WHY DOES GOD NOT STOP THE WAR?
D. M. PANTON, B.A.
The Prophet Habakkuk might have lived at and for this very moment in the history of the world. The first of all the Prophets to announce the down-rush of the Chaldeans upon the Holy Land, his entire prophecy has an ideal and universal stamp; Judah and Jerusalem are not even mentioned; the Chaldeans stand forth as the imperial world-power bent on the destruction of the People of God; and the coming Great Tribulation - and, beyond that, the Kingdom of God - fills the whole horizon. And the problem of millions at this moment is the problem of Habakkuk. Men are asking - and are certain to ask with still more passionate scepticism in the days ahead such questions as these :- Why does God not prevent, or at least stop, these world wars? Why does He not judge the abominable wickedness and fiendish cruelty? Knowing all the facts perfectly, as He must, why is He silent and totally inactive, as if there were no God whatever in the universe? Habakkuk is simply an embodiment of the whole problem.
First of all, the Prophet expresses for ever the intense perplexity of his own soul."O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear? I cry unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save" (Hab. 1: 2). What he saw is exactly what we are watching. "The law is slacked" - lawlessness grows everywhere - "and judgment doth never go forth" - all justice is supressed : "for the wicked doth compass about the rigjhteous ; therefore justice is suppressed: therefore judgment goeth forth perverted" - the world's. It is exactly what we see in some of the greatest nations of the world. legal tribunals are dens of pure lawlessness "The wicked," he says, "surround the righteous": that is, when anyone retains any regard for religion and justice, immediately the wicked rise up against him on every side; so that no one dares to oppose, though frauds, rapes, outrages, cruelty, and murders everywhere prevail. Habakkuk’s very passion for God threatens to wreck his faith. "Wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest thy peace when the wicked swalloweth up the man that is more righteous than he?" Here is the problem intensely stated.
The answer of the Most High throws enormous stress on His coming activity."Behold ye among the nations" - watch the international drama that is coming - "and regard, and wonder, marvellously" - which is exactly what many of us have been doing, without knowing it was a command; "for I work a work in your days, which ye will not believe though it be told you". You will learn, from what is coming, that God, at last, will be anything but inactive: watch, ‘and you will find divine judgments incredible in their lawfulness. Habakkuk himself expresses it later. "In fury thou walkest through the earth, in wrath thou stampest down nations." There are revelations of the coming horror - such as the Horsemen and Locusts, supernatural creatures coming up out of the Abyss for the torture of men (Rev. 9.) - which, in the plain wording of the passages, the vast majority even of prophetical students disbelieve. Meanwhile the Prophet drops a word which solves the immediate problem. "His glory covered the heavens, and there was the hiding of his power" (3: 4). "The Most High often throws a thick cloud around His plans, and a mask about His operations which even the eye of faith cannot penetrate : behind a screen He devises His most stupendous purposes" (J. L. Harris). God’s very justice compels a silent waiting for crisis; so that men may be given opportunity for proving, by action, what is in their hearts. Utter mercy alone postpones hell.
So now the Most High gives the divine pledge stamped with the divine seal."The vision is yet for the appointed time, and it hasteth toward the end, and shall not lie" - as do false prophecies all around us to-day; "though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not delay" (2: 3). And what is the vision? Habakkuk expresses it in one flash of lightning. "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (2: 14). This solves the problem. For the glory of God is proved by judgment as well as by mercy, by the overthrow of all ungodly powers as well as by the patient longsuffering that hides His power; and His power at last will be anything but hidden. Sinners who are made instruments of judgment on others will not escape their own: He will not leave the sin unpunished with which He punishes sin: the very savagery of the monsters at the end plunge them into the Lake of Fire a thousand years before the wicked of all other generations. "So Habakkuk intimates that the glory of God will be so much known that it will not only fill the world, but overflow it, as the waters, by their vast quantity, cover the deep" (Calvin). The ultimate triumph of God on earth, the coming of His Kingdom, is of all future things the most sure and the most important, so that all intermediate fulfilments of prophecy, good or bad, have as their real value only to be proofs of the last triumph.
So Habakkuk now fulfils our Lord’s constant command -Watch."I will stand upon my watch and set me upon the tower, and will watch what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am argued with" (2: 1, A.V., margin). To watch is to mount in spirit into the heavenlies, and to see all earth’s drama from the view-point of God; it is seeing everything in the divine light, sinking no more in earth’s gross darkness, the abyss of despair around us; judging everything, not after the flesh, but by all the Holy Spirit tells us, when we are thus on the mountains of God. And God at once tells him what to do. "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." Stamp it on paper in heavy type, that it may be flashed into the minds of those in peril, so that they may fly without a moment’s delay into the air-raid shelters of God’s providing. A British General, who has passed through two wars, has just said :- "Telephone wires way be cut, wireless stations be destroyed, but no bombardment can stop messages from God coming through if we are willing to receive them. To listen to God and obey Him is the highest form of national service for everybody everywhere.
