Habakkuk was confused, frustrated, and evidently just a little bit ticked at God.
“Oh, Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence” and you will not save?” (Hab 1:2)
His concern was focused on the wickedness that was so prevalent among God’s people, in his nation.
“So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” (Hab 1:4)
Read between the lines. “Where are you, God? Why are you allowing this wickedness to prevail?”
Then, God answered Habakkuk, but it was not an answer that the prophet wanted to hear. He expected God to say, perhaps, that he was going to restore Judah’s fortunes with a sweeping revival and bring them back to obedience that the blessing that would accrue to the obedient nation. That is not what God said. You can almost see Habakkuk’s jaw drop as God says to him,
“For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans (Babylonians), that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own.” (Hab 1:6)
God goes on to describe the fierce and cruel Chaldeans, intimating that he would raise them up as a scourge to punish Judah’s wickedness. Habakkuk is nonplussed by this answer, asking God how he could possibly consider raising up an even more evil nation like the Babylonians to punish his own chosen people. He is irate now (it is fascinating how honest the prophets are when they are upset at what God is doing!). In Habakkuk 2:1, he issues an ultimatum to God to defend himself and his actions in punishing sinful Judah with uber-sinful Babylon.
“I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint.”
God drops the boom! In Habakkuk 2:2-20, he gives the answer Habakkuk requested. He makes it clear that he is using Babylon as a tool to accomplish his disciplinary purpose. Once that purpose is over, he will then judge the Babylonians as their sins deserve.
Habakkuk, in chapter 3, stops questioning and starts glorifying God. He begs that in God’s wrath he would remember mercy. He determines to rejoice in in the Lord and in the salvation he brings to Judah.
Habakkuk is a great little book, and I would draw the following preliminary conclusions from its chapters.
- God is in charge of the affairs of nations, even those that are evil. Here, God is using the most powerful nation on earth to accomplish his purposes. God in his sovereignty uses even evil for his glory.
- Habakkuk learned to trust God even if he did not completely understand all the sovereign God was doing in world affairs.
- God’s decision to use Babylon to accomplish his sovereign purpose did not imply an approval of Babylon and their actions.
- The fact that God used Babylon’s evil to accomplish his purposes did not abrogate their responsibility for the evil they did. They could not say, “God made me do it.” The evil came from their hearts but was used in God’s sovereignty to further his work.
It is safe to say that the vast majority of conservative Christians in America did not cast their votes for the victor in this election, Barack Obama. Nor do most of us see this as a good thing that he was elected. We assume that he will continue to promote abortion which Christians find heinous, to promote gay marriage, which Christians find perverse, and to promote the fiscal policies and foreign policies which have led to unprecedented debt piling up that threatens to take our nation down the path of bankruptcy that several European nations tend to be following.
But where was God in all of this? Why did he allow a man who advocates that which the Bible condemns to be elected as president? Does God not intervene in such events? Does God just hold back and allow us to “make our bed and lie in it?” Does Obama’s reelection imply the divine imprimatur on the president and his policies?
We are asking ourselves what happened and why!
Living in the Mysterious Middle
Anytime we humans delve into the realms of the divine, we find our intellectual inadequacy fully revealed. In Isaiah 55:8-9, God tells us that we do not think like him and our ways are not like his. His ways are higher and his thoughts are higher and we, as mere mortals, have as much chance of understanding the full-orbed wisdom of God’s sovereignty as my dog has of understanding my explanation of the rules of baseball.
There is a fundamental mystery throughout the Bible, one which I generally call an antinomy. There are two truths clearly revealed in God’s Word which cannot both be true at the same time. First, the Bible is as clear as expensive crystal that God is in charge, from beginning to end. The affairs of nations and the lives of those in it are governed by his sovereign hand. He is the author of history and writes every page to accomplish his eternal purposes, to glorify himself, to redeem a people from among this world’s sinners, and to bestow his good on us.
But the Bible also makes it clear that human beings are morally responsible agents who make real choices that have real consequences. Our actions, our reactions, our decisions and our purposes matter. I have written several novels. The characters in those novels only do what I tell them to do. I am the writer and they can only do what I direct them to do. That is not the picture the Bible gives of humanity. We are morally responsible agents who determine the direction and quality of our lives by the choices we make.
I am amazed at those who claim to have full understanding of this conundrum. One commenter here said that maybe the rest of us weren’t smart enough to figure out the confluence of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, but he did. I believe that arrogance is contrary to the Bible. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours – beyond our understanding. At some point, like Job, we are called to trust a God we cannot fully understand.
But, fortunately, there is a portion of God’s will and his ways that we can understand. I would like to make the following reflections that I believe to be biblically sound.
1) God chose that Barack Obama would be the president of the United States.
Some have resisted this, probably because of their visceral reaction to Obama and their disdain for his policies. But the Bible couldn’t be much more clear on this one, folks.
