Waiting, Complaining, and Trusting

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Little is known about the prophet Habakkuk. We know that he lived at the same time as the more famous ministry leader Jeremiah, which would put him somewhere in the 600s B.C. through late 500s. Most scholars locate him in Judah, at least toward the end of Josiah’s reign or at the beginning of Jehoiakim’s, based on his knowledge of events and prophecies. The Apocryphal book Bel and the Dragon asserts that Habakkuk ministered to the needs of Daniel in the lions’ den, but Church tradition considers that more legendary than historical. We don’t know his family or tribal lineage, occupation, or his marital and family status.

His oracle in the biblical book that bears his name, though, is saturated with wisdom, revelation, and prayers that are relevant for today and abundantly rich for the spirit’s intake. Perhaps the most famous passage in Habakkuk is his little psalm, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:17-18). Hannah Hurnard’s Christian classic Hinds’ Feet on High Places is based on Habakkuk 3:19 and is an absolute wonder to read. Lastly, verse 4 of chapter 2 Paul cites as a bedrock for salvation: “The righteous shall live by faith.” Amen!

What I wanted to look at with you today, though, is Habakkuk 1:1-5. The first part is Habakkuk’s complaint to Yahweh, which the Message Bible actually titles, “Justice is a Joke.” In the NIV, it reads:

The oracle Habakkuk the prophet received.
How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen?
Or cry out to You, “Violence!” but You do not save?
Why do You make me look at injustice?
Why do You tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
There is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.

Wow. When I read this passage a few days ago, my initial thought was, “Those are some heavy accusations leveled against the omnipotent Master of the Universe! You better be careful, Habakkuk!” I recalled the Lord’s fiery response when Job similarly challenged the Lord Yahweh. It’s also an unusual way for a book of the Bible to begin. Each of the other Minor Prophets begins his book with the Lord speaking (or a description of the Lord’s nature, as in Nahum)—not man speaking first, and certainly not man complaining!

Well, in verse 5, God Almighty responds:

Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe,
Even if you were told.

The Lord goes on to say that, basically, things will get worse before they get better—but they will indeed get better. He explains to Habakkuk that He is appointing the Babylonians as an instrument of His judgment against the idolatrous, but that “soon” the Babylonians will be destroyed themselves (see 1:6 & 1:12, and then 2:3 & 3:16). In other words, the Lord acknowledges Habakkuk’s angry complaints and replies, “Wait and see. You don’t understand what I’m doing right now, and I know you’re not happy with it yet, but glory will come. Just wait and see.” And of course, the Babylonians’ empire fell in 539 B.C., about sixty-six years after Habakkuk’s prophecy, just as the Lord specified.

There are so many applications one can draw from Habakkuk 1:1-5, but let me share with you what the Lord spoke to me. When I read this passage a few days ago, the Lord immediately brought to my mind a small parable. Imagine with me that a father is surprising his four-year-old son with a trip to Disney World. I live in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and if I drove from here to Orlando, it would be just over 15 hours. So, the father and son set off for what would prove to be a very long drive.

After 10 minutes, the son asks, “Daddy, are we there yet?” to which the father smiles and says, “Oh, no, son; we’ve only just started. This is going to be a long trip, but Disney World will be worth it.”

“Oh, okay.”

About an hour in, the son asks again, “Daddy, is it much farther?”

“Yes, it is, I’m afraid,” he answers. “It’ll be about another fourteen hours.”

“How long is fourteen hours?”

“Well… when we arrive, you’ll already be sleeping. So, after bedtime.”

Thinking himself wise, the son makes himself fall asleep, supposing that he can force bedtime to arrive faster that way. When he wakes up a half hour later, he asks excitedly, “I woke up from bedtime! Are we there yet?”

The father chuckles, “It doesn’t work like that.”

The little boy looks out the window and notices familiar surroundings. “Daddy, when I look outside, I think I still see Pennsylvania.”

“Yes, that’s right. We’re still in Pennsylvania.”

“But I thought you said we were going to Disney World?”

“We are.”

