In the Meantime - Week Two - "Mishpat!"

There is a myth about Christianity that is perpetuated despite all of the evidence to the contrary.  that myth is simply this: When you trust Jesus, your problems fade.  Maybe this myth was conveyed to you at some point in time.  Lots of Christians try to use this as a selling point for non-Christians so they'll start following Jesus.

There are even some Christians who try to put their head in the sand about their problems because they've been taught they shouldn't have any if they really trust in God.  Others try to tell you that if you have problems it's because you don't have a close enough walk with Jesus. 

Recently at one of the  Lifetree Cafe programs that our church hosts, we heard the story of a woman who was told by her pastor that the reason her son was born with Downs Syndrome was because she had sinned.

The fact of the matter is that we all face problems of one sort or another.  We live in uncertain times, and as we learned last week, our culture of fear has taken its toll in more ways than one.  Sometimes bad things happen to good people.  Injustice is all around us.  To ignore the tragic realities of the world, to try to explain them away or to blame them on personal transgression doesn't help...at all.  And yet this is exactly what Christians do. 

I've learned that Christians who claim to be without problems or doubts are either not telling the truth or not growing. 

In Habakkuk 1:2-4 we have this from the prophet:
 2 How long, LORD, must I call for help,
   but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
   but you do not save?
3 Why do you make me look at injustice?
   Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
   there is strife, and conflict abounds.
4 Therefore the law is paralyzed,
   and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
   so that justice is perverted.

There is a word that looms large in this passage: mishpat, which means the act of doing justice or acting justly.  In this case, the prophet would have been referring to the kind of justice that comes when God's reign happens, when shalom is present.  He's full of dismay that injustice abounds all around him and God doesn't seem to be doing anything about it.  But as you can clearly see, Habakkuk isn't just speaking casually about the injustice that he sees.  In fact, to say that he's being forceful doesn't even do his words here justice.

What Habakkuk teaches us here is that sometimes you just have to shout at God.  He can handle it.  

In verse 2, Habakkuk says that he "must call for help." The Hebrew word is shiwaa-atti, which means "to call for help."  But the word that is used in verse 3, that is translated as "cry out" is the Hebrew word exaq which actually means "to scream."  Habakkuk follows with the exclamation "Violence!" which is what someone in the ancient world would have screamed if they were being attacked on the street.

That's pretty serious shouting.  I've done my fair share of shouting and screaming at concerts and sporting events.  I remember once at a Florida State/Miami game many years ago, I screamed myself hoarse.  I did the same when I saw U2 in Chicago's United Center a few years ago.  When I left that concert, I couldn't hear or speak. 

And this is what Habakkuk is doing as he calls attention to the miscarriage of justice in his culture.  In the ancient Near East, Justice was the most basic and necessary characteristic of society.  It was the one thing that gave hope to the poor and the downtrodden.  It was what made it possible for people to share ideas about the common good.  And for the people of Israel, it was the desire and nature of God. So when Habakkuk sees injustice in the political, judicial and economic institutions in Israel, he begins to wonder why the desire and nature of God is being thwarted.

And so he cries out to God. 

Why is it so hard for us to turn to God?  What makes us so uncomfortable about shouting at Him?  I once led a Bible study where I asked the group, "Have you ever had a time in your life where you questioned God, or wanted to yell at God because you were angry with Him?"  One very sweet old couple were horrified.  "Why would you ever question God?  Why would you even dream about shouting at him?"

When I served as a chaplain in Florida Hospital, I was summoned to a man's room in the middle of the night for a "Code Blue," which means that a patient had gone into cardiac arrest.  I stood outside the room while doctors and nurses worked on him.  His wife and teenage daughter came running down the hall.  I met them and introduced myself as the chaplain.  A nurse approached the family and told them that the man had passed away.  The daughter began to scream and to cry and ran down the hall.  She collapsed at last and I knelt beside her.  "I hate God!" she screamed.  "Why would he let this happen to my daddy!"  I wanted to run as far away from that moment as I could.  Instead I sat on the floor beside her while she screamed and railed at God.

