For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness . . . [and] they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools . . . . (Romans 1:18-22)
The Babylonian army – God’s instrument of judgment – amassed on the horizon. And I know how Habakkuk must have felt as he watched events unfold before his eyes. The Old Testament prophet lived at a time when rebellious priests soothed the peoples’ conscience, telling them what they wanted to hear: God only demonstrates love, not wrath; mercy, not judgment. God’s commandments were more metaphors and recommendations than requirements of obedience and holiness. They all – leader and laity alike – preferred the wide and broad path of their culture’s changing norms, instead of the narrow path of God’s unchangeable commandments.
And now, God’s patience had run out.
As in Habakkuk’s day, many 21st century religious leaders have become cozy with the culture. From their stunning silence and sometimes their actions, they seem content to shepherd their flock along the wide and broad way, rather than guide them through that narrow gate spoken of by Jesus (See Matthew 7:13-14). They tell their flock what they want to hear: God is a God of love, and not also of wrath; of mercy and not also of judgment. God’s demand for holiness and repentance are metaphors and not ominous warnings of disaster on the impenitent. They proclaim “false and foolish visions, and have not exposed [our] iniquity so as to restore us from captivity” (Lamentations 2:14).
Solomon observed a timeless truth: Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil (Ecclesiastes 8:11). But many of our leaders and laity alike have forgotten that God’s patience does not necessarily mean approval, and His patience is not without limit.
When Israel set its rebellious course, God prepared their judgment. And all Habakkuk could do was watch and wait for disaster to fall: I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble. Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress, for the people to arise who will invade us (Habakkuk 3:16).
God does not change. He is the same today as He was when Habakkuk fruitlessly begged his nation to repent and reconcile with God. And unless God’s people – perhaps especially our pastors, priests, deacons, and bishops – take His commandments seriously, we will inevitably find ourselves like Habakkuk, without a choice but to wait for judgment to fall.
But . . . . these words of promise also remain timeless – and full of hope: [If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
What then shall we do?