Habakkuk 1:1-3, 2:1-4, II Thessalonians 1:1-12
November 4, 2007
This sounds like an unusual title, doesn’t it? “The Silence of God.” Do we ever feel like God is being silent? Do we ever feel like there are some things going on in this world about which we ought to be hearing from God? And yet there seems to be no voice to be heard? Do we ever feel that there is gross injustice happening, and that evil forces are winning, and why isn’t God saying something about it?
Well, we’re not alone. The prophet Habakkuk had to deal with those very questions some six hundred years before Christ. “Why does a ‘Just God’ seem to remain silent when the wicked in this world seemingly ‘swallow up’ the righteous?” “Why isn’t God doing anything about that? Why isn’t he at least saying something?”
In many times and places people have yearned for this “silent God” to speak. They’ve cried out to God like the Prophet, wondering if anyone is listening. Or in some cases they’ve become cynical, saying, “God doesn’t care!” even “God is dead!” They lament, “Why doesn’t he speak?”
I want us to look at that difficult question today. Mind you, I’m not promising we’re going to answer that difficult question. But we are going to look at it. If I had the answer to that, maybe I’d have a book of the bible named for me! But I’d like to offer you some observations. And I mean observations based on the Biblical record. Sometimes people don’t take the Bible as a whole. They take one part that seems to be “troubling” to them and they stop there and ask all the hard questions. And sometimes the answer is found in the three-fold exhortation to “Read on! Read on! Read on!”
Let me offer you some observations. First of all, it is clear in Habakkuk that an important response to this question of the silence of God is that God is sovereign! God is in control. God is above all things and is all powerful. That’s the upshot of this Old Testament book. And it’s a good thing to keep in mind. Then, as he says in the last line we read today, “the righteous shall live by faith.” That’s the most famous line from the book of Habakkuk. “The righteous shall live by faith.” They shall live by faith in a sovereign God who speaks and acts in his time, not ours.
That’s where we run into trouble, isn’t it? We say, “God this is what we think you should do!” “Now hurry up and do it!” But that’s not how it works. It is God who is sovereign, not us. We must live by faith. That’s our job! And it’s enough of a job for us, without us taking on God’s job, isn’t it?!!
It is clear throughout the Bible that God does not keep things “all nice and clean” for his people. God is sovereign, like Habakkuk learned. And being sovereign means God is in control. But, God doesn’t choose to control everything. It doesn’t mean he can’t control everything. But he doesn’t.
Now, some people have gotten the wrong idea from that. Some have concluded – erroneously, I believe – that, since God does not control everything, he is therefore incapable of controlling everything! And therefore, they conclude, God is not sovereign. And I’m not talking about non-believers here! We can understand some of that thinking from them. I’m talking about believers – people in the church! Well meaning people who ignore the message of scripture about the sovereignty of God, and conclude that, because God didn’t control things in some tough time in their lives, it was because he was incapable, and is therefore not all powerful and not sovereign!
The sad thing to me is that I’ve heard that from believers, and I’ve also heard that from fellow pastors! I believe that is not only bad theology, it is also bad logic! It’s logic based only on personal desire and personal results – or lack thereof. You see, God not choosing to do something does not mean he is incapable of doing it. Because I do not choose jump off of this chancel onto the floor right now does not mean I am incapable of doing so. Do you see?
So why does God not choose to keep the wicked in their place? The answer to that question is that we do not know! We don’t know why he chooses not to end wickedness and injustice. But we do need to know that he is sovereign! That was so important to the prophet Habakkuk, and it is just as important to us.
Then we need to know that, because God is sovereign, then “The righteous live by faith.” It’s not our job to be God. It’s our job to keep our faith in that sovereign and just God – Even though he might not always act as we expect him to act or as we want him to act. We need to remember that it is God who is sovereign, not us. I know that’s difficult for some people. There are many who would prefer it was us who were sovereign!
The other thing that is plain from the Biblical record is that God wants us to learn to live by that faith. God wants us to keep that faith. God wants us to grow in that faith and in our trust in him.
Now, let me just pause here and say a word about the testing of our faith. Because there are those who would go there when talking about the difficult times in our lives.
There are those who would say that when we go through those difficult times, times when we are suffering in some way, times when the wicked seem to be winning, it is because God is testing our faith. I would caution us about universalizing the actions of God. In other words, I wouldn’t say that God is always testing our faith at such times, and I wouldn’t say that God never tests our faith. I’m not sovereign, God is. Clearly he works in different ways at different times. And I believe we need to be careful about saying “Such and such is the way God always acts.”
Now, is our faith tested in difficult times! I believe it’s clear that it is. But does that mean God tests us deliberately? Certainly there’s evidence in the scripture that God does test people’s faith like that. But we can’t draw the conclusion that that’s not the reason for every difficult time in our lives. And it may be that it happens that way less than we think.
So then, what about God’s seeming silence at such times? What about the times when he’s not “testing our faith” but he’s not doing anything else, either? That is the question of the day. Why does God choose to remain silent rather than speaking? Is it because he wants us to learn to trust? That’s certainly part of this picture! It’s clear from scripture that God wants us to grow in the way Paul said in Romans 5, when he said, “We rejoice in our suffering…” Why is that. Because we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope…” That is certainly part of the picture, too.
As I think about this, and as I read the Bible, one thing is certain to me. God wants us to seek after him. And that may be a big reason for God’s seeming silence. There are many places in the Bible where it says that specifically, or where there are stories of people seeking after God and finding him.
In I Chronicles 16:11 it says, “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his presence continually.” In II Chronicles 28:9, David tells his son, “And you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve him with single mind and willing heart. For the LORD searches every mind, and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him.” (There are tons of passages in II Chronicles about seeking the Lord!)
In Psalm 53 it says, “God looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.” (Psalm 53:2) In Psalm 77, “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord. In the night my hand is stretched out without wearying. My soul refuses to be comforted. I think of God, and I moan. I meditate, and my spirit faints” (Psalm 77:2) In Psalm 105:3-5 we read, “Glory in his holy name. Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Seek the Lord and his strength. Seek his presence continually. Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered…”
In the Proverbs we read, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” (Proverbs 8:17) In Isaiah 55 these words, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Do you get the idea? We could go on and on and on. There are hundreds of examples! God wants us to seek him. God wants us to call upon him. The problem is that some people are not seeking, not calling. But then they expect to hear. And when it doesn’t happen, they have a big problem with it! And by the way, this is not something that always happens right away. Sometimes seeking God takes great time and patience. Sometimes it takes too long! We want that response now! We forget that it’s God who is sovereign!
So, what about you? Do you live by faith? Are you seeking God? Do you focus on him each day? Do you seek his guidance and comfort and protection in times of difficulty? Does God seem silent at times? If you feel that way, you are not alone! But, when you feel that way, the message is clear. Don’t turn away from God. Turn toward God. Seek him. Seek him continually! Know that he is sovereign. He is in control. And the righteous shall live by faith.
Eternal God, we strive to be in connection with you. We need your spirit in our lives. We need that relationship that makes this life joyful and abundant – despite the circumstances. Help us to find you. Give us the patience to wait upon you. Help us, when we are going through tough times, to find you with us. These things we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.