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November 4, 2001
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
by Tony Grant
Hands Free Cell Phones
There are some people who want to drive golf balls while talking on the phone. Or drive their cars while doing a long-distance deal. For folks like these, the key to contentment is a hands-free earpiece and microphone for their cell phone.
[Step out of the pulpit, strap on a cell phone with hands-free earpiece, pick up a golf club, and take a few practice swings. Start to have a loud conversation through your cell phone, along the lines of: "Larry, how you doing? I'm having a GREAT morning. Practicing my golf swing, preaching a sermon, and talking with you ... all at the same time!"]
But cell phones can be dangerous. For Fred Proust of Quakerstown, Pensylvania, November 2, 1999, was a busy day. He had a lunch date and full schedule and he was running late. He picked up his cell phone to call ahead as he steered his Ford Explorer. As he entered the intersection of Route 152 and Rickert Road, he glanced down at the phone to punch in the numbers. Little Morgan Lee Pena was two years old. She felt comfortable in her car seat. She had spent the morning with her cousin. Her mom was now taking her home in the family Jeep. It was a beautiful autumn day. She was a happy little girl as her mom approached the intersection of Route 152 and Rickert Road. Little Morgan and her mom, Patricia entered the intersection. So did Proust, driving and dialing. In the collision that followed, Morgan Lee was killed.
Rich Hovan, 54, is a patrolman in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland was the first town to ban the use of hand-held phones while driving. Now when Hovan stops cell phone-using drivers, he not only gives them a ticket, but he hands out a picture of Morgan Lee Pena (geocities.com/morganleepena/ ). "I write every ticket in Morgan Lee's memory," says the 25-year veteran. The saddlebags on his Harley-Davidson have stacks of three-page handouts. On the tickets he writes the initials: MLP.
Last June, New York governor, George Pataki, signed into law a bill that bans using hand-held cell phones while driving. Forty-one other states are considering the issue, but New York is the first to adopt a ban. The law allows drivers to talk with a headset or earphone, as long as both hands are on the wheel.
And rightly so. Distracted driving is dangerous. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that talking on a phone while driving quadrupled the risk of an accident. Statistically phoning while driving is almost as dangerous as being drunk while driving.
Let us apply this to Habakkuk. In a, speed-dial call to the Almighty, the prophet tries to get Gods attention: "O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?" (1:2). Habakkuk gives the impression that God is distant and distracted, chatting away on a heavenly cell phone while cruising through the limitless reaches of the universe.
Although there are few clear indicators that allow us to pinpoint when Habakkuk was written, most scholars place the book just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. This is based on verse 1:6, which mentions God rousing the "Chaldeans" against the Israelites. Also the overall tenor of the book seems to describe Jerusalem on the eve of destruction, and thus gives a date of around 587 b.c.
Nothing is known of the prophet Habakkuk. We are not told traditional things like his parent's name or the town from which he came, and his name does not even seem to be Hebrew. A possiblitlity exists that Habakkuk was a Gentile convert to Judaismthough admittedly that possibility is slim. In the rest of the Protestant Bible, no mention is made of the prophet Habbakuk, but in the apocrapha, there is an addition to Daniel called Bel and the Dragon, in which Habakkuk is featured.
Habakkuk 1:1 speaks of "the burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." We ordinarily think of prophets as hearing the word of God. It strikes us as odd that Habakkuk speaks of seeing the word. Scattered throughout the book of Habakkuk, there are references to seeing, or to having a vision. Habakkuk is a very visual prophet. He draws a picture of himself, in chapter 2, as a lookout standing upon the walls of the doomed city, scanning the horizon for signs of the enemy and signs of divine deliverance.
There is a theological principle involved here. The word of God is not a word in the ordinary human way of speaking. The word of God is a revelation of God, but it is not a revelation in our ordinary meaning of that term. Nothing about God is ever ordinary. We think of a revelation as something revealed, as something made clear and understandable. In the Bible, the revelation of God is always something of a mystery. It is not at all clear or understandable. The primary example of this is the book of Revelationwhich is not at all clear and undestandableand was not intended to be.
The prophecy of Habakkuk is called the "burden" of Habakkuk. The Hebrew word for prophecy or oracle is "masa." It comes from the root which means "to carry or bear" (nasa') as one would carry a burden or a load. This implies that a prophet's revelation from God was a weighty thing. It was not a joy to be a prophet. People often did not want to hear what the prophet had to say, but it was his responsibility to say it anyway.
Among the Hebrew prophets there was a set form that is traditionally called "the covenant lawsuit." We see it in v2 when Habakkuk pleads, "O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not listen? Or cry to you 'Violence!' and you will not save?" Under the covenant, God hears the cries of the faithful and saves them. That is God's part of the bargain. It is the job of people to remain faithful. It is the job of the prophet to see visions, receive words from the Lord and transmit them, but Habakkuk's problem with God is that he has not seen anything but wrong and trouble.
Tragedy vs God
God is with us; therefore the good guys ought to be winning, righteousness and truth should triumph, but so far as Habakkak can see that is not happening. The problem is not that Habakkuk does not believe in God. The problem is that he does believe in God; and believes that God has made a covenant with man to establish a certain order in the universe. But around 587 B.C., it seems to Habakkuk that the order of the universe is being upset, and chaos is triumphant. Habakkuks complaint is that God has promised and God is not keeping his promise.
Things are out-of-control. Habakkuk is appalled at the culture of violence and the destruction. The law is weak and there is no justice. He thinks that the wicked have a far stronger lobby than do the righteous (1.4). Put all that together, and the conclusion is that someone is not paying attention. Specifically God is not paying attention.
