The war-torn country of Syria continues to be a dangerous place for Christians. Much like their brothers and sisters in Iraq, the Syrian church is afraid of both the presence of radical Islamist groups that haunt the outskirts of the cities, and the potential hostility that could come at any time from their Muslim neighbors. The tragic stories of displacement, torture and death that have come from Syria are the kind that seem beyond any answer Christianity can offer, but one Syrian pastor has found hope in a relatively unread book of the Bible.
“I see a lot of parallels between our situation and the book of Habakkuk in the Old Testament,” Pastor Edward says. “We live in Syria in very bleak and dark times. I learned some lessons from the book of Habakkuk: First, to wait silently and to trust that God will speak. Second, to look at how God has worked through history. And third, that peace comes through a personal experience of the presence of the Lord.”
“Habakkuk learned to cry out to God for help in very dark times. He asks God, ‘How long must I call for help?’ He looks forward to God’s answer. We have the same experience. As Syrian Christians we cried out to God, we trusted that He would answer. As a church we came together, we prayed, but there came no answer from heaven. Like Habakkuk we cried out, ‘How long, O Lord, must we call for help without an answer?”
“We cried out, ‘Where are You Lord? The war continues, the people are afraid, they are in despair. We see darkness cover our country. How long Lord? Children are being killed, innocent people die. We see the staggering statistics that half of the Syrians are displaced, half of them are children under 17. Millions of children are out of school, some for years already. Thousands of young men leave the country fearing to be called to serve in the army.’”
The Syrian pastor moves to the second chapter of Habakkuk. “The prophet stands his watch and looks for God’s answer. God disappoints Habakkuk. He kind of says, ‘You would wish not to hear my answer.’ He will send a powerful enemy to invade the country and take many prisoners. We see this happen in our country. After the regime and the rebels, the Islamists came to invade our country with violence. We prayed: ‘Lord, why make us look at injustice. Why do you tolerate wrong?’”
“We as the church in Syria learned to wait and listen for what God wants to say. Waiting is not easy, it is painful to wait, to be patient and to trust in the sovereignty of God. Yes, we have the feeling sometimes that God doesn’t listen, but He does. In our waiting lies a goal, we need to look to ourselves, to our motives deep in our heart, and to our personal relationship with God. Waiting under this pressure changes our character. A change of character isn’t something that comes quickly, it is a slow process with a big result.”
“Habakkuk had to wait. As it is written, it is good to wait: ‘Though it linger, wait for it.’ We must learn to silently and patiently wait for the Lord with a trustful heart. Not to complain, not to ask for compassion, but silently wait with great confidence on His goodness. Like is written in Habakkuk 2:4: ‘but the righteous will live by his faith’.”
“At first Habakkuk complains, then he waits, and after that he remembers what God has done in the past. God says that Habakkuk doesn’t listen well, because God already spoke through the things he has done in history. Habakkuk thinks of the Exodus from Egypt, God’s powerful presence at Mount Sinai. We as Christians can think of the cross of Jesus, his resurrection, the Lord on the throne. We can think of the many Christians who follow him and who have experienced how God protected them and how he has showed them his goodness and grace.”
Pastor Edward says the book of Habbakuk is helping Syrian Christians find the voice of God in dark times.
“We, as the Syrian church, experience the fear of the Lord, His sovereignty, His greatness, and His power. We have learned that peace comes through a personal experience of the presence of God. The fear of the Lord and the peace of God are connected, they go together. Habakkuk’s life changed because of this experience of the presence of God. He didn’t get all the answers, but God was sufficient for him. He could end with this beautiful song in 3:17-19. When there is nothing, ‘I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.’”
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