Suddenly a physician walked up to me, and pulled me aside. "Are you the chaplain?"  I told him that I was.  "He's going to be fine.  We stabilized him."  I told him that the family had already been told he was dead.  The physician was incredulous.  "That's ridiculous!" he said and shook his head.   "Well," he told me, "now you get to tell them otherwise."  I returned to the family and told them gently that their loved one was alive.  The girl looked at me in disbelief. 

"I'm so sorry." she said to me.  "I'm sorry." 

I never got the chance to follow up with her about why she apologized.  I imagine it was because she had screamed at God when she thought her father was dead.  When she realized he wasn't, she felt ashamed of her anger.  I wished I could have told her that God was big enough and loving enough to hold her when she was angry.  Nothing she could have said in that moment would have made Him love her less.

Last year there was a story that came out of Vancouver that splashed all over the news.  Becky Storro, a lively, attractive young woman was apparently attacked by someone who threw acid on her face.  Storro told police that a black woman walked up to her and said, "Hey pretty lady," and then threw the acid on her.  Her face was badly burned, but she was so upbeat and positive about her ordeal that she landed on virtually every news channel and was even in negotiations to appear on Oprah Winfrey's show.

The top right photo is a picture of Storro before the accent and below is a picture of her after the accident while she was in the hospital.  

Storro was a sort of celebrity, who even endeared herself to Christians all over the world when she gave glory to God and was fairly open about her Christian faith.

Then it was discovered that she lied.  She actually poured the acid on herself.  Why would this attractive young woman do such a thing?  What was her purpose?  She confessed that she wanted to try to share the message of Jesus with more people, and decided that her disfigurement would be a way to do that dramatically.  It doesn't make a lot of sense.  If she was worried about people coming to know Jesus, or concerned about a world falling apart around her, she could have called out to God.  She could have shouted to God, she could have done this and God would have never stopped loving her.  Yet, she chose to destroy herself instead. 

I see Bethany Storro's situation as an  example of what so many of us do when we try to live a life outside of a real relationship with God.  When we have a real relationship with God, we don't worry about sharing our deepest emotions because we know that God will never leave us or forsake us.

But what do we do with all of the helplessness we feel?

Habakkuk shouted and screamed at God, but he didn't do it out of doubt.  He did it out of faith.  You see, Habakkuk believed that the world should be better and believed in the One who could make it so.  I love what happens here.  As Habakkuk is shouting, he is essentially calling God out, reminding God of what kind of God He really is, and begging fervently for God to prove what Habakkuk believes to be true.

When people ask me about my wife---what she's like---I have no problem giving them a long list of attributes.  She's beautiful, strong, sexy, brilliant, loving, giving, sold-out in her faith, an incredible mother, empathetic, sacrificial, sexy...  Should I go on?

As I wrote those words down, I not only imagined my wife, I wanted to be with her.  I felt myself wanting to hold her.  Here's something else.  When I'm in a disagreement with my wife, I often find myself looking at her and thinking, "There is no person on the face of this earth that can push my buttons like you, and I am madly in love with you!" 

I think that as Habakkuk was shouting at God in this moment, he was thinking of how incredible God was.  He was thinking about the way that God desires justice and has promised peace and redemption for all of Creation.  Habakkuk's relationship with God was secure enough that Habakkuk could shout in helplessness and know that God would hear him.  And further, he knew that God would love him no matter what he shouted.

What's your relationship with God like?  Could it withstand a disagreement?  Or do you feel so far away from Him that you prefer to make things "right" in your life on your own... even if it destroys you?

Hear these words that the Apostle Paul wrote nearly 2,000 years ago:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
 There is nothing that will separate you from God's love.  Not your anger.  Not your screams.  Not your distance from Him.  Nothing.

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