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God’s geography gives us hope

We’ve all looked at evil around the world and wondered why. Why does God allow evil? We must be careful in asking this question because as much as we want to limit this question to other people, we cannot limit it in this way. What is really being asked is why God allows the sins of others to go unchecked. We don’t really ask why God allows our own sins to go unchecked. As we’ve seen in the prophet Habakkuk, Habakkuk asked about the sins of others, too.

Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong?

Habakkuk 1:3a ESV

God’s answer was to point out that he is actively working in this world to bring about justice and righteousness, which includes punishing evil, and tells Habakkuk that even if he were to tell Habakkuk all that he was doing, Habakkuk wouldn’t believe him. God tells him that he has raised up the Babylonian empire as a means of dealing with evil, even as Babylon itself is evil. Babylon was being raised up to bring about God’s justice against other evil nations. This didn’t completely satisfy Habakkuk so he asked another question:

You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?

Habakkuk 1:13 ESV

Here his question focuses on Judah. Sure, God may use Babylon to punish other evil nations, but Babylon is turning on Judah! Why does God “idly look at” this and do nothing? Surely Judah is “more righteous”—or more accurately, less unrighteous—than Babylon! Again God answers him by pronouncing swift judgment against Babylon for all its evil. Habakkuk finally understands that God is bringing justice to all evil nations through an evil nation he is raising up, and this includes his own nation of Judah. Habakkuk no longer asks questions, but instead writes a hymn of praise.

He says he’s heard the report concerning God and his power and the result of this hearing is fear (3:1). He calls upon God and his character: “in wrath remember mercy” (3:2). God’s appearance in judgment is frightening and magnificent (3:3) and God uses even “natural” phenomena such as pestilence and plague to bring about his purposes (3:5). His anger and rage causes even mountains to tremble in fear as he uses the physical world as part of his acts of judgment (3:6–12). God’s justice will be seen in the eventual salvation of his people and in the utter destruction of the nation God is using to bring judgment against the world (3:12–14). Then the hymn says this:

I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.

Habakkuk 3:16–19 ESV

Habakkuk now understands—even if only marginally better—that God is holy and is doing far more in the world than meets the eye. His wrath and justice poured out on nations, including on Judah, is good and right, even as it results in suffering and pain. He declares that he is in fear of what is coming. He knows it is unstoppable, for “You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger” (3:12). Who can stop him from doing so?

He lists several things that will happen (the word “though” can also be translated as “since” or “because”): the fig tree will not blossom, fruit will not be on the vines, the olive harvest and crops will not yield their food, flocks and herds will be destroyed. This is because Babylon is coming and no one will stop them. To say this another way, the coming invasion by Babylon will destroy the economy of Judah. Habakkuk’s response to the work God is doing is to rejoice in the Lord, to take joy in the God of his salvation. Only the Lord can make his feet like the deer’s, able to tread on high places. He’s saying that in the midst of incredible suffering and destruction, there is only one who can enable him to stand and not slip and fall.

The truth is there is no righteous nation today. Each nation on earth is unrighteous, even if it is unrighteous in ways different from other nations. This means judgment is coming on all nations, including this one. While it is foolish to declare a natural disaster to be God’s judgment or to say that an economic downturn is a sign of God’s displeasure (to say this would be to also say that good weather and economic prosperity are signs of God’s good pleasure), it is clear that God is doing a work in this world that we cannot fully fathom or understand.

God’s geography is different from ours. There is no holy nation today, at least not in our understanding of geography. However, there is one nation that is holy and righteous, one that is free from judgment, for that holy nation is the nation Jesus purchased with his own blood:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

1 Peter 2:9–12 ESV

This nation is one without borders. Its citizens are found in every geo-political nation on earth. It functions under a very different constitution than other nations, that being the law of Christ. When Peter instructs the citizens of this holy nation to keep their conduct among the “Gentiles” honorable, keep in mind that “Gentiles” means “nations”. God’s people are scattered all over the globe, and are to live honorable lives that reflect God’s glory as they live among the various nations on earth.

Every single person on planet earth lives in a nation that is dying, a nation with an expiration date. We do not know all that God is doing, nor would we believe it if he told us!, yet nations are raised up and brought down according to God’s perfect plans for his world. We and we alone have a message of hope. We must live out this hope as we proclaim the good news that in Christ those who were once not a people can join the people of God and escape coming judgment. Like Habakkuk, in Christ God and God alone can keep our feet from slipping even when destruction comes.