Things Are Not What They Seem
My children are often trying to convince me to play video games with them. I mostly refuse as I don’t want to sit in front of a TV and play a game. But they also know there is a way to convince me and that is the offer to play a Virtual Reality or VR game. Instead of watching the game on a monitor, you wear goggles and headphones that immerse you in the game. When you look around, you don’t see the things that are really around you, you see what the game wants you to see. Justus and I have done this numerous times and I will tell you that when hordes of zombies come running at me, my heart is beating fast. It is hard to convince myself that I am only in a game and that the zombies aren’t real. What I see affects what I feel.
You may never play VR games but there is a principle here that affects us all. We react to what we see happening in the moment. The immediate is reality and that is what shapes our feelings and our responses. But what if what we are seeing in the moment isn’t the full story? What if there is more to reality than meets the eye?
There was a time when I was sure that I had cancer. I looked at myself in the mirror and only saw skin and bones. The x-rays showed that there was something definitely wrong. I was preparing myself for my own impending death. It seemed logical based on what I was seeing in the moment and yet there was more to the story. I was only seeing part of the picture. The truth was that I didn’t have cancer and I wasn’t dying, even though the symptoms were real. Only time and further investigation would bring the full truth to light.
I don’t know what you are seeing in your experience right now. But what if there was more to the story than what you are seeing in the moment? That is what we are going to look at.
The prophet Habakkuk doesn’t give us a specific date for when he prophesied, although it is likely during the time of the Babylonian aggression. Really all we need to know is found in the second verse: “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save?” You could say that the rest of the book is a commentary on that question. Habakkuk was living a time when life was hard, where there was violence and injustice. Good people were hurting and God seemed to be silent. Can any of us identify with that?
The rest of the book is a back and forth between Habakkuk and God. It is similar to what Job longed for, the opportunity to interrogate God over the presence of suffering in the world. Have you ever imagined having such a conversation. Being able to ask God why he allows certain things. It likely wouldn’t be a calm philosophical conversation but more of a venting with intense emotions. The book of Habakkuk is a reminder that we have the relationship with God to ask the tough questions. In fact, there are no questions that are off limits. We should never see asking questions as a sign of being unspiritual or lack faith. The Bible is consistent in telling us that we are to be real with God and that is exactly what Habakkuk did.
This brings us to the conclusion of the book. Habakkuk comes to the same understanding that we find in many of the Psalms. Suffering is real and there are bad things that happen. Habakkuk names them, specifically using cultural expressions of prosperity. When all of the things that are normally understood to be a part of good life are gone, then we come to the role of faith. It is such a small word but it is exactly the word we need in such times: “yet.” What does yet mean? Yet acknowledges all of the stuff that goes before it and then boldly states that it will not be defined by that reality. Yet is like a high wall that refuses to let despair break through. Yet. Yet what? Even though all of those things might be real, yet Habakkuk will rejoice and trust in God. Logic may seem to lead to giving up but faith helps us to see a different reality.
Even as Habakkuk was so descriptive of how bad things can be, he is equally descriptive of the alternative reality. Instead of curling up into the fetal position, God makes us like a deer upon the high places. A deer is made for such places, they can confidently find all the right places to step. The heights are still dangerous, but the deer is in its natural element and is not controlled by fear. What Habakkuk is saying is not that suffering is unreal but that suffering is not the full picture. There is more than meets the eye.
What We See
Can we identify with Habakkuk? We are not in the exact same position. We don’t have a foreign power threatening our freedom. But there are more than enough negative voices trying to shape our view of reality. Whether it is news from around the world or the things happening to our friends and family. Can you feel the negativity washing over you some days? Friends or family are sick or dying. People are struggling financially. We see the struggles in our community with the homeless and drug addicts. Last week, I went through our local park and saw some many people struggling with poverty, addiction and mental illness all wrapped together. To be honest, it looked to me like a hopeless situation. I could have easily given into despair.
We are not to pretend that suffering is not real. We are not put our religious blindfolds on and pretend that everything is okay. Habakkuk knew that the Babylonians were still a menace.
We need to be aware of the suffering and not ignore it. But we need to also remember that little word: “yet.” Yes there are some troubling things happening either to us or to our community. Yet there is a God who is real and who cares. This God wants to remind us that we see is only part of the picture. There is much more going on that we cannot yet see.
The best example of this is Jesus on the cross. Use your imagination to transport yourself back across time and space to the time Jesus was nailed to the cross. To just look at that moment, it would be enough to completely give up. God’s anointed one has been defeated and executed. It is all over. And YET on the cross Jesus was defeating the powers of sin and on the third day he would be raised, defeating the powers of death. Do you see how the yet makes a difference?
Christians use the cross as our symbol because it is the reminder that God is in the business of insert a yet in the midst of suffering.
If the passage we have read has seemed vaguely familiar, you may have heard of a book called Hinds’ Feet on High Places, written by Hannah Hurnard. The title is taken from this passage of Habakkuk. I found an interesting quote from that book.
“O Shepherd. You said you would make my feet like hinds’ feet and set me upon High Places”.
“Well”, he answered “the only way to develop hinds’ feet is to go by the paths which the hinds use.”
Our preference might be that God makes us strong while we are in a comfortable place. However, that does not seem to be the way works. If we want to be that deer with that sure footing, we will have to go to the high places where sure footing is required.
You may be going through a difficult time right now or you might be overwhelmed by the suffering of others. If you have gotten one thing out of this message, my prayer is that you would remember the word “yet.”