Today's Old Testament lectionary reading was from Habakkuk 3:17-19.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.
It's kind of a confusing one. The book of a Habakkuk is a long lament with the prophet taking on the role of Judah. Here, the prophet is admitting that life is really hard and there appears to be no hope.
Nevertheless, Habakkuk (the people of Judah) continue to rejoice in God. They affirm that God is their strength and that they will follow him.
How can they do this? They have some experience with God. He led them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Even though things aren't going well in Jerusalem right now and Babylon is getting stronger and things are looking bad, the people still look to God for their ultimate strength.
Even though Habakkuk is writing as one person, he is writing on behalf of the nation. And he's taking the long view. What is happening is not just what happens to one person or one family, but what happens to Judah. Of course, we know that in the short term, Judah is invaded by Babylon and carried away as exiles. But, in the long-term, they do eventually return to Jerusalem and the worship of God in the Temple.
How does this make sense to the individual in the 21st century? First, there is the original meaning. Yes, Habakkuk was lamenting, but God came through in the long-term. In our own time, we have good reason to lament. The church is in a dismal state, and our political institutions don't look good. But, God looks at the long-term. The American Church is not God's only hang-out. He will not disappear from this earth. We must be faithful and not despair.
How do we read this as individuals, though? Is God still good if things don't work out in our lifetimes? We are happy to say that God is good when the cancer is cured and when (in my case) the steroids work. But, is God still good when I'm going on year 14 of chronic migraine? Is God still good when your loved one goes on hospice care?
Objectively, for those of us who believe the Bible, yes. God is good. But, yikes, it doesn't feel that way! We heartily agree with the first part of this passage in Habakkuk! But, it's harder to go along with the ending. Because these steroids might not work. People die every day. Diagnoses happen. Unemployment is a thing.
It doesn't feel good to say that we're going to trust God when life is hard. But, it's either that or "curse God and die" (Job's wife). God has promised us life everlasting in Heaven if we believe in Jesus. That's grace. And we don't have to put on a happy smile while we rejoice in the Lord. We're allowed to mourn and admit that life is crappy. God never said it would be a bed of roses, even if we believe.
But, follow Habakkuk's example. Mourn and lament. It's just fine to say that life sucks. Then remember that God has your life and everyone's life in his hands. God is still good even when the diagnosis is bad. You can rejoice that your strength comes from God. You can take that love from God and pay it forward to others even if you don't really feel it today. Maybe you will tomorrow. God loves you - He says it right in the Bible (John 3:16 and lots of other places). Hang in there.