On Faith: When the seagull doesn't come
Author Max Lucado tells the true story of Eddie Rickenbacker, a famous American pilot during World War I who shot down 26 enemy planes. He was known as "the American Ace" for his success and valor. In World War II, he served as an adviser to the Secretary of War in Washington.
As part of his job, he went on regular inspection tours of the troops. On one such tour, his plane was hit by enemy fire and forced down in the ocean. During the 24 days he spent on a raft, he almost gave up hope of rescue. He also nearly died for lack of food until a seagull landed on the raft. He caught it, and it provided him enough food to survive until he was found.
We love stories like that, don't we? They have us worried for a while, but in the end, everything works out — stories about the "seagull" coming just in time.
But what happens when the seagull doesn't come? When the alcoholic doesn't get saved or sober? When the struggling marriage ends in bitter divorce? When the illness cannot be cured and our loved one dies? When the prodigal son does not return? Where do we turn?
The little-known Old Testament prophet, Habakkuk, looked around himself, and all he saw was tragedy and crisis. The people of Israel had turned away from God and it seemed things could never be made right. No seagull came for him, and Habakkuk was upset with God. The book opens with his complaint: "How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you 'Violence!' but you do not save," (Hab. 1:2).
He is asking, "Why don't you answer my prayers, God? It doesn't make sense!" He prayed for rescue, but it didn't seem to be coming.
Ever feel that way? I have, and I've seen many others who did, too.
As you go through the rest of the book of Habakkuk, you see God's answer. The Lord is going to judge the sin and rebellion Habakkuk sees around him by giving his people over to the Babylonians. God reminds Habakkuk that he is at work, not on vacation or asleep. Even when life's situations seem hopeless, God is still moving. And that is where faith comes in. We need to trust God and leave the judgment to him and allow him to work in his timing.
Habakkuk learned his lesson. His book ends with a wonderful declaration of faith.
"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, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength...." (Hab. 3:17-19).
Habakkuk is describing total economic meltdown in ancient Israel. All their money makers at that time are mentioned here: figs, grapes, olives, farming, sheep and cattle. Yet, Habakkuk says, even if all this fails, he will trust God. And he calls his readers to do the same.
If Habakkuk had written in America today, he might have said, "Though my business may fail and I become unemployed, though my cancer is incurable and I go downhill, though my marriage ends in divorce and my children fail me, though my health deteriorates or I lose my spouse, yet I will worship the Lord."
When life is cruel and the seagull doesn't come (i.e. God is silent), that's the time to cling to the truth that God is still in control and has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Keep believing, keep praying and keep living one day at a time by faith in our loving heavenly Father.
"On Faith" is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders. Scott Nelson has been the pastor at First Baptist since 1993.