How God Responds to Criticism

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Habakkuk 2:1-5

You really don’t have to be afraid of questioning God, or even complaining to him. He’s not touchy; in fact, he will respond to you.

I think we’ve probably all had one of those “It’s a small world” type experiences. You know, you’re in some far-off, exotic place, or some gathering of total strangers, and you look up and there’s your next-door neighbor. Years ago my wife and I were walking through the main square of the city of Amsterdam, agog at the bizarre collection of humanity that had drifted into that counter-cultural gathering place. (At least, that’s what it was like back when we were students.) I said, “Look at all those hippies sitting over there on the steps.” She said, “Well, one of them is so and so”; and sure enough, there was one of our college classmates, big as life. It really is a small world!

I have a similar experience when I read the book of Habakkuk. Here you are, in the minor prophets of the Old Testament – sort of a strange place, really. There are a lot of little books in this part of the Bible that aren’t read very often. They were written by people with odd names like Obadiah and Haggai. They are talking about issues in civilizations that have been dead for 2500 years. Then all of a sudden I bump into someone who is echoing the cries and questions of my own heart. I recognize him! This is a man struggling with the same things as me. This is a man who asks the questions that are on my heart. He asks about the silence of God: “Lord, how long must I beg for your help before you listen?” (1:2). Have you ever prayed that way? Have you ever said that? He questions God’s strange inactivity: “Why do you allow violence, lawlessness, crime and cruelty to spread everywhere?” (1:3).

FAITH VS. EXPERIENCE

Habakkuk’s problem is the same as that of believers everywhere. The problem is trying to reconcile our faith with our experience. It is squaring what we believe about the goodness, love and power of God with what we see happening in the world around us – or in our own lives. Why does God allow such bad things to happen? Why doesn’t he do something to stop them? God is eternal, almighty, sovereign, holy, pure, loving. Habakkuk knows all those things.

“Are you not from of old, O Lord my God, my Holy One? You shall not die. O Lord, you have marked them for judgment. . . . Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, and you cannot look on wrongdoing.”

1:12-13, nrsv

So, if God can’t look on wrongdoing, and God is watching over the world, what’s happening? What’s the matter? What’s wrong with that picture? Because the world is chock full of wrongdoing. This problem of God’s silence in the face of our cries for help, and his failure to act to prevent the occurrence of horrible things is difficult only for those of us who believe everything about God that Habakkuk did. After all, if God isn’t all-powerful, then maybe he can’t help it when bad things happen. No, says Habakkuk, the God of the Bible is involved. He’s the one behind it all. It is God who ordains and appoints, who raises up and casts down. Nothing happens without his permission.

Well then, what if God, though all-powerful, isn’t as good or as kind as we think he is. Perhaps he doesn’t really care what happens to us. Maybe God just doesn’t want to get involved in what goes on down here. Maybe he isn’t interested in good and evil as we understand them; he just keeps grinding out his purpose, and if innocent people get crushed in the gears of the machinery of his will, that’s too bad. Some people seem to think that way. They describe a God who is long on power, but a little short on loving-kindness and tender mercy. Is that the God of the Bible? No, says Habakkuk again. God is too pure to be mixed up in evil; he’s the Holy One. He is perfect goodness; he’s the Rock, he’s steadfast covenant love.

ON THE WATCHTOWER

So what’s the answer? God is in control, God never does anything evil, yet evil things happen. How do you explain it? That’s what Habakkuk wants to know, and in a famous passage in chapter two he tells how he climbs up on a watchtower to wait for God to answer his questions.

While standing guard on the watchtower, I waited for the Lord’s answer . . . . Then the Lord told me: “I will give you my message in the form of a vision. Write it clearly enough to be read at a glance. At the time I have decided, my words will come true. You can trust what I say about the future. It may take a long time, but keep on waiting – it will happen!

“I, the Lord, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.”

Habakkuk 2:1-4, cev

Habakkuk shows us that it’s okay to question God, even to complain to God. Some people think that questioning God is a sign of defective faith, or that it implies criticism of him and is likely to bring his wrath down on our heads. Not at all. To question God is a sign of healthy faith; what’s defective is to question him without waiting for an answer. The best thing about Habakkuk is that he does wait. He expects God to respond to him eventually. He believes both that there is an answer to all his questions and that God will help him to find it. For some people the problem of evil is just an excuse for them to quit on God. They toss a complaint or two in his direction and then turn their backs on him and conclude he must not be real. But if our hope is that God will never give up on us, our faith means we never give up on him.

So here’s Habakkuk, standing on his watchtower, waiting for the Lord to answer his complaint. And how does God respond to criticism? With remarkable mildness. God isn’t overly sensitive or touchy. He doesn’t get angry when his actions are called into question. No thunderbolts from out of the blue to strike down those who would dare to complain about his decisions. God not only answers Habakkuk, but through him he speaks to us in our struggles. “Say this loud and clear,” the Lord tells Habakkuk. “There is an answer. Write it plainly so others can read it even at a glance.”

The answer is that at the bottom of everything the universe is not meaningless and chaotic, as it would be if God were not in control. Life is neither a horror nor an absurd comedy, as it would be if there were no God. It isn’t what Shakespeare’s Macbeth once called it – “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” We are not left alone in our suffering, with nothing to do but weep or shrug our shoulders in resignation. No, because God is real, and really cares about us, all our sufferings have meaning, and all our questions have answers somewhere.

But we must be willing to wait: “At the time I have decided,” says the Lord, “my words will come true. You can trust what I say about the future. It may take a long time, but keep on waiting – it will happen!” (v. 3). God, you see, has his own schedule. He follows his own timetable for doing things. He will show us the meaning of everything; he’ll give us the answers we’re longing for; he’ll put to rest all our doubts and give peace to all our troubled thoughts, but in his time, not ours.

It’s the same in every generation. Because God seems slow to us, people grow impatient and critical, even sarcastic sometimes. The apostle Peter is talking about just those kind of people in 2 Peter 3:3-7. We can imagine the taunts of that crowd: “You Christians believe this gospel, as you call it. You say ‘Jesus is Lord.’ Well, where is he? Lord of what? Looks to us like Caesar is Lord. ‘Jesus is coming again,’ you claim? When is that, exactly? Could you tell us? Seems like you’re having a pretty long wait of it. Be sure to let us know if he shows up.” And Peter replies, “Don’t worry, never mind them – it’s always been that way. People are like that. It’s the same thing they said during the days of Noah before the flood. The Lord is not slow about his promises, but to him a thousand years are like a single day.” God has his own schedule. That’s the message. He will come; he will answer, but in his own time. So wait for him, and watch.

TWO WAYS OF LIVING

God gives a clue to the meaning of it all in verse 4: “I, the Lord, refuse to accept anyone who is proud. Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.” Basically, there are two kinds of people in the world, two ways of approaching life. There are the proud, those who believe only in themselves, not in God. They rely on their own power, their own strength and ability and intelligence. Those are the kind of people Habakkuk alluded to earlier, when he described men who sacrifice to their own fishing nets when they get a good catch because they think they make themselves rich (1:16). The proud are those who think that they are in control. They have only themselves to thank (or reward) for whatever successes they have. Of course, failures or reverses are another matter; then they look for someone else to blame. God’s Word about such people is clear: “I, the Lord, refuse to accept anyone who is proud.”

The other kind of people are those who live by faith. “Only those who live by faith are acceptable to me.” “The righteous will live by their faith” (v. 4, nrsv). That might just be the most important verse in the whole Old Testament. It was certainly the apostle Paul’s favorite. He quotes it in two very important passages (Gal. 3:11, Rom. 1:17).

In Paul’s understanding, this basic insight about faith that God gave to Habakkuk goes both ways. First of all, the righteous person will live because of his or her faith. The proud and arrogant will disappear. They won’t endure. But the righteous who are living by faith – who go on trusting God even when they don’t understand what he’s doing, who refuse to quit believing in God even when the evidence is against him – they will live forever. Through faith, eternal life is theirs. The righteous will live by faith.

But the reverse is equally true: those who live by faith are righteous. It is just this attitude of believing God and trusting his word when there is little to support it, and when it would be easier to dismiss him, which makes us acceptable to God. God is pleased to count as righteous all those who put their trust in him. What a marvelous truth!

The crucial question is this. Which kind of person are you? What category do you fall in: the proud and the arrogant, or those who live by faith? Pretty much everything that happens to you is God’s way of allowing you to answer that question. Have you ever stopped to consider that you prove what kind of person you are by the way you respond to trouble? It’s when you’re struggling, and suffering, and questioning, and doubting, that you are in a position to demonstrate whether you choose to trust God, or reject him in your pride.

Which will you do today? If you decide to live by faith, then God is pleased to accept you, and you have eternal life, right here and right now. Someday you will be with the Lord, and he will answer all your questions. Just wait and see.