Habakkuk is a sixth-century B.C. Bob Dylan noting, like Dylan in his Oscar-winning song, that "things have changed." Habakkuk's a "worried man with a worried mind/No one in front of me and nothing behind..." He's been "walking forty miles of bad road" convinced that "people are crazy and times are strange."
If the Bible is right, the world will explode I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can
Some things are too hot to touch The human mind can only stand so much You can't win with a losing hand
What Habakkuk is saying is "Hello, God? Hands on the wheel, please! We're in trouble here!" Habakkuk is right. They are in deep trouble. The tiny kingdom of Judah has been hanging on for its political life for almost two decades. They have suffered two invasions at the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans. They are facing a third invasion.
And Habakkuk pointedly observes the irony of the situation. If it is true, as God alleges, that these incursions are a punishment for their sins, it does not make much sense for a mildly disobedient nation like Judah to be punished by an wicked, brutal and oppressive regime like Chaldea. None of this adds up, and therefore the conclusion is unavoidable: God is distracted. God is not paying attention. No one is at the wheel, No one is steering, and they're all going to crash and burn.
But God says that is not the way it is, and that is not the kind of God he is. In chapter 2, God says. "Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it." In other words, the prophet is told to put up a billboard. Put up something so big that a driver speeding along at ninety miles an hour on I-77, talking on her cell phone, will be able to read it. The tablets were stone. This record of Habakkuks vision of God's promise is to be permanent, so it can withstand years of waiting for its fulfillment.
The message is loud and clear: God acts to establish justice. The Lord is not a hands-free God, cruising through the cosmos without a care for his creation. God is a hands-on God. This is a message we need to hear in this time of crisis and turmoil. Question: where was God when two planes crashed into the world trade center, another plane crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth went down in a field in Pennsylvania. Why did God allow that to happen? That is always the question we ask about tragedywhether it is the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 bc or the murder of thousands on September 11, 2001. Why did God allow it to happen? Why did God allow Hitler to murder thirteen million people in concentration camps? Why did God allow Stalin to murder millions more in the Gulags of the old Soviet Union. Why did God allow Mao Tse Tung to become the greatest mass murderer of all time. The twentieth century was a century soaked in blood. Why God?
There are several answers to that question. The atheist says the answer is simple: there is no God. That is not an acceptable answer for a believer. Another answer is that God is not what we think God to be. God is not all powerful, so he cannot do much about tragedy. God is not all knowing so he cannot do much about tragedy. But if that be the case then there does not seem to be much reason to worship God. If God cannot do much, why worship God? Again that is not an acceptable answer to a believer. The God we worship is almighty, all-powerful, all-knowing. We are left then with the answer of faith.
I realize that this is a tough answer, and it is not very satisfactory to many people. It is the answer of paradox because whenever we speak of God we always deal in paradox. The answer of faith is that God is almighty God. God is the creator of the universe, the source and power of all that is. And God is a hands-on God. God is active here and now--whether we can see God's action or not.
In less than a month as we begin to remember Bethlehem, we will be reminded of just how "hands-on" God really is. There is no greater hands-on moment than the birth of baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
God is no distracted driver on a reckless trip through human history. No ringing phones or casual chitchat can cause God to take his hands off the wheel, and put his people at risk. If God's involvement in life seems to be delayed, it is not because God is busy and just cannot get around to our problem. It is because the time is not right. HB2:3 "If it seems to tarry, wait for it. it will surely come, it will not delay."
In human terms, Gods action may seem delayed. In human terms God may not seem to be acting at all. But God does that think and act according to our expectations. Let us use a simple illustration. I have here a big old pocketwatch. Suppose I said to you I want you to look at this watch very closely and see if you can see the hour hand move, not the second hand, not the minute hand, but the hour hand. You will say, "That is absurd. No one can see an hour hand on a watch move"which is true, but it does move. It just moves very slowly. Think again about Habbakuk.: He was staring at all the violence and wrongdoing and trouble in his world, and wondering why God was not fixing things. it seemed to him that God was like the hour hand on a clock, hardly moving at all. But God does move. God does act. It is true that God may act in a way that we cannot see at the time. That is why this is the answer of faith. We cannot prove that God is acting. We cannot put God under an electron microscope, and say, "See there is God." We cannot have a look through the Hubble space telescope and say, "See there is God." But the answer of faith is that God is and God is in charge. That is why Habakkuk says at the end of v4: we live by faith, by the faith that God is working in our lives.
The command that God gave Habbakuk in 2:3 is "wait for it." That is not something that Americans are good at. The whole driving-and-phoning phenomenon is a symptom of our urgent need to make connections and get ahead, right now, all at once. Americans are into instant gratification. God is not.
Wait for it, says the Lord. The appointed time will come. God assures Habakkuk that he is a hands-on God, one who always has his hands on us. The Lord has a steady, strong grip on the steering wheel of history, and will never be distracted. God is not ignoring us; he is simply asking us to settle in for a long trip. Climb on board and trust me, God says, for "the righteous live by their faith" (2:4).
The righteous do not expect to be gratified instantly; we live by faith in a hands-on God. We trust God to be at work in our lives, so we ride the twisting and bumpy road of life with confidence. We trust God to be working for love, and so we keep the faith through the dark nights when hate seems triumphant. We trust God to lead us to new forms of understanding in a world civilization, one in which all God's children are thoroughly interconnected - rich and poor, First World and Third World, in every hemisphere and on every continent. Will global harmony happen overnight? Not a chance. But Christians live by faith in a hands-on God. That's our lifestyle. Faith. Ultimately there is not other way to live at all. And I will say this: I would much rather put my faith in a hands-on God than in a hands-free cell phone. Amen.
Smolowe, Jill. "A will to live." People, June 4, 2001, 108-10.
McKinley, James C., Jr. "New York to be first state to ban holding cell phone while driving." The New York Times, June 26, 2001.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church