Have you ever found yourself back in a place you were years before and suddenly had a strange wave of emotion hit you? That happened to me today.
The emotion was not surprising. In part, that wave of emotion came because I was spending time with L-----. L----- is a widow who attends my church, and we first connected during my trip to Wales in 2019. Since I arrived back in Wales this past June, I had been anticipating coming back over to L-----’s house for an afternoon. We were finally able to do that today, and I was reminded of a familiar sensation: the feeling of a house that is so utterly full of the Spirit. There is a special kind of peace and warmth that exists in the house of someone who has loved Jesus for decades upon decades, someone who has had to cultivate a deep and comprehensive trust with God.
But the emotion was not just because I was spending time with L-----. When we first arrived, she ushered me into the sitting room and left me there while she prepared our lunch. I entertained myself by looking back over her furnishings: clocks and stacks of books, picture frames and souvenirs, and -
It’s a pretty simple picture: swaths of color depicting agricultural fields, a single tree off to one side with winding branches, and each section bearing a handwritten passage of scripture you could only notice once you got up close to it. I saw the picture from across the room, and that wave of emotion hit me. I had seen that picture back in 2019.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom,” the Spirit said to me.
That particular passage is not cited in the picture, but I knew what he was saying nonetheless. It was a reference to Habakkuk 3.
Habakkuk is largely a book about theodicy: how can we believe God is good when it is plain that evil exists, and not just that evil exists but that a God who claims to be powerful, knowledgeable, and good allows evil to exist and even succeed? Habakkuk opens with the prophet crying out to God, asking how God can stand idly by when destruction and injustice are running rampant in Jerusalem.
God’s answer is certainly not what Habakkuk was expecting. He tells Habakkuk he is raising up the Chaldean army to execute his judgment against Jerusalem. Habakkuk sees some hypocrisy in this, as God’s plan involves using an evil nation to bring judgment against his own people’s sin. Habakkuk is honest with God that this plan seems in contention with who God says he is.
But it is at this point that something very important happens. There’s a small interlude before God answers Habakkuk’s second complaint. Before God answers, Habakkuk makes this resolution:
“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.”
Habakkuk doesn’t immediately throw in the towel on God just because God’s answer sounds unjust. God’s initial answer was offensive to him, but he refuses to be offended by God. He takes his stand, sets his eyes on the horizon, and waits.
God returns with further explanation of what he’s doing, and how he is sovereign over the machinations of these various earthly powers. Yes, for a time, he will use Babylon to judge Israel. But once he has accomplished his plans for Israel, he will likewise judge Babylon. At the end of all of these things, God’s people will be satisfied with his goodness, and God will still be God.
This answer must have satisfied Habakkuk, because he breaks into a song praising God’s might and splendor and wrath. Even though the news of the coming judgment against both Jerusalem and Babylon makes him feel like his bones are rotting, he is content to wait for God’s plan to take its full effect.
And what is the full effect of God’s plan?
This is the passage the Spirit said to me this afternoon.
After an amazing recognition of God’s incomprehensible strength and sovereignty, complete with lightning flashing, mountains scattering, rivers splitting, and God marching through the earth in fury, Habakkuk ends on a decidedly, surprisingly, quiet note:
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.
The book of Habakkuk begins with crying anguish and ends with solemn resolve. For Habakkuk, knowing God’s character is sufficient reason to trust what God is doing, even when, for a time, what he’s doing might look confusing or even evil.
This reflection on Habakkuk 3 was especially meaningful for me because of what happened between seeing that picture at L-----’s house in 2019 and again today. I came home from my 2019 trip thinking it would only be about 6 months before I would be able to come back to live in Wales. That meant I was planning on moving to Wales in April of 2020. It was November 2019. I had no idea what was about to hit our world.
Not only that, but I had no idea the number of crazy, painful, and distressing things God would lead me through in the following two years. There were so many times during that period when I looked at my life and wondered whether I would ever get to Wales. I even wondered if God had actually called me to Wales, or if it was just some desire I had built up into a calling of my own design.
There were so many times when I thought I couldn’t do this anymore, whatever the “this” was: waiting, fundraising, dealing with health issues, dealing with personal loss, etc. But today, I stood in L-----’s house once more, and I saw that picture I had seen back in 2019, and a wave of emotion came over me. That wave was the recognition of all of the painful things God had brought me through, and how so many of them hardly have any bearing on my life anymore. After all that pain, I was standing in L-----’s house, getting loved-on by my adoptive Welsh granny, I was filled of thankfulness, and I was okay.
Dracula is the gift that keeps on giving with regard to deep theological quotes. This particular line comes from Van Helsing, who is comforting the fiancé of his patient who recently died from vampiric interference. While Van Helsing was treating Lucy, he had to perform a number of improvised blood transfusions which undoubtedly seemed strange to her fiancé, Arthur. Arthur had known nothing of who Van Helsing was nor anything about the existence of vampires. But Lucy trusted Van Helsing, so Arthur put up with him. And even though Lucy still ended up dying, Arthur had come to trust the doctor. This was largely because, even as Van Helsing was conducting violent-appearing medical procedures on Lucy and giving very few answers on why they were necessary, Van Helsing also demonstrated such tender care and love for Lucy, Arthur, and their friends. So after Lucy died, Van Helsing thanks Arthur for giving him his trust:
“I know it was hard for you to quite trust me then, for to trust such violence needs to understand; and I take it that you do not - that you cannot - trust me now, for you do not yet understand. And there may be more times when I shall want you to trust when you cannot - and may not - and must not yet understand. But the time will come when your trust shall be whole and complete in me, and when you shall understand as though the sunlight himself shone through. Then you shall bless me from first to last for your own sake, and for the sake of others, and for her dear sake to whom I swore to protect.”
It is not lost on God that it is difficult for us to trust him. He knows we can only see so much of what he is doing and that we have an inherent sense of fear that someday, somewhere down the road, we will find out we’ve been fooled. He knows some days we would rather tough it out through our own power, based on our own knowledge, coming out of our own goodness, than wait to see whether he is trustworthy or not. He knows we’re scared, and that’s okay.
But he’s still going to invite us to take our place at the watchpost. That’s all he wants from us. We don’t have to like it, we don’t have to understand it, we just have to not leave. We just have to let God prove that he is who he says he is. That’s it.
So I want to pray for us, that we will stay. That we will wait, even when it hurts. That we will have hope, even when we don’t understand. And that we will trust, even when we can’t believe.
Since writing this post last week, I have discovered a couple of songs which I feel will help us to live in this space that I've described. They were written by John Newton and William Cowper, respectively. I encourage you to read about the lives of these hymnists, which will help underscore how they have proven these lyrics by their own experience walking with God. I hope they will stay with you and encourage you: