Seeking An Answer From God
February 3rd, 1991 @ 10:50 AM
SEEKING AN ANSWER FROM GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-3-91 10:50 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Seeking An Answer From God. It is an exposition of the prophecy of Habakkuk.
Habakkuk was a contemporary, an older contemporary of Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Daniel. He lived just before 600 BC. He lived just before the doom and destruction of his nation by the invading Chaldeans, sometimes called the Babylonians. In our day, we would call them Iraqis; the invading, vicious, cruel, terrible armies of Iraq.
And he begins his prophecy with an agonizing cry: “O Lord, how long, how long shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear! even cry unto Thee of violence, and Thou will not save!” [Habakkuk 1:2]. He cried until his eyes were a fountain of tears. And he prayed until his voice could frame the syllables and the sentences no longer; and God did not hear. He cannot understand how the Lord allows the wicked to persecute and to triumph over the good.
Why dost Thou show me iniquity, cause me to behold grievance? spoiling and violence. . .they that raise up strife and contention.
Thy law is paralyzed, judgment does not go forth: the wicked doth encompass the righteous; therefore judgment is perverted.
Why, O God, do the righteous suffer? And why do the wicked triumph? The psalmist cried that, in the seventy-third Psalm:
I was envious… when I saw the prosperity of the wicked…
They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men…
Behold, the ungodly who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.
Verily, truly, I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.
All the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning.
[Psalm 73:3-5, 12-14]
Why try to be good? Why try to love God and serve in His name, when the wicked are more prosperous than we, and are blessed beyond what we could ever experience? That is so common—a cry unto God: “Why, Lord? Why the evil and the violence and the hurt in the world?”
John Stewart Mill, one of the great thinkers and philosophers and logicians and political economists of England, wrote, “If there is a God, He is not almighty or He would put an end to war, and pain, and death, and trouble in the world.” I would think there is no one of us but has thought that, “If there is a God, how does He look unmoved upon the sorrows and tears that flood our lives?”
When I came to the church forty-seven years ago, soon, Dr. Truett’s nephews, the Penland brothers, were much here. As some of you know, Dr. Truett lay dying a full year, a solid year. He was not able to receive drugs that killed his pain. And he suffered in excruciating, indescribably, for a solid year as he lay dying. And everytime I was with one of those Penland brothers, his nephews, Dr. Truett’s nephews, they would ask me why is it, how could it be that a great mighty servant of God like Dr. Truett could suffer so unceasingly and so tragically? Why did God allow it? This is the cry of Habakkuk: “O God, facing the doom and the destruction of my people, O God, why?” Then he recounts it:
God raises up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, they will march through the breadth of the land; they will possess our dwelling places…
They are terrible and dreadful: their judgment. . .precedes them.
Their horses are swifter than the leopards, and are more fierce than the ravaging wolves: their horsemen spread themselves. They come from far; they fly as an eagle…
They come for violence: their faces sup up the east wind; they gather captivity as the sand.
They scoff at kings; princes are a scorn unto them: they deride every stronghold; they heap dust, and take it. . .
These, O God, are coming to destroy us!
Then the prophet says:
O God, I understand and I know that Thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, Thou hast established them for correction.
“I admit and I understand, my people have fallen into evil. They have forsaken God; they worship idols. And I understand the judgment of heaven upon them.”
Jeremiah cried throughout his lifetime, and they placed him in a horrible pit [Jeremiah 38:6]. Isaiah, the pure-hearted patriarch, spoke of the need of the nation to come back to God [Isaiah 1:16-19]. In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, it says they sawed him asunder [Hebrews 11:37]. Micah made entreaty to the people, and they looked upon him with continuing contempt [Micah 2:6, 3:5].
The nation persevered in godlessness, and Habakkuk says: “I understand the judgments of God. But O God, O God, Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: then why, O God, then why lookest Thou upon them that dwell treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth a man that is more righteous than he?” [Habakkuk 1:13].
“I understand, O God, the judgment of the Lord upon my people. But, O God, I cannot understand; these Chaldeans, these Babylonians, these Iraqis are more violent and treacherous and cruel and mean and sinful than my people. Lord, how is it that they come to chasten us, inflict disastrous judgment upon us? O God, why?” [Habakkuk 1:13].
And the prophet says: “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and I will wait to hear what He will say unto me, and what He will answer in my reproof” [Habakkuk 2:1]. “God will speak and He will answer me in reproof. And I will wait for the word of the Lord.”
May I pause here to say three things about what happens when you wait for an answer from God? Number one: you move into an altogether different consideration of the world and time and history. To us, it is all external; we see it from the outside happening day at a time, year at a time. We look at it externally, but God looks at it internally. There is an election, there is a destiny, there is a purpose of God in all time and through all history. And we see things from the outside as they happen. God sees them from the inside according to His great elective purpose and choice. We’re like one beholding the waves of the sea. We look at the foam. We never consider the deep underneath moving currents of the ocean.
Number two: there is another view of the world than the geographic. We see our globe with its mountains, and its hills, and its rivers, and its valleys, and its caverns. But God looks at our world astronomically, as a whole, from afar.
Did you see in the papers a published picture of our world when Voyager 2, the satellite, went by Uranus and by Jupiter and then into the infinitude beyond? These men of science had that satellite turn the camera around and take a picture of our world. Did you see that picture? It was a little blue dot in the great astronomical constellations of infinitude. Our mountains of difficulty, and our hills of regret and disappointment, and our rivers of sorrow, and our caverns of trouble, and the waves that beat upon the shoreline of our lives—how insignificantly miniscule are they as you look upon our world in the infinitude of God.
