Humans long for contentment and the Bible commends its pursuit. Contentment doesn’t come naturally, however, which is why it is necessary to learn it (Philippians 4:11).
One of the ways we can learn contentment is by understanding why we lack it. If we are honest about the things that get in the way of contentment, we may learn to find contentment even when things don’t go our way.
Habakkuk was a man who understood this. He was not content. He was deeply disgruntled. Rather than stewing in his disgruntledness, he took it to someone who could help him with it. In doing so, he recorded some of the lessons he learned, and we can benefit from those lessons.
In Habakkuk 1:1–11, he sets forth his first cause for discontentment. Many Bibles title the opening four verses “Habakkuk’s [first] complaint.” Essentially, the prophet here delivers a complaint, expressing frustration and betraying the reason for his discontentment. His complaint, and the Lord’s answer to his complaint, teach us a great deal.
In 1:1–4, Habakkuk complains that God appeared not to care. He offers three evidences of God’s lack of care. First, he was surrounded by “iniquity” and “wrong” (v. 3). Perpetrators were committing iniquity and victims were suffering wrong—and God seemed not to care. Second, he witnessed “destruction” and “violence” before his very eyes (v. 4). The community around him was in turmoil where he expected peace to exist—and God seemed not to care. Third, he saw “strife” and “contention” everywhere he looked (v. 4). These are legal terms, suggesting that he was troubled by the highly litigious society in which he lived—and God seemed not to care.
Be honest: Have you shared Habakkuk’s frustration? Have you entered a relationship with God expecting a deep sense of contentment and peace, only to find those hopes dashed when life is thrown into chaos and God seems not to care? How have you processed the dissonance? How should you process it?
God’s answer in vv. 5–11 is disconcerting. If anything, it seems to be more evidence of his lack of care. Habakkuk had complained that the Lord would not hear and would not save (v. 1) and his reply to his prophet seems to strengthen the case. Rather than offering him soothing words of comfort, Yahweh told Habakkuk to buckle up: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Habakkuk ministered around the time when Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon was rising to power over the Assyrians. If there had been any hopes of world peace after the bloodthirsty Assyrian domination, those hopes were dashed. The Babylonians were even worse. And Yahweh’s response to Habakkuk’s complaint was that things were about to get worse. Much worse. The nation was about to fall into the violent hands of Babylon. Could God’s lack of care be made any more obvious? It’s an understandable question, with an important answer.
The lesson that Habakkuk needed to take away from the Lord’s response was that God is not as committed to our comfort as we are. Like Habakkuk, we tend to think that God’s favour is shown only when we are comfortable and enjoying a sense of power. God wanted Habakkuk to learn that he had a far greater priority. In this context, Habakkuk needed to learn that God was more committed to his people’s correction than to their comfort. He was more interested in their holiness than their happiness. If restoring them to covenant faithfulness required pain, he would inflict as much pain as was necessary.
In the Western-influenced world, Christianity has enjoyed prominence and a degree of power for many generations. Too many of us expect that this is the norm and that we must do everything in our power to maintain this norm. We cannot afford to lose the place of privilege that we have become accustomed to. Habakkuk 1:1–11 should put the lie to this assumption.
God is concerned primarily about our faithfulness—about us walking according to his word and honouring him in true worship. If he must bring us discomfort to accomplish that end, he will do what he must. We must learn to accept and rejoice in that.
Of course, not every ounce of difficulty is evidence of divine judgement. But it may be. It certainly was for Judah when Habakkuk complained. As we lament our (perceived) loss of comfort and prominence, let us examine what God is teaching us. Let us ask ourselves whether we are committed to the same priorities that God is and learn to find contentment in that.