When’s the last time you heard or saw something so extreme or ridiculous that you muttered under your breath, “Unbelievable”? I find myself saying that a lot these days. Things I hear on the news, sights I see on the streets, and of course, things that come drifting out of cyberspace make that word a familiar response. For instance, last week a major corporation here in America recently had to dispense a memo to its employees instructing them to stop engaging in sexual activity on the premises during work hours. ‘Unbelievable,’ I thought. And people are advocating that those who have crossed our borders illegally, who are not American citizens, should be allowed the right to vote in our elections. Again, unbelievable.
The list could go on and on. There’s no shortage of opportunities to apply the term these days, especially if you’re a political junkie, or a frequent purveyor of Facebook ‘news’, or spend time on a college campus. For those of us to whom faith and traditional values are more than just demographic designations, that word may be getting a lot of play lately. But as the word emerges more and more frequently, we notice that there’s a paradoxical shift going on in the direction of its application. Things that would never have been seriously considered by the vast majority of us a few years ago are being declared credible, and things that would never have been questioned are being declared too radical or extreme to be believed. Once we would have said that having our values turned so upside down would have been unbelievable, but these days, not so much.
The prophet Habakkuk struggled with that, too. God was sending him to deliver a message that was so shocking and radical to the popular culture that anyone hearing it would say it was simply ‘unbelievable’. The paradox of the word’s shifting application was prevalent there, too. For a nation ostensibly aligned with the God who founded it, the widespread violence and chaos permeating the culture should have been the thing that was unbelievable. The pervasive inversion of truth and lies, good and evil, and wisdom and foolishness should have been greeted with shocking disbelief. Corruption in the ruling classes, both civil and religious, had reached levels that should have confounded credulity. Idol worship and sexual obsessions were unbelievably rampant and depraved. In Habakkuk’s day, as in our own, the general abandonment of God had led to a national reassignment of ‘believable’ vs. ‘unbelievable’. Freakish behaviors and bizarre expressions of human depravity that were once thought unbelievable had become so commonplace that there was no more shocked disbelief to be expressed. Formerly unbelievable ideas and philosophies that were the antithesis of godly wisdom, that were socially destructive and untenable when applied to real life, were openly advocated and had become the core of popular dogma.
The other side of Habakkuk’s upside down culture was that the protective guidance given by the God who created them was treated with open mockery and public disdain. Rather than being sobering and alarming to them, they found God’s announcement of judgment for their sins laughable. Sadly, their disbelief had no power to protect them. God was going to make what they considered ‘unbelievable’, believable by applying truth and reality. Any fantasy can be declared believable until it is tested in the crucible of real life. God’s people had replaced His truth with empty, doomed philosophies, and principles without substance. In the absence of genuine wisdom, the seductive ‘feel-good’ lies they embraced convinced them that their judgments were supreme and that their world was invincible. God was about to change that belief for them. The level of the coming destruction was as complete as their rejection of Him, and as extensive as the panorama of their sinful pursuit of pleasure. Their unbelief would disappear, but for most of them, belief would come too late.
The destruction that Habakkuk’s people refused to believe could happen became a reality they couldn’t deny. When their entire culture was overrun by foreign invaders, just as the prophet warned, they no longer considered his graphic descriptions of awful judgment incredible. It was all too believable. As their nation crumbled under the weight of divine judgment, the prophet’s message didn’t sound unbelievable at all—sad that belief had come at such cost.
What God says is always validated by what He does, and there is glorious hope for us in that. All of us are vulnerable to the same kinds of temptations that were prevalent in Habakkuk’s day. We have the same tendency to believe lies, resort to evil, and reject God’s truth. Like them, we might look at the warnings of judgment for our sins, and/or the promises of deliverance and eternal life if we repent, and think it couldn’t be real, that it’s unbelievable. But God has done something to counteract that. He sent His Son to make the message come to life. Jesus said an interesting thing to those who declared Him unbelievable and wanted to stone Him,
“If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works…” (John 10:37-38 NKJV).
Jesus did things that all of us would normally have classified as unbelievable. People who were born blind were suddenly able to see, just because He spoke to them or touched them. Men whose legs had never worked were able to leap and dance because He told them to; bodies that were diseased were instantly healed; food was multiplied at His command; and even dead people were resurrected, not just to life, but to healthy life. Unbelievable? Evidently not.
Had the Jews of Habakkuk’s day considered God’s history of turning unbelievable declarations into undeniable reality, they might have escaped total devastation. Eventually all their trusted fantasies were discarded, and so will ours be. God declares that sooner or later, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11), but there’s a timing problem. Belief borne of faith, prior to judgment, is redemptive. Belief borne in the undeniable reality of judgment already in process comes too late. So, lest we’re tempted to look at what God has said and declare it unbelievable, maybe we ought to have another look at His history.
© 2016 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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