*We are journeying through the book of Habakkuk in a series of posts this month. This is the final post of three.*
My mother was diagnosed with stage IV cancer four days before she died. She had been in the hospital for over 15 days and was undergoing all kinds of tests. Cancer was the last thing on my mind as she was healthy one month before the diagnosis. I struggled with so many questions when the report was revealed to us. "Why my mother? How did we miss the symptoms? How could God do this to me, to us, to her? How will my father manage?"
The only verse that repeatedly kept coming to me was Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
The verse brought further questions. "How can this be good, Lord? Why are you letting this happen to her? You chose her from her pagan background, and you know that she loved you with all her heart. Why are you letting her go down like this?"
The four days, from her diagnosis, till she left us, were very stressful. But I could see the Lord’s hand in everything that happened in those 4 days. We signed a Do Not Resuscitate (looking at the wide spread of cancer in her body) and she was shifted from the ICU to an HDU (high dependency unit) where the family could visit her. She was joyous whenever she was conscious and was her usual self: finding little faults with my father, entertaining visitors with silly jokes, and dictating orders to the hospital staff around. She did not know her diagnosis and we did not tell her.
She was just so joyous even in pain and suffering, we had no heart to tell her the truth. And then she started having visions. Someone was calling out her name and he was dressed in white; his voice was the sweetest she had ever heard. Sometimes this invisible person (visible only to her) was standing next to me while I attended to her. There were others with him, all dressed in white, but not as bright as his. As my mother narrated her visions to me in her stupor, I wondered what any Christian would wonder, was it Jesus calling out my mother’s name?
God was answering my questions with her visions (in His own way of course!). In all that shock and sadness and grief and stress, God was giving me hope and assurance that He was in charge of the situation; that He was in charge of my mother. She was in His hands, and she was going to be in His presence for eternity. The Lord did not answer my hows and whys, but He gave me an answer that satisfied my soul. My disposition changed from then on. I did cry (a lot!) the day she left us and went to be with her Lord because I would not be able to physically see her for a long time but I had the assurance that the Lord works everything good for those who love Him. I could praise and thank God for her life and testimony without resentment or reservation.
My mother's death was not about me and not about my family. It was about her beautiful relationship with her saviour and master. She was chosen for a purpose and her purpose on earth was fulfilled. Her death was about her rest in God, her restoration in God. A similar thing was happening with Israel in Habakkuk's time. Israel was facing invasion, calamity, scarcity, death and destruction. Habakkuk could see the death and destruction of the chosen nation like I could see my mother's death and the destruction of my family.
I did not understand why God would let my mother have cancer the same way Habakkuk did not understand why God would let Israel perish. He failed to see God's sovereign hand in the things happening around him. He did not realise that Israel's present predicament was an essential part of God's greater plan of restoration of His chosen nation Israel and His future eternal kingdom.
Habakkuk's disposition changes after he hears what God had to tell him. In chapter 1 he was questioning God on why He was allowing the wicked to flourish and why He would not intervene. At the beginning of chapter 2, he is looking to see what God will say, sort of challenging God to respond to his questions. But in chapter 3 we see a changed Habakkuk; God’s response changes the way he looks at the situation. Habakkuk remembers all that the Lord had done for Israel and rejoices in the Lord’s plan of salvation. His complaints turned into a prayer of praise and trust. His prayer can be divided into three sections: Habakkuk’s beseech to God (3:1-2), his remembrance of the former deliverances from God (3:3-15) and his trust in God’s mercy (3:16-19)
Habakkuk states that he fears the Lord’s works and has heard of the Lord’s fame. He asks God to renew His works and make them known in the present day. Along with the work of renewing, Habakkuk asks God to remember His mercy even in wrath (v2). In asking God to remember His mercy, Habakkuk acknowledges that Judah had sinned and would face admonishing from God. This is a change from what he was asking God in chapter 1. He was asking for justice and judgement on the wicked Babylonians. He now realizes that God’s chosen nation would also receive judgement. He appeals for mercy in the judgement, and this indicates his acceptance of the judgement of Judah.
Habakkuk remembers the redeeming acts of the Lord in Israel’s history. He talks of the glory of God at Sinai (v 3-4) and the numerous miracles in the conquest of Canaan (v 5-14). The Lord’s coming at Sinai was both glorious and terrifying – glorious in the radiance that flashed from His hand despite veiling His power and terrifying because of the plagues and pestilence that God brought on Egyptians (v 4-5). At His coming the hills and the mountains, the earth and the nations trembled (v 6). The references to the sun, moon, river, horses, raging waters and arrows refer to the conquest of Canaan when the Lord fought for Israel (v 7-11). Habakkuk remembers that the Lord came out to deliver His people and to save them (v 12-13). He remembers how Israel’s enemies, Pharoah and the Egyptians, were destroyed by God (v 14-15).
In times of trouble, the righteous shall live by faith (2:4). This is the theme of the book and the reason for Habakkuk’s rejoicing in the Lord. The prophet rejoices even when he knows that Judah will face destruction and trouble as part of God’s judgement (v 16). He waits for the Lord’s judgement on Israel though it is physically painful for him (v 16). He is aware of the troubled times that await Judah in the hands of Babylon, the destruction of land and resources and the lack of food (v 17). But he rejoices because of his faith in the Lord’s mercy (v 18). He trusts that the Lord will help him endure what is coming. The Lord gives him sure-footed confidence just as He enables a deer to walk safely on steep mountains (v 19). He is confident that the Lord will be faithful to the righteous and will deliver them according to his promise. This gives him hope to praise God even in distress.
This is such a difficult attitude to attain. I wish I could imbibe Habakkuk’s reformed attitude towards judgment and rebuke. Habakkuk teaches us to trust God even in the face of adversity and to praise Him even in the face of calamity. He knows there is going to be destruction and scarcity, yet He praises God for His plan of redemption while appealing for mercy. In times of adversity, we tend to think that our God has forgotten us. We fail to remember that our God controls every situation. He is in charge of the good times as well as the bad times. Perfect are the words of Gloria Gaither,
“The God of the mountains is still God in the valley,
When things go wrong, He will make them right,
The God of the good times is still God in the bad times,
The God of the day is still God in the night.”