I enjoy hiking, even though I don’t go very often…life, you know? Also, I don’t enjoy hiking alone, so coordinating schedules can be a bear… still though, I like it. When I get the chance to hike, I admit I’m not always in the best of shape, so I have to take it kind of slow… and I kind of like to know what I’m getting myself into before I start.
That said, let me tell you about this hike that I took once with friends. I went into it blind, but I’d actually been doing pretty well about walking and hiking pretty regularly, so I was pumped and ready to take it on. The beginning of the hike wasn’t bad and honestly we reached the top pretty quickly and it was beautiful. We took all the photos to post and high-fived each other on our accomplishment. In short, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves.
And then we started down the mountain and that’s when we discovered that we had climbed the mountain backward (or at least against the recommended trail direction). And we quickly learned why. The way down… this direction… was steep. Like super steep. We were only halfway down when my calves started their initial complaints, so by the time we’d finally reached the valley, my calves were legitimately cursing (who knew they had such a colorful vocabulary?), and I was pretty much done.
Except, we weren’t done. We were far from done.
So. Very. Far.
We looked around for the parking lot, but it wasn’t in the valley. And that’s when we discovered that the real reason our hike to the top had been so, well easy. The parking lot was halfway up the mountain and we’d done the end in the beginning. So, to get back to our car, we had to go back up. This time stairs.
So. Many. STEEP stairs.
(Oddly, if we had started on the stairs going into the valley in this direction, our calves would have been saved. Someone had really thought this hike through; those someones were not us.)
Have you ever seen the old cartoon Cinderella? You know that mouse, Gus-Gus–the little chunky one who is so incredibly cute, but not in the best shape. Remember when he has to save his beloved Cinderella from the tower and looks up at those steps in front of him and they just seem to grow bigger and taller?
Yeah, that’s what these stairs looked like from the valley edge after coming down the steepest trail from the other side of the mountain.
I may or may not of asked my friends to call me a med-evac half way up (and I may or may not have been kind of serious about that…). At one point, I stood there halfway up the stairs, exhausted and in actual pain (for some perspective: my legs were physically shaking when I stood still and I literally couldn’t make them stop. I mean I can be kind of a baby about physical exertion, but seriously. Shaking. Trembling, if you will), I considered that maybe I’d just live in that valley the rest of my life. I could pitch a tent and be super happy away from society and never having to climb up another set of stairs. I’d just give up.
Yeah, there were no flaws in that plan at all, right? (Like where was I going to get said tent anyway?)
Obviously, I did not stay in that valley. I kept going, mostly with the encouragement of my friends (maybe a few threats). And when we got back to the car, I’d never been more grateful for modern transportation and combustible engines that don’t require any leg movement.
That taught me something, though. I got to thinking about how sometimes when the valleys in life come at us in unexpected ways, it’s really tempting to just stay in the pit. Especially when climbing out is a lot of work — painful, exhausting work. Work that when you start, you want to give up halfway through because it feels that bad. We want to just pitch our tent in the valley and spend the rest of our lives feeling sorry for ourselves when we don’t get to experience anything new or exciting. When we don’t grow. When we don’t feel the wind on our faces or see the land stretch out before us, we blame the valley, not ourselves, because, after all, it’s not our fault we are in this valley, right?
And, sure, we don’t always choose the valleys in our lives. They come at us hard and fast, or we fall into them sometimes. Sometimes they are a result of our making poor choices. Regardless of how we ended up there, we do have a choice about coming out of the valley. We can put in the work, we can lean into encouragement of friends and family, we can work through the pain. We can choose to trust that God has a good, sovereign plan for our lives.
Because one of God’s many promises to us is to meet us in our valleys and help us back to the mountaintop.
But it’s not magic. It’s a choice. We can pursue the promise, or sulk in our sorrows. As it did many years ago for Habakkuk the prophet, our choices will determine the scope and enjoyment of God’s promises in our lives.
