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  • Writer's pictureSteven Marsh

Participating in God’s Story – Joy to the World: a Reflection on Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4,

We must be ever vigilant not to forget the basis for joy in the human experience. And Reformation Sunday helps us in this regard. It’s all about grace. Grace, unmerited favor we receive from God, because God loves us so much. Advent, the four weeks leading up to the birth of the Messiah, God’s most visible and tangible act of grace toward humanity, begins November 27. The joy that is humanity’s, because of Jesus’ birth is captivating. Michael Horton writes, “It is important to see Jesus’s identity not only from the doctrine as it’s mined from individual Old Testament texts, but to see it in light of the flow of Israel’s story that is the drama of salvation, and the doxologies it provokes. Only then will we understand how our discipleship flows from that.”[1]

As we ponder the complexities of the society in which we live and its ongoing violence, strife, and contention, people are asking where is God? The circumstances in which we find ourselves, flawed character in our two presidential candidates, ongoing tension in race relations, violence, anger, and hate, is it no wonder that Christians ponder if God is still in charge. Why does God ordain suffering? Why does God seemingly ignore the prayers of the faithful? Why does it feel like God is silent in the midst of devastating human misery?[2]

Hudson Taylor, the pioneering missionary to China remarks, “When I travel to the interior of China, the Christian communities all claim they’ve seen and experienced miracles.”[3] God’s people are continually astounded at what God is doing. Experience is “an event or occurrence that leaves an impression.”[4] Habakkuk cried out to God, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” Habakkuk was experiencing God’s absence and aching over the injustices in society. The people of God were losing their way. And Habakkuk makes the case how he will be vigilant and wait for God to speak in order to lay before the people a new vision. Experiencing God matters.

To enrich our experience with God and others, we must learn how complaint is an important tool for spiritual growth, in that complaint accesses experience.[5] Habakkuk was given a problem by God. He did not like it. The circumstances were lamentable and dire. So, Habakkuk complained. Why? “Violence” persisted through flagrant violation of moral law. Habakkuk observed people injuring others through unethical behavior. “Strife” and “contention” evoked anger and dissension.

At the core of Habakkuk’s complaint is the breakdown of community. God made us in God’s image as persons in community. Julie Gorman writes, “God created us as ‘persons.’ Personhood is only known in relation to others. Our identity as relational beings is carved out of interpersonal relating…Made in God’s image we reflect our Creator. Made as persons we are made for relationship-with our Creator and with one another.”[6] God’s covenant people had lost sight of community. Sin had eroded their sense of relatedness and purpose. Habakkuk complained to God. He was guided by a dominant vision. As difficult as it was to be the voice of complaint for the people to God, Habakkuk did not veer from the vision that God had given him.

“A vision is the dominant factor that governs your life. It determines all the choices you are making. It’s what’s left after all the layers are peeled away like an onion. It’s what your mind naturally gravitates toward when it is not legitimately concentrating on something else. It’s what determines your friendships and your relationships that you are cultivating. It’s what your prayers are about–what you dream about and are giving money toward.”[7]

And God answered Habakkuk’s complaint.

The text in Luke is enveloped by such a dominant vision. Luke 19 reminds us that when we complain against violence, strife, and contention, we gain insight into God’s story for the sake of reaching the lost and marginalized. Complaining to God about the sexual abuse women are experiencing, the discrimination experienced by people of color, and the persistent experience of homelessness and hunger, is at the core of God’s missiological objective. That is the beauty of the Zacchaeus narrative. Zacchaeus was rejected, even though he had considerable wealth and status, because of his abuse of people. Although he was an outcast of whom the people complained, he ran and climbed a tree in order to get a glimpse of Jesus. For in Jesus, he knew there would be grace. Zacchaeus had heard about the healing of the woman who was crippled by a spirit for eighteen years.

Is complaint a part of your Christian discipline? When you see violence, strife, and contention, do you complain to God that things are not as they should be? Everything finds its purpose in God. Yes, even violence, strife, and contention. Observe what is happening around you, complain to God, and watch for the answer. A complaint driven life unlocks experience with God. Therein lies the root of joy. The “grace” celebrated this Reformation Sunday reminds us that God’s word to us in Habakkuk is that God is not silent. For through complaint, we become God’s voice in a troubled world.

[1]Michael Horton, Core Christianity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2016), 118.

[2]Questions adapted from Bryan Spinks in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 246.

[3]Attributed to Hudson Taylor in Christian History, no. 52.

[4]Concise Oxford Dictionary tenth edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 501.

[5]Habakkuk 1:1-4

[6]Julie Gorman, Community That is Christian (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2002), 27-28.

[7]Phil Grant. Leadership, Vol. 15, no. 3.

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