Romans 13:1-2 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
Paul did not say this concerning a godly government, but one perhaps more perverse and corrupt than ours. And he stated that all authority that exists has been instituted by God and that we are to be subject to that authority. Teasing that concept out requires more time and space than I have here. But the base concept is clear. God instituted the administration of Barack Obama in America.
Daniel knew a lot about working within the constraints of a pagan government.
Daniel 2:20-21 Blessed be the name of God forever and ever,
to whom belong wisdom and might.
21 He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
Daniel 4:17 The sentence is by the decree of the watchers, the decision by the word of the holy ones, to the end that the living may know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men.’
Who removes kings (governors, presidents, etc)? Who sets them up? God does according to his sovereign plan. Is there another interpretation of these verses?
Psalms 75:6-7 gives a broader view of this.
No one from the east or the west
or from the desert can exalt themselves.
It is God who judges:
He brings one down, he exalts another.
God brings one down and lifts another up.
2) The fact that God chose Barack Obama does not imply divine approval of him.
God uses both the righteous and the evil to accomplish his purposes. In the Bible, God raises up some leaders to bless his people. Sometimes, he raises up leaders as a judgment on a people. Whether Obama is a blessing or a judgment is not in the scope of this article. But when I say, “God chose that Barack Obama would be president” it does not mean that God thought Obama was the better man, the godlier man or that somehow God endorsed his administration.
God has used wicked men like the Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod and a host of others for his purposes. This does not mean he blessed them or excused their wickedness.
3) God’s sovereign choice does not excuse human sin.
This is one of the greatest of mysteries. If God raises up Babylon to accomplish his work, how can he still judge them for what they do? If God raised up and used Judas, how can the Bible still hold him accountable. Again, we dwell in that area of mystery here and there will certainly be questions that cannot be answered.
God is not evil nor the author of evil. But God does order the course of evil and use it for his glory. That is clear throughout the Word. That does not abrogate the responsibility of the one who does evil. God works all things in this world for his glory and our good, but that does not excuse the perpetrators of evil. They still stand guilty before God and must account for the evil they have done (or find grace and forgiveness in Christ!).
4) God’s sovereignty does not negate the importance of our choices and actions.
One commenter, the day after the election, said (rightly, I believe) that we had to trust God and his sovereign plan. In a sarcastic retort, another commenter said,
I just do not know any reason at all for me to keep voting as the elections come up. Just sit back and let God place the people where he wants them. You know, it is also crazy for us to have a military. If God is our defender then we just need to sit back and let God defend us. How silly of me to have enlisted to put my life on the line in order for people to retain the freedom to vote for their leaders. Dr. Tim Lee is an absolute idiot for going to Vietnam and getting his legs blown off defending the right for us to vote.
Yea, after thinking about it voting is a waste of time, money, and manpower. We could probably save the country millions, even billions of $$$$’s by stopping the elections and just sitting back and letting God set into place government officials.
This sarcastic comment evidences a misunderstanding of the confluence of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. God is responsible for world affairs, but we are still called to pursue righteousness, justice, and the rule of Christ in this world. It is a typical and thoughtless approach to the biblical teaching of God’s sovereignty. “If God is in control then what I do doesn’t matter.” Why evangelize? Why seek justice and righteousness? Why work for the cause of Christ?
But we must maintain both streams of truth if we want a biblically balanced world-view. We must remember the sovereignty of God and trust that ultimately it is his will that is being accomplished on this earth. But we must also remember that we will stand before him and give account for the lives we have lived, the choices we have made and the impact have had in his name. God’s sovereignty empowers our work, it does not render it null and void. We are called to be light in a dark world and salt in a world decaying because of sin’s effects.
Conclusion: The biblical evidence seems incontrovertible to me: God decided that Barack Obama was to be the president of the United States. In that, we must respect the office, pray for the man, and remain subject to the authorities God has placed over us. We must give thanks to God that he is working out his sovereign plan in this world through Obama, even though many of us did not want what God determined. We can remain advocates of righteousness, opponents of the slaughter of the innocents known as abortion, promoters of racial reconciliation, fiscal responsibility and whatever other political views we have. We cannot abdicate our role as salt and light.
Job was confused, even angry at what God had permitted. There is no evidence in the Book of Job that he ever came to understand why he suffered. But he learned to trust God in spite of his confusion and hurt – and that is what brought the healing. Am I happy that Barack Obama is getting another four years? I am not. Do I support his policies and politics? I do not and unless he changes dramatically, likely will not for the next four years?
But I am called to trust the actions of a sovereign God whom I do not understand. God was not defeated when Barack Obama was elected. I may not understand it. I may not like it. But I trust the sovereign God and he is doing what is right, what is best, and what will ultimately produce his glory and our good in this world.