"At this defining moment, change has come to America." Upon hearing those words from President-elect Barak Obama the evening he was elected to serve as this nation's 44th president, it struck me that he was absolutely correct. November 4, 2008, was indeed a defining moment in our nation's history, and indeed change has come. I celebrate the joyful reality that our nation has finally reached the point where the color of a man's skin does not automatically disqualify him from the highest elected position in our great nation. Regardless of one's political persuasion, that is good. All of us who have longed for such a day have truly seen a dream come true.
However, not every defining moment — not every point of change — in our history has been good. Roe v. Wade and the legalization of same-sex "marriages" in some states were defining moments — they ushered in definitive change — but they have also contributed to our nation's demise.
For many, the historic inauguration later this month will be difficult because of concerns over the potential social and moral impact that may follow. Some invested a lot of time and energy into praying for and aggressively pursuing a different outcome. For them, there could be a tendency to be frustrated with God. Why would He allow the election of a man who has clearly opposed the protection of innocent lives, particularly within their mother's womb? Why would He allow someone to lead this nation who has gone on record as supporting lifestyles clearly forbidden in Scripture? After all of the prayer and fasting that preceded this election, how could He allow a man into office who would likely shape the Supreme Court into a force that could ensure the legalization of such injustices for years to come?
To complicate matters, many are entering this new year under a dark cloud; they are feeling far more uncertainty and trepidation than in recent years. The reasons for the unease may be related to the economy, the transition of political leadership (and with it a clear shift in social and moral stances), international unrest, or all of the above.
If you are tempted to enter the new year questioning God or with less than a joyful spirit and enthusiastic outlook, I commend to you the Prophet Habakkuk. He would be able to relate to your frustrations and concerns, and his experience should help us all maintain the right perspective as this next chapter of history unfolds.
Confronting Our Frustrations
In an SBC LIFE article eight years ago, I wrote of Habakkuk's internal struggle over God's plan ("When God's Plan Doesn't Make Sense," February/March 2000). He first complained to God of the injustices in Judah — injustices that were entirely inconsistent with God's expectations of the nation — and he called upon God to address them. But when God responded that He would bring the Babylonians in to destroy the nation in judgment, Habakkuk was incredulous — how could a righteous God use as an instrument of justice a nation that was far more guilty of injustices than Judah? It made no sense to Habakkuk, and he was very vocal in his challenge to God's announced plan.
God responded in 2:4 that the righteous one will live by his faith. God's solution for Habakkuk's confusion and frustration was simple — he needed to trust God and remain faithful to Him. Habakkuk could not see it, but God was in the process of accomplishing His divine plan. The invasion by the Babylonians set the stage for the next chapter in the history of God's People; it was part of His perfect redemptive plan. It helped prepare the way for His Son's entrance into the world to die on the cross and provide redemption for mankind. But He didn't explain this to Habakkuk; He merely instructed him to trust Him.
Today, God is still God, and He still has a plan — a perfect plan — that He will accomplish. Over the ages, God has accomplished His plan not only through people's obedience, but also through — and despite — their disobedience. Our God is neither confined nor restricted by such things. A nation's leader need not embrace biblical convictions in order for God to work in and through him for His purposes. Consider the various kings of Israel and Judah who rejected God's standards, such as Jeroboam I and Ahab in Israel, and Ahaz and Manasseh in Judah. Furthermore, consider the biblical examples of the Pharaohs in Genesis and Exodus; Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia; and Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes of Persia. Each played a strategic role in the unfolding of redemptive history. Remember what God told Cyrus in Isaiah 45:
The LORD says this to Cyrus, His anointed, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him, to unloose the loins of kings, to open the doors before him and the gates will not be shut: "I will go before you and level the uneven places; I will shatter the bronze doors and cut the iron bars in two. I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places, so that you may know that I, the LORD, the God of Israel call you by your name. I call you by your name, because of Jacob My servant and Israel My chosen one. I give a name to you, though you do not know Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God but Me. I will strengthen you, though you do not know Me, so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is no one but Me (45:1-6).