Habakuk the Prophet
Though not as well known as Isaiah, Jeremiah, or even Jonah, Habakkuk and his short book (3 short chapters) is one of the most relatable struggles in the modern world. His very name is somewhat of a paradox, meaning both ‘to embrace’ and ‘to wrestle’. The basic premise of the story is this:
Habakkuk begins by looking at the corruption that has absolutely infiltrated the Jewish nation. People are living how they want to live, turning a once holy nation into a hedonistic hot mess. He knows they’ve been warned because Jeremiah’s been singing that tune for about 40 years, and still the nation refuses to turn back to God. And God? Well, Habakkuk wonders why God refuses to fix the problem himself. So the questioning begins. God, how long? God, why? God, where are you?
I told you it was relatable, or is that just me? At different points throughout my life I have whispered and yelled these words to the heavens, wondering these same things. How long do I have to wait for healing from this crushing depression? Why do I still not have a family of my own? Where are you, God, when there is so much suffering all around me in the world? Why didn’t you heal my incredibly brave and beautiful friend?
Now, granted these questions are on different levels of intensity, but the sentiment is still the same.
There are times when I know God is good; I know God is faithful; I know God is sovereign, but it feels like he is indifferent to my situation or the world around me.
I mean, just look at the world we live in. Habakkuk points out the violence in his society (um, hello…according to the CDC, in the US alone there are at least 1.2 million reported assault related emergency room visits each year and over 19,000 homicides…violence is definitely a staple in our society). He mentions iniquity, wrong, destruction, strife, and contention, ending with an all-encompassing statement about the law and justice having been so corrupted they are ineffective, ‘perverted’, and ‘paralyzed’. Are we reading the Bible, or social media? I mean seriously, verse 4 seems like it could be straight off someone’s news feed these days.
So the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth, for the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Hab. 1:4).
Habakkuk is confused and frustrated by God’s lack of intervention, so he hits his knees and asks all the questions. Then, God answers, and it’s kind of surprising. God assures Habakkuk that he sees and that he’s got a plan—a plan to use a more violent group (the Babylonians) to execute judgment on the people, overcome them, and teach them a lesson about their own violent ways.
Um…yikes. Not the answer he was looking for, so this does not comfort Habakkuk. In fact it worries him to the point that he begins to wonder and question God’s nature. If God is good, how can he use such a violent means to teach his people a lesson? If God is holy, how can he allow such evil in the world, let alone use it? And he says all this to God. He begs God for a different answer. Habakkuk hoped for a revival, not for a violent and bloody downfall.
Yeah. Relatable. At least to me. I’ve certainly asked similar questions about suffering and evil in a world where God is supposed to be perfectly holy, good and sovereign.
Unfortunately, we may never really understand this side of heaven. Romans 11:33-34 puts it this way:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?
Now, don’t read this the wrong way. I am in no way saying that all the evil of the world, the diseases that people suffer from or even the violence is God’s judgment on mankind, but what I am saying is that God knows more than we know and we may never know the exact reason why he allows for such things to continue. But we can be assured that God cares about his people, but he also cares about justice. And justice isn’t always pretty and rarely can you put it in a box and label it because there are too many abstractions that factor into what justice looks like and means. What gives me the greatest comfort here is that God hears Habakkuk’s concern, and He responds with kindness and wisdom.
First, he tells Habakkuk to write what he is saying down in plain words so everyone will see, hear, and understand what he is saying. God pronounces woe to ALL people who participate in iniquity and he lists 5 that are still very much prevalent today, and honestly encompass most, if not all, the iniquity of humans.
- Selfish ambition – getting to the top no matter who you have to lie to, stomp on, sleep with, or manipulate; that encompasses a lot of wrong-doing by pretty much anyone’s standard.
- Covetousness – keeping up with the Jones’ to the point where you act selfishly, gossip, steal, lie, manipulate, or even impersonate others; wanting what others have just because they have it and you don’t.
- Exploitation of people – human trafficking would be at the worst part of this spectrum, but not paying people an honest wage or taking advantage of people also fall under this heading.
- Drunkenness & violence – drunkenness doesn’t just mean alcohol either; drugs and other addictions can lead to poor decision making and iniquity and violence. Well, we’ve already talked about how prevalent that is.
- Idolatry – putting any creation above the creator; money, power, social media; anything you give your time, attention, and devotion to can become an idol.