But Habakkuk also fulfils, very strikingly, the right attitude for escape from future tribulation. I heard, and my belly trembled, my lips quivered at the voice" - announcing the judgments:"rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in my place" (3: 16). There is a wise and healthy trembling, a heart shocked by the facts into passionate prayer. So Paul says, - "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2: 12) ; and Habakkuk says, - "I TREMBLE". "The easy indifference, which relies upon the forbearance and promises of God, without considering, with profound earnestness, His wrath and the severity of His judgments, is a disposition of the heart not well-pleasing to Him" (Lange). For Habakkuk’s, like ours, is a trembling which seeks to escape the coming terrors, and to enter into the sabbath-rest that remaineth, the coming Kingdom of God. "I trembled in my place, THAT I SHOULD REST IN THE DAY OF TROUBLE." In the words of Calvin:- "In short, he intimates that they who have been moved and really terrified by God’s vengeance, will be in a quiet state when God executes His judgments."
Moreover, Habakkuk reveals the wonderful secret of the soul that walks with God."For though the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." Joy in God, joy in the God of my salvation, that is, the God who has saved me, is a constant joy, totally independent of circumstances; for it has God now, God over and controlling everything; the God who loved me and gave Himself for me. God is to be the inexhaustible source and infinite sphere of our joy. Heavy trials (someone says) kill little men, but create great men; and the secret of all spiritual greatness is fellowship with God.
Finally, in the heart of the whole problem Habakkuk sets a golden prayer."0 Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years" - or in what Paul calls ‘the junctions of the dispensations’ (1 Cor. 10: 11), the merging of grace and judgment - "make it known; in wrath remember mercy" (3: 2). O God, in the heart of this crisis, this junction of mercy and wrath when the whole world’s destiny is in the balances, call Thy work to life. It is most wonderful that we thus have an inspired example of praying, in the midst of wrath, for mercy on a sinful world. If God is forgotten in peace and prosperity, the awful shock of war and judgment can shake souls awake : wrath is on the threshold, but judgment can be mitigated even though it cannot be averted we can cry for mercy. "The more we have of His Spirit," says C. G. Finney, "the more clearly we shall see the state of sinners and the more deeply we shall be distressed about them. I felt almost as if I should stagger under the burden that was on my mind, and I struggled and groaned and agonized; but could not frame to present the case before God in words, but only in groans and tears." He states that often in those great revivals the people would pray "whole nights, and until their bodily strength was quite exhausted, for the conversion of souls around them."
So our need of revival is tremendous. Those who ‘argue’ with Habakkuk (2: 1, A.V. margin) a writer has just unconsciously pictured. "There is a mental upheaval which specially afflicts those who have upheld ideals, an uprooting of opinions, theories, beliefs, convictions. There is a spiritual confusion, and to some minds everything seems now to be in the melting pot. There are casualties of soul which are not reckoned in the lists. How many pass through the valley of disillusionment, of frustrated hopes, of despair. Some feel that the striving of a life-time has been nothing but vanity and self-deception; they are inclined to cynical assertion that nothing matters." And Habakkuk’s inspired prayer proves that revival is possible. "If the whole or greater number of the disciples of Christianity were, with an earnest unfailing resolution of each, to combine that Heaven should not withold one single influence which the very utmost effort of conspiring and persevering supplication would obtain, it would be a sign of revolution of the world being at hand" (John Foster).
NOTE ON WAR
What war means in its awful unrighteousness Mr. K. J. Jaroszewicz reveals:- "I have seen and experienced more of the horror of war than my strength could endure. Hospitals with invalids and new-born children, and prisons from which prisoners cannot escape, are torn apart, and glass and brick and mortar crush the panic-stricken people. The city government loses its power and you lose control of your senses and become wild. Such was the state of Poland for eleven days. I have seen the bursting of shrapnel which burned everything to the ground in a whole city block. I have seen a human being torn to pieces; the head rolled here and another part of the body rolled there. When I got up and started to run two more bombs fell almost directly in front of me and killed many people. Two little girls, one five years of age and another eight, grabbed me on either side and cried, ‘Uncle, save us.’ One was already bleeding. Everywhere I saw dead bodies and fires. Bombs were falling to the left of me and to the right of me, behind me and in front of me. There was no way of escape. Only God the Almighty was my refuge.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the war in Central Europe thus far has been the freedom gained by the Union of Churches of Christ in Poland-Russia for the preaching of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to the millions of Slavonic-speaking peoples and Jews who have so long been deprived thereof. This open doorway is our glorious victory and we must not fail our Lord in this momentous hour."