In June 2020 a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll reported that “an overwhelming majority, 80%, feel that the country is spiraling out of control.” It is so bad that people describe 2020 as “the worst year ever.” Mary Schmich writes, “When we talk about 2020 as the worst year ever we mean many entangled things: A pandemic. The death and economic destruction caused by the pandemic. The governmental mismanagement of the pandemic. The ways the pandemic has exposed the failures of our social system. The ways it has divorced us from routines we rely on and people we love and our delusion that the future is in our control.” The last sentence possibly is the greatest reason for the dismal, depressing evaluation. Our delusion that we can control things is shattered. Never have. Never could.
While things are dark thus far in 2020 – national, international, and a host of personal calamities and insecurities – it is probably not the “worst year ever.” Historians have almost unanimously chosen the title “the worst year in history” for the year 536 AD. Michael McCormick, Medieval historian, states, “it was the beginning of one of the worst periods to be alive, if not the worst year.” (Science Magazine, Ann Gibbons, 2018). Due to a massive volcanic eruption in Iceland, a large portion of the world was plunged into near darkness 24 hours a day, for nearly 2 years. Climate changed almost instantly and resulted in the coldest decade in over 2,000 years. As crops failed, famine ensued in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Extreme cold and starvation caused economic catastrophe in Europe the eventual outbreak of bubonic plague, which killed multiple millions of people. This period is dubbed the Dark Ages.
We may not be in the Dark Ages but that does not dismiss the challenges of our day. They are troublesome. A humorist wrote a conversation between a husband and wife, “Shall we watch the six o’clock news and get indigestion or wait for the eleven o’clock news and have insomnia?” Incidentally, that was in the Reader’s Digest, April 1986. There must have been dark times before 2020! Indeed, there were. When one turns to the biblical record, Habakkuk faced a dark time. The Babylonian invasion was imminent for Judah. He prophesied during a low time in Judah’s history as Jehoiakim’s evil reign led his people into debauchery. Habakkuk is confounded by the evil he saw. He was wondering, “What in the world is God doing? Why isn’t He dealing with these evil people and their actions?” God’s response startles him. God’s plan was nothing like Habakkuk had presumed. His responses to God’s revelation are instructive.
Habakkuk discovers that God is not indifferent to the evil in the world and has a plan. Too often we become so overwhelmed by the horrors of our present history that we begin presuming what God should do. Habakkuk says, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! Violence is everywhere! I cry, but you do not come to save.” (1:2). The prophet seems to take on the mantel of being the deliverer since he assumes God is not delivering. The spokesman for God sees the evil (1:3-4) and demands divine justice. God’s justice is certain, but it is carried out by His divine plans and purposes and not human passions and presumptions.
The prophet also discovers that God’s plans do not always coincide with our assumptions. God reveals that He is going to use the godless Babylonians to carry out His righteous judgement on Judah (1:5-11). The reaction of Habakkuk is priceless. I would summarize his response (1:11-13) this way, “What in the world? The Babylonians are worse than the nation of Judah!” Frequently in history, we see the God-in-control-of-all-history use an ungodly person or nation to carry out His plans to correct His people. This not only reveals His divine authority, but also His omniscience. He knows not only what He is doing but how He is going to do it. Human plans often conflict with God’s omniscience. He knows the end from the beginning because He is God. Can we trust God when the direction He takes runs counter to ours?
Habakkuk discovers the proper response to his frustration associated with prevailing evil. He says, “I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guard post. There I will wait to see what the Lord says and how he will answer my complaint” (2:1). When frustrated with a situation or injustice, we often take God’s rule into our own hands. In doing so, we often make matters worse. Does this mean we are to be inactive or disengaged? No. It means we do not force our thoughts and plans to become a substitute for God’s. What will such an action require? It will require faith in our all-knowing, all-powerful, and sovereign God (3:17-19). We act as He reveals direction. We trust as He acts. What is God doing? Just what He has planned! Trust Him and be a part of His plan. Despite appearances, the world is not spinning out of control; it is moving toward God’s appointed destination. Benjamin Franklin said towards the end of his life, “I have lived a long time, sir, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men.” Have we arrived at that same conclusion?