Look at the nations, and see! Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told. For I am rousing the Chaldeans. Habakkuk 1:5
Habakkuk’s prayer that God should do something about Israel’s violence and injustice was answered. But not in the way he expected. The revelation that God was working out his purposes in history by rousing the Chaldeans, brutal and ruthless conquerors, astonished and shocked him. As far as Habakkuk was concerned, God was not supposed to work with the unrighteous. ‘Your eyes are too pure to behold evil, so why are you silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?’ (1:13)
We may believe very strongly that God is actively involved in our world, both in the larger histories of peoples and cultures, as well as in the little local difficulties of our individual lives. But however strong that belief, it is often difficult to see just where and how God is at work. Like Habakkuk, we have to acknowledge that God is indeed active, but not as we expect and not as we, in our heart of hearts, would always wish.
Is a calm sea for the evacuation of troops from the beaches an act of God? Then why not a more decisive intervention at an earlier point? An individual sees God in action when he misses the plane that crashed. But what about the others who were killed?
We need the humility to say that we cannot always see where God is at work. Looking back in faith, we may see his purposes accomplished in surprising ways, in our own lives as well as in the bigger movements of history. But we know that he is patient, not necessarily intervening to prevent the uncomfortable consequences of the fallen nature of our world, because those consequences may bring people to their knees in repentance.
When we cannot see where or how he is at work, we trust that he does indeed know what is best. In the midst of a very mixed bag of life experiences, we are required, in the words of another prophet, ‘to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God’. One day we will see the whole picture and understand his perfect dealings with humanity.