Suddenly the little boy becomes irate. “I don’t think we are. I think you’re lying! You said Disney World, but it’s been a long time already, and we’re still not far from home!” He goes on to throw an all-out tantrum: “I’m strapped in a car seat, locked in a car! I’m tired of this, Daddy! I don’t even care about Disney World. I think you don’t really love me!”

My, oh, my! That upset son clearly has no understanding, no perspective. He has no concept of how long fifteen hours actually is, and in his frustration he goes so far as to accuse his father of not truly loving him. If the father pulled the car over and explained ‘fifteen hours’ very, very carefully to the four-year-old, I’m not sure how much of a practical difference it would make—the son’s undeveloped brain likely still wouldn’t be able to wrap itself around such a concept! The father has Disney World in mind, but the child cannot conceive of the reason for such a long journey.

Now—I want you to read Habakkuk 1:5 again through this lens. It reads, “I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.” Compared to the Lord, maybe we are like four-year-olds—or maybe even younger! We may not grasp the journey, and we may not understand the process. The expedition to our Disney World may be long, slow, difficult, and painstaking. In fact, things may be progressing so slowly that we don’t even perceive a difference. We might demand to know why and throw a tantrum and complain, yet not comprehend the answer the Father provides. We might even label the situation as punishment, or worse still, scream that the Father is treating us unlovingly.

Oh, how easy it is to lose perspective. Wouldn’t you agree? The Father has promised us “Disney World”… if only we would trust His heart and submit to Him, the glorious One who knows more and sees farther.

Now, let me make a quick theological aside and address a subject I don’t think I’ve ever written about before: complaining. Is complaining to God wrong? Is complaining to God about God wrong? Should we follow Habakkuk’s example and approach the Master of the Universe in upset outbursts? Let’s take it a step further—does Jesus model complaining to God? Does He teach us to include complaining when He teaches us to pray? Or one step further still—are there any consequences for those who complain, or “murmur,” in Scripture? In American Christianity, newer and newer generations have stressed authenticity before God, and they are absolutely right to promote this, but I have been in some settings where a strange imbalance forms, so that people feel a license to enter before the Great I AM flippantly, angrily, or antagonistically because that’s how they authentically “feel.” In fact, Scripture unmistakably prescribes thankfulness, praise, and a paradoxical blend of boldness and humility as the entrance into God’s Presence… regardless of how a person may otherwise feel. However, in the same breath, I think there’s a paradox at play here. Honestly, I do. I know that God is certainly big enough to handle our tantrums. He is big enough to manage our anger. He is big enough to listen to our complaints. In fact, when we are angry, there’s no better place to turn than to the Father’s loving presence. We see complaints again and again in the Psalms, as just one example. Perhaps the bigger question then is, what’s the motivation of the complaints and anger? Sometimes, we want to complain because, frankly, we are proud, selfish, and feel entitled to a different outcome—much like a toddler will throw himself on the floor and scream bloody murder because he’s being made to eat broccoli. When we metaphorically behave as such, I think this is sin. Or, are we turning to the Lord in our frustrations and anger because we deeply know that He listens to us and will meet us in our time of need? Let us not lose perspective, dear ones. We don’t know as much as God knows. We can’t see as far as He sees. We are limited and still developing. As lovingly as possible, I want to remind all of us that a spoonful of humility will serve us very well when we, a four-year-old, want to complain to the Master of the Universe.

So let’s bring the plane down for a landing.

Your “Disney World” is coming. Yes, friend. Perhaps you are in the car, strapped into a carseat, a couple hours into the trip already—you might not perceive it, but you’re getting closer and closer to Disney World.

The Father has absolutely not forgotten the promises He has made to us. He is thoroughly good, abundantly kind, excessively compassionate, liberally merciful, and unreasonably faithful. We may not understand or appreciate the process He’s bringing us through, but we must trust His plan and rest in His appointments. And in seasons where lamenting is appropriate, and even necessary for our souls, instead of angrily complaining, let us practice saying with Habakkuk, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:17-18). A difficult word, yes. But also an indication of maturity. Maybe, just maybe, we can graduate to being five-year-olds this side of Heaven.

Blessings, blessings, blessings on you.