The Profound Yet of Faith

There must be some kind of way outta here 

Said the joker to the thief 

There’s too much confusion

I can’t get no relief 

Business men, they drink my wine

Plowman dig my earth

None were level on the mind

Nobody up at his word

No reason to get excited 

The thief he kindly spoke

There are many here among us

Who feel that life is but a joke

But, uh, but you and I, we’ve been through that 

And this is not our fate 

So let us stop talkin’ falsely now

The hour’s getting late

All along the watchtower

Princes kept the view 

While all the women came and went

Barefoot servants, too

Outside in the cold distance

A wildcat did growl

Two riders were approaching

And the wind began to howl 

If you didn’t know better, you would think the prophet Habakkuk composed those words.

But they are Bob Dylan’s, from his classic song All Along the Watchtower. Both he and Habakkuk see a world that feels “like a joke,” full of falsehood and fakery. There’s no reason to get excited because there’s no relief to be had from the injustice of the world and the way it portends destruction. So, keep a watch in your watchtower, they say, and see the coming dangers, the coming violence, the coming injustice and oppression. 

That indeed is where Habakkuk begins his prophecy. In doing so, he’s asking a question asked by generations of the people of God: how do we, a people of faith, respond to a world full of trouble? Let’s hear now our scripture for this morning, selections from the prophet Habakkuk that give us a sense of the entire book.

Scripture

How do we, a people of faith, respond to a world full of trouble?

All along the watchtower, Habakkuk waits. 

Except not really. He says he waits. But all along the watchtower, the watch post with the ramparts as he describes it, while he says he’s waiting, he issues his complaint to God: The Babylonians are coming! There’s danger lurking around the corner. And no one else is paying attention! “What are you doing about it, God?” Habakkuk yells into the wind from his watchtower.

In fact, up on the ramparts from his watch post, Habakkuk looks across the entire world and sees nothing but chaos, danger, and wrongdoing. So he says the law has become slack; he says that justice never prevails; he notes that the wicked surround the righteous. He sees a world marked by violence, injustice, oppression, and hatred. Habakkuk thinks the world is going to pieces all around him; that things have never been worse than they are at that present moment.

How many generations of people have thought the same as Habakkuk: that the world was going to pieces all around them, that things couldn’t get any worse and the world was about to come to an end? Habakkuk prophesied some 2500 years ago. That’s a lot of time in which people have been thinking to themselves that the world is coming undone. For certainly, each generation has had moments where it appeared that the world was coming to an end.

And today, it’s easy to look at the world Habakkuk saw of desolation, violence, destruction, instability, and wickedness, and see our own world. If we go up in our watchtower and look out at the world today, what do we see? 

We see the war in Ukraine, which has captured the world’s attention for the last six months. We see much human suffering, much danger, and concerns about the return of the Cold War. Personally, I see a friend from high school who’s a reporter for the AP in the region in danger and friends from seminary who are missionaries in Bosnia experiencing first-hand the refugee crisis out of that country. 

Halfway across the world, we see the reports of devastating flooding in Pakistan that has killed at least 1500 people, displacing many thousands more. Whole communities are flooded, many have lost everything, as the waters consume the landscape. 

We see Venezuela, a country I often remember in my prayers. In 2013, I visited Venezuela for a missions class I took in seminary, falling in love with the people and the country. But these are a people who suffer mightily, threatened by organized and cartel-induced crime, facing severe shortages of basic goods, and experiencing inflation to the point that some burn cash to stay warm, their currency having become so devalued. 

We see increased tensions in the China Sea between Taiwan and China; tensions that have filled more and more news reports as of late. These remind of other East Asian tensions, such as in Korea, Myanmar, and in the region of Kashmir between Pakistan and India. There, we see what the gospel of Matthew calls “wars and rumors of wars.” 

It’s not hard to stand in our own watchtowers and see the world as Habakkuk and Dylan saw it: riders approaching in the night, very real threats, with wickedness seeming to overcome righteousness. I confess that sometimes I look out from my watchtower and see a world that inspires fear, especially with my personal connections to some of these regions. Perhaps, that’s the case for all of us from time to time, with fear overcoming our hope.

For all along our watchtower, we see a world that we want to work together to address some of our greatest crises: like dangerous disputed regions, refugee crises, global tensions, and dangerous regimes. We see the violence, the turmoil, the law that has become slack, the injustice, the strife and contention, and we cry out with the prophet Habakkuk, how long? Save us, God! 

Habakkuk’s 2500 year old words ring true to us today. We cry violence! And sometimes we seem to get no word back. We see two riders approaching in the night and it seems no one is doing anything about it. 

How do we, a people of faith, respond to a world full of trouble?

Reading reports of the death of Mikhail Gorbachev recently brought back memories for me, as I’m sure it did for many of you. Even though I was only a boy, I remember watching the Berlin Wall fall down. I did not really understand the background at that moment, but I understood that it was a very significant event. I remember listening to my parents talk, filled with hope in those years of 1989 and 1990, thinking that the Cold War was over and a new, peaceful, era of hope was emerging. Reports from the week of Gorbachev’s death said largely similar things: the expectation that such a peaceful world order was emerging in a post-Cold War environment with a Yeltsin-led Russia moving toward democracy. There would be peace, the threat of nuclear war would abate, and conflicts among nations could be readily solved. 

Of course, today the world looks very different. Today, we mark the anniversary of September 11th. I’m sure you remember that day as well as I do: the fear, the unknown, the chaos, the shock. My Aunt Mary lived in New York at the time and I remember calling my mom frantically trying to get a phone line to work, hoping that she was okay. Since then, we’ve known and have plenty of reasons to know fear in the world.

We need somewhere to find hope in a world that easily inspires fear. We want a world marked by hope and peace, like was expected at the end of the Cold War. We pray for a world where violence ceases, where nations work together for the common good of humanity, where vexing problems find innovative and wise solutions. But, the world gives us less reason for hope and much more reason to fear.

How do we, a people of faith, respond to a world full of trouble?

Hear the final words again of the prophecy of Habakkuk:

THOUGH 

The fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines;

THOUGH

The produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food 

THOUGH

The flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, 

YET

I will rejoice in the LORD, I will exult in the God of my salvation.” 

No matter what he knows, even if the worst occurs, Habakkuk says, “Yet, I will rejoice in the LORD, I will exult in the God of my salvation.” 

He prays the profound yet of faith.

And that is how we, as a people of faith, respond to a world full of trouble. We pray the profound yet of faith.

That’s one of the last things Habakkuk says in his prophecy. Even if the worst happens, he will yet rejoice in the LORD, who is his strength, making his feet, “like the feet of a deer,” and making him “tread upon the heights.” 

No matter the chaos that ensues, God is God, stronger than anything that could happen in the world, present in the world, moving for justice, righteousness, and order. This is the message Habakkuk receives up on the ramparts, in his watchtower. As he walks, and waits, all along his watchtower, he sees and hears God give this message of hope. A faith that says no matter the fear that ensues, we will pray, “even if the worst happens, yet you are still God.” Habakkuk gives us that witness. Even considering all the turmoil, violence, and reason for fear, Habakkuk alludes to the famous words of David from Psalm 23:

…”I will fear no evil; your rod and your staff [which are signs of kingly strength], they comfort me. “(Psalm 23)

Habakkuk has hope, because he has a faith that says, “even if the world is burning, yet you are still God.” It’s a hope born of knowing that he serves a God who will strike out against injustice, oppression, and violence; they will never have the final word. In God’s own time, God will move against his enemies. In Habakkuk, God tells the prophet that the Babylonians are his tool for now but, the day will come when he will act against the Babylonians to protect Israel; when justice will prevail. In fact, by the time his prophecy ends, Habakkuk has moved his watch: rather than watching if God will act, he is now watching in chapter three verse 16 for what God will do to the Babylonians, trusting that God will move in strength against God’s enemies. Even if the Babylonians come and steal, kill, and destroy, yet God will act on behalf of God’s people. Habakkuk has faith and trust in God, praying the profound yet of faith.

All along the watchtower, Habakkuk can envision the future when God moves in strength to undo the wickedness of the world. And so he can say, in the crucial verse of the entire book, “the righteous live by faith.” (2:4) A faith that knows even if the world is chaos, even if there’s violence, even if the worst happens, yet, as Habakkuk says, “I will rejoice in the LORD, I will exult in the God of my salvation.” God will save us. God will save the world. 

So it is for us today. The righteous live by faith.

All along his watchtower, Habakkuk discovers that powerful truth, finding the power of praying the profound yet of faith. The profound yet of faith allows the righteous to live by faith, allows the righteous to look out from their watchtowers, see the violence and injustice and then say, no matter the sights seen from our watchtowers:

Yet, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. 

Yet, I will fear no evil, your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 

Yet, I will rejoice in the LORD, I will exult in the God of my salvation.

So this week, here’s the challenge. The twentieth century theologian Karl Barth is famous for saying that we are to hold the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. However you get your news, take in the news, and then turn to Habakkuk, and pray to God the profound yet of faith; a prayer that might sound like this:

Even if violence around the world escalates,

Even if there’s war between China and Taiwan,

Even if the war in Ukraine widens,

Even if India and Pakistan go to war over Kashmir,

Even if we are attacked again by terrorists,

Even if things get worse,

Yet, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble;

Yet, I will fear no evil, your rod and your staff, they comfort me;

Yet, as Habakkuk says, I will rejoice in the LORD, I will exult in the God of my salvation.

The prayer of the righteous sounds like taking the news headline, praying it to God, and then adding at the end, “yet, you God are strong and will save us.” This is how we can have faith no matter what we see from our watchtowers. This is how the righteous live by faith. This is how we address our fear when it strikes, for the world gives us much reason for fear, but God gives us more reason for hope.

How do we, a people of faith, respond to a world full of trouble?

Pray the profound yet of faith. There’s much to see from our watchtowers, YET, “GOD, the Lord, is [our] strength.” 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.

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