Twice in the passage God informed Cyrus that He would work in and through him, though he did not know God — all to accomplish His purposes for His people. And this was addressed to a pagan king! In stark contrast, the President-elect of the United States has gone on record identifying himself as a Christian. We would do well to remember that it is not necessary for him to agree with our understanding of Scripture in order for God to accomplish His plan through him.
When God's plan makes no sense to us, when it does not meet our expectations, our responsibility remains the same: to trust God and remain faithful to Him. His plan will eventually unfold before us, and eventually all will be well, good, and right.
Confronting Our Fears
The dawn of this new year finds many of us confronting a myriad of uncertainties and concerns. It would be easy to succumb to a defeatist attitude, to become enslaved to our fears. Again, hear Habakkuk's words at the end of his prophecy:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit 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 triumph in the LORD; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights! (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
The tone of Habakkuk's closing comments inspires optimism and joy even apart from understanding the context, but when we consider what he has just learned and what he is anticipating, it takes us to an even higher level of confident celebration.
As indicated earlier, Habakkuk has just learned that God will be sending the Babylonian armies to destroy — to decimate — Jerusalem and the nation of Judah. We cannot conceive of such horrors from a spiritual perspective, for what this meant to the people of Judah was that the Holy City of God — the place where God dwelt, the place of absolute spiritual stability and security, the center and focal point of God's activity in the world for about four hundred years — was going to be razed, and with it, the temple itself. All material vestiges of spiritual constancy and continuity would vanish.
But also, what Habakkuk saw was that the economy, and with it all of the material pleasures that the Jewish people had come to expect, would be laid waste. When Habakkuk referred to the produce — figs, grapes, olives, and crops — he referenced their agricultural livelihood. When he referred to the absence of sheep and cattle, he described total economic collapse.
Yet look at his perspective; he says in verse 18 that regardless of these, he would rejoice in the LORD and be joyful in God his Savior. Such a mindset is foreign to many these days; it is so tempting to base our joy upon our settings and circumstances. Habakkuk's joy was based on a Person — THE Person of God. In his closing comments he even pictures himself climbing to the heights, despite the collapse of all he has ever known, because of Who God is and the sovereign plan He is accomplishing.
Habakkuk hit upon a reality that we need to understand and embrace today: joy, true joy, is not associated with or dependent upon the physical vestiges that we may associate with spiritual stability and security — whether religious organizations, cultural compliance, or even political victories. It is not — it cannot be — connected to our nation's economic and military stability. For a true child of God, true joy can only be found in the Person and work of a wise, loving, just, gracious, powerful, and merciful Father.
When we tie our joy to towering human enterprises that are built upon fleeting and fragile notions, we should not be surprised when the slightest tremors rattle them and bring them all crashing down around us. God and His plan, however, will never be affected by such things; they are immutable and immovable, and joy that is set firmly on that Rock cannot be shaken.
We have an advantage over Habakkuk; we know from God's Word how it all ends. We have the certainty of ultimate and conclusive victory for all time. We have the promise that the forces of Hades will not overpower Christ's Church (Matthew 16:18). We have the assurance that our Lord is with us always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). We walk in the confidence that the One who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4). We can fast forward and see the day when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords will return in victory riding on a white horse and that we will reign with Him for 1,000 years (Revelation 19:16; 20:6). We have the advantage of looking ahead to when The Devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are (Revelation 20:10). And we can joyfully anticipate that day when the old heaven and earth will pass away, and we will hear:
Look! God's dwelling is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will exist no longer; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away (Revelation 21:3-4).
No, now is not the time for God's people to despair. Rather let us rejoice in this New Year — regardless of what may unfold in the near or distant future — because a loving and powerful Father is accomplishing His divine plan to redeem people and bring history to its final, ultimate, and glorious conclusion. And in the meantime, let us be wholly steadfast in focusing all of our energies and efforts on those things that are most consistent with and to that end.
John Revell is a member of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and editor of SBC LIFE.