or does not seem to be working). Yet, when those moments come, God has graciously given His Word to help us understand how to respond. First, we live a life of faith. We cannot understand fully the mind of God nor can we see with the acuity that He can. Our understanding is limited and our vision myopic. So we live by faith. Second, we worship. Even in surprising moments, Habakkuk spoke of the awesomeness of God’s work in the past. Even in scary moments, Habakkuk spoke of God’s strength in his life. Even in uncertainty, there was a certainty in the character of God.
I think those who have walked with God for many, many years would concur. When we respond with faith and worship in the midst of unpleasant surprises, we ultimately understand more about the God of the Bible and we see him more clearly.