“Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail,
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold,
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength,
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.”
For the second week in a row now I write in response to tragedy.
Last week, our little town of Lennox, SD was rocked by the news of a murder/suicide, in which a young mother shot her husband, child, then took her own life. There remains a heavy burden in our town, like a thick fog that refuses to dissipate even under the noon-day sun. We have grieved and mourned. We have gathered as a community to express our sorrow and our hope, but the waves of this tsunami continue to crash in upon us, and will for some time.
Early Monday morning we awoke to the news of the shooting in Las Vegas. As I write, 59 are dead, and over 400 are wounded. Already the politicians and talking heads are drawing lines in the sand about who’s to blame, talking about what to do, but never really helping anyone. Stories keep coming in about the terror, the heroism, and the pain of the lives lost. We cry out, as we read in Scripture, “How long, O Lord?!?”
I turned again this week to the book of the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk is a very different book than the other OT prophets. He never speaks to the people the word of the Lord. Instead, his book is made up of his questions to God. Judah had become an absolute mess, morally, spiritually, and politically. But God’s response was even more troubling. God was bringing the Babylonians to punish Judah for their idolatry. Perplexed by God’s will, Habakkuk cried out, “How long, O Lord?” That question, while filled with despair, is also a question of faith. The prophet saw destruction all around, and he knew that God had promised to be with his people and deliver them. How could that promise come true when everything around was falling apart?
Through the dialogue of Habakkuk’s book, the prophet learns that God is still in control, that God sits in judgment over all nations and people, and that through it all, “the righteous shall live by faith” (Hab 2:4).
This is why the passage given above is so powerful. At the end of his book, Habakkuk proclaims his faith in the sovereign God. His listing of disasters, from the failing figs, olives, and fields, and the loss of the herds, reveals just how bad things were. No food on the shelves, no harvest coming in. Those things that you sort of take for granted; they’re all gone.
Maybe we’d write it differently today. We might say, “Though the batteries won’t charge, and the wifi is down, the cupboards are empty and the credit cards maxed out, though violence takes us and scatters us to the wind…”
How did Habakkuk respond to such loss? How can we?
Habakkuk says, “Yet I will rejoice!” You can almost see him there, gritting his teeth, eyes full of tears, hands shaking as he writes. “Yet I will rejoice!” He does not rejoice in this disaster, as some blackhearted fiend. He does not rejoice in retribution. He rejoices in the Lord. He knows that God, the Lord, is his salvation and strength. He knows that those who trust in the Lord “will be like Mount Zion… which cannot be moved, but abides forever” (Psalm 125:1).
Like the prophet, we are taught by God’s Word to rejoice. Paul teaches the church in Philippi, “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” (Phil 4:4). With trust in the Lord comes joy, not in the circumstances, but in the presence of the Lord himself. He is with you, not just in times of peace, but in the midst of sorrow and loss as well.
We are to say with Habakkuk, “Yet I will rejoice!” Rejoicing is sometimes done with tear stained cheeks. Joy is most needed when we are broken, and joy can fill, and mend, the broken heart.
When all else has failed and left you, when the fragile illusion of peace and security have been shattered, hold fast to your faith in the God of salvation, the God who has delivered and ransomed you in Jesus Christ our Lord. Our God is in the heavens, and He has established His king in Zion, and his name is Jesus.
Hold fast to your faith; not because it is fleeting, but so that your joy won’t be. The troubles and sorrows of this world crash upon us like the billows of the sea, but Christ stands firm and will not be moved. Faith in Him is our anchor in the storm. Cling to the One who has saved your soul, for he will never let you go.
And knowing that He holds you in the palm of his hand, you will find joy!