In the end, God points out, humans will eventually reap what they sow. God had tried many methods to get the nation’s attention and to urge them to turn back to him and his perfectly holy ways. He’d offered them forgiveness, protection, and even prosperity. They said ‘no thanks’ and continued to take part in and feed the corruption of their society. God could have protected them from the Babylonian invasion. He was always capable of it, but they stepped out of the umbrella of his protection and God, having given humans free will when He created them, let them go. He wants us to choose Him, but he won’t force it. And when we step out of that umbrella, there are consequences. And it isn’t usually pretty.
Again, I’m in no way trying to explain all of death and destruction and disease in this world through this post. I am summarizing what we see recorded in Habakkuk and pointing out how we can relate to what we see. Death, disease, destruction, corruption, iniquity, all that came about when sin entered the world and will continue until the New Heaven and New Earth reign, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Back to Habakkuk.
He started off the chapter in the valley of despair, calling out to God and desperate for answers. God hears him and responds. Habakkuk doesn’t like the answer, so he enters into a debate with God.
God isn’t afraid of our questions, by the way. He welcomes them. We see this in how He responds to Habakkuk. God reminds his prophet of the consequences of sin, dating back to that fateful moment in the Garden when Adam and Eve decided to take a bite out of the fruit from the tree of life. Sure, they got knowledge, but they also got death. The consequence of sin is death.
But what’s really interesting is how Habakkuk handles that response. He could have pouted and whined about it being ‘not fair.’ He could have walked away and given up on God. He could have stayed in that valley of despair. But he doesn’t. He sings of God’s past mercies and holiness. He reminds himself of what all God has done to bless and uphold his promise to his people. He praises God for his power, might, and protection.
Then his body trembles, and he feels all the weight of the coming future in his very bones. He is emotionally spent. Weary. He is uncontrollably shaking because of the exertion. But he doesn’t give up.
He chooses to rejoice in the Lord.
He chooses joy.
And God meets him there, giving him strength in his faith to “tread on my high places”, out of the valley and onto the mountaintops.
There was a lot to unpack in that story and I may have been a little long winded, so I’m sorry about that, but it felt important to give you the full scope of what Habakkuk was dealing with because I’ve been there (and not just out of shape on a hike). I’ve been in that valley of despair and I didn’t always choose to rejoice in the Lord.
And that, my friends, is not fun and there is little to be gained by pitching your tent in the valley and avoiding the process of moving back up toward the mountaintop. I’m sure you know what I mean.
So how did Habakkuk get from the valleys of despair to the mountaintops of joy?
And that’s God’s promise to us. To take us from the valleys to the mountaintops when we seek to follow and obey him.
Habakkuk gave us a little roadmap too. Mind if I share? Great. Here goes.
|The Discipline of Prayer||The Discipline of Solitude & Silence||The Discipline of Reflection & Discernment|
|Habakkuk prayed for God to see the violence and iniquity, bring justice to the nation of Isreal, and turn them into a holy people once more.||Habakkuk remained isolated from the people, stopped talking, listened, and expected God’s response.||Habakkuk listened to what the Lord said, and reflected on his own knowledge of who He knew God to be. Discernment is wisdom making a choice; he chose to wait for God to answer before acting again.|
|Discipline of Reading/Knowing God’s word||Discipline of Humility & Submission||Discipline of Worship|
|When God gave him a vision, Habakkuk reminded himself of God’s sovereignty and reviewed all the mighty works and power God had displayed and how he’d always kept his promises to the people.||Habakkuk accepted God’s word and direction and put faith in God’s plan rather than his own idea of what is right.||Habakkuk rejoiced in the Lord and chose joy rather than brooding or pouting or rebelling.|
So for us it looks like…
Our circumstances may not change, but we always have a choice in how we live in those circumstances. When we practice spiritual discipline in the mundane, everyday moments of life, they become our defaults for when we are going through the valleys that threaten to overwhelm us. Those same disciplines help us choose to live life more abundantly, just as Habakkuk discovered. In the end he says,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord is my strength (Hab. 3:18-19a)
Despite his confusion and bewilderment, he still chooses to trust in the promises of God.
And we can too.