A third consideration: there is another view of time and history and life other than beside dividing it into seconds, and into minutes, and into years, and even into centuries. God is a God above time. He rests in eternity. When the fifth seal was opened in the sixth chapter of Revelation, they cried: “O God, how long?” [Revelation 6:9-10].
To us, it seems unending: but to Him—the ninetieth Psalm and fourth verse says: “O God, a thousand years are but as a watch in the night” [Psalm 90:4]. And 2 Peter 3:8 says: “A thousand years are but a day, and a day but a thousand years.”
I turn the page in God’s Book and I turn a thousand years. In this cry unto God, “O God, why? Why? Why?” [Habakkuk 1:13] and the destruction of the nation and the great Babylonian Iraqi captivity—out of it came three incomparable things. I turn the page. Out of that destruction and out of that captivity came first, monotheism. The Jews were never idolatrous again; and their whole history had been characterized by the bowing down before images and false gods. They became monotheist, teaching the world there is one Jehovah God.
Number two: out of that captivity came the synagogue, our church, our services, born in that tragedy and that destruction; the synagogue, the church. And out of that captivity came the Book, the Holy Scriptures: first with Ezra [Nehemiah 8:1-9], and then with others, who gathered and held sacred the Word of the Lord.
God’s purpose, God’s destiny, God’s election—and we don’t see it, and we don’t understand it. I think of the apostle Paul in the Mamertine dungeon, then beheaded on the Ostian way—God’s servant, God’s saint, the apostle Paul. And in his day, the Caesar that consigned him to destruction, Nero, riding in his golden chariot, up the Capitoline Hill to his golden palace; and Paul in the dungeon and beheaded.
I turn the page of a thousand years: today, today, we name our beautiful cathedrals for Paul—St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. And we name our dogs for Nero! There’s a destiny, there’s a will, there’s a purpose beyond what our eyes can see and our minds can understand, as our preacher preached this morning. We must see, and judge, and look with the heart, believing in the goodness and purpose of God.
So he answers, Habakkuk 2:2, “God answered me, and said, Write the vision, make it plain. . .that he may run that readeth it.” All their public announcements were in great characters on tablets of clay.
Make it plain so that we and all the generations can understand it. Even he that runneth by can read it and having read it, continues in his pursuit. For the vision is yet for an appointed time, and at the end, it shall speak. It shall not tarry, wait for it; it will surely come.”
God’s purpose may not be seen, and the outworking of God’s will and elective destiny in the world may be long delayed, but it comes. It comes! It surely, surely comes!
The omnipotent choice of God in the world cannot be obviated or resisted. Wait for it! And He says believe in it! Behold, the man’s soul that is self-sufficient and lifted up is not right. “But the just shall live by faith” [Habakkuk 2:4], by trust, believing in the purposes of God and the will of God for the best in our lives.
May I take a leaf out of the story of my own life? How the weakness and the hurts and the sorrows and the disappointments of life, God has a purpose in them, and turns them to our blessing. Dr. Truett, whom I spoke of a moment ago, died in July of 1944. And in August of that summer in which Dr. Truett had died, the pulpit committee asked me to come and to preach here in this sacred place. And when I stood here that August Lord’s Day of 1944, my hands trembled; and the Bible I held in my hand shook. I was immeasurably embarrassed and humiliated, but I couldn’t keep my hands from trembling, and I couldn’t keep the Bible from shaking.
The pulpit committee met, and Mr. Paul Danna, vice-president of the then First National Bank in Dallas, and a leading deacon in this dear church and of that pulpit committee—Paul Danna stood up, and he said, “For this past year, we’ve had one preacher after another filling the pulpit in the illness of Dr. Truett. And I’ve looked at them and I’ve watched them. They stood there,” Paul Danna said, “in that sacred place as though it were old hat; just common; something incidentally done as they preached messages brought to our people. But,” he said, “Sunday, that young man, when he stood in the pulpit under the power of God, his hands trembled. I saw them, and the Book shook in his hands. And,” he said, “my fellow members of the committee, I make a motion that we call him to be pastor of the church.”
Who would ever think that the weakness of the man—I was forty-three years younger than Dr. Truett; but the weakness of which I was so humiliated and embarrassed, should be the basis of that leader to invite me to be the successor of the great George W. Truett. “The just shall live by faith” [Habakkuk 2:4]. By faith! Oh, how I praise God for the commitment of our search committee that brought to us our incomparable young pastor; believing in the good and elective purpose of God!
So all of these providences of life that to us seem so harsh and cruel, God intends some beautiful purpose and thing for you. Receive them as such; and live in that faith in the goodness of God.
So I go on, not knowing—I would not know if I might.
I had rather walk with God by faith, than to walk by myself with sight.
I’d rather walk with Him in the night,
Than to walk alone in the light.
[“I Know Not What Awaits Me,” Mary G. Brainerd]
“The just shall live by faith” [Habakkuk 2:4], trusting in the goodness of the purpose of God.
SEEKING AN ANSWER FROM GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-3-91I. His agonizing soul
A. Why do the righteous suffer?
B. Judgment and correctionII. Waiting for an answer from God
A. Another view than that which is external
B. Another view than that which is mundane, earthly
C. Another view than that which is temporal
1. Jews never idolatrous again
2. Synagogue was born
3. Scriptures held sacredIII. The answer of God
A. Write it plain