“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” (ESV – Read the book)
This will be a longer comment, but it’s going to cover the whole book. Habakkuk is one of my favorite books in the Bible (and not just because it’s really fun to say!). It is definitely my favorite among the minor prophets. I am drawn to it because it asks a question that people still ask today, and offers an answer that while not immediately satisfying (in fact, initially, it is deeply unsatisfying), after some reflection leads us into a greater peace and faith than we had before. Habakkuk’s question is raw and filled with pain. He was a prophet in the waning days of the kingdom of Judah when the Babylonians were threatening to come and destroy the people and then followed through on that promise. Worse, other prophets made clear that this was all a divinely sanctioned judgment against Judah for their sins. Habakkuk’s complaint to God is this: How can you use a nation as sinful as Babylon as an instrument of judgment against Judah? Sure, we’re not in good moral shape, but they are so much worse than we are. How can you let injustice go unpunished like this?
Isn’t this a question we have all asked? God, how can you let ____________ happen? Think back over the last six months. How can you let three massive hurricanes devastate the lives of so many? How can you let earthquakes shake the foundations of a great city? How can you let floods wash away whole villages? How can you let fires burn away the hopes of thousands? How can you let one man kill scores and wound hundreds? How can you let terrorists bomb away the lives of more than 300 in one act? How can you let injustice go forth unanswered? How can all these bad things keep happening?
God’s response? Read the rest of the chapter. It’s wildly unhelpful at first read. He basically says, “Yep, I’m using them to bring judgment. They’re awful, aren’t they?” Seriously?!? How can He respond so carelessly? How can He seem so unconcerned? Doesn’t He realize this is all a big reflection on His character? Can’t He see how bad this makes Him look? Who would want to follow a God like Him?
Again, we’ve been here, right? Here is our modern struggle laid out for us over 2,000 years ago. We wrestle with God in the hard places of life and many come away unconvinced. They can’t see past the injustice and pain and so turn away from God to find their hope in something else. The tragedy, of course, is that there isn’t hope to be found anywhere else. So they turn essentially to nothing, even if it seems like a thing here and now.
Is this it, though? Are we stuck with no real answer to this awful query? No, we are not. Habakkuk isn’t done. He isn’t willing to let this awful, uncomfortable mystery be the final answer. And before we see the answer, there is a lesson here for us. Too often in our pursuit of God, we get lazy. We don’t like the first answer we get and so we quit and look for something else; someone else. Yet, what if God was not trying to drive us away, but draw us in with a challenge? What if He was giving us a lure to get us to pursue Him even harder because the first answer didn’t jive with anything that made sense to us?
Consider the movie American Treasure from a few years ago with Nicholas Cage. Cage is a treasure hunter looking for a mythical Masonic treasure of the ages. He’s been following clues his whole life and each one has always led merely to another clue. Finally, they get to what seems like the end. They’ve followed all the clues as far as they can and they’ve all pointed to this hidden underground room…with nothing in it. But then, they dig just a bit deeper; they look just a bit harder and discover the switch that opens the door to the treasure.
Sometimes God doesn’t give us a quick or clear answer to our hard questions, not to put us off or brush us aside, but to goad us into digging deeper and looking harder. When we come back to His character and insist on it like Habakkuk does near the end of the chapter here, He rewards our dogged determination to find the answers we seek in Him with a look at the bigger picture.
In this case (and as was also the case with Job), God still doesn’t answer Habakkuk’s question. In the same way, giving us a look at the bigger picture may very well not answer our questions either. So, what does He do? Rather than giving us an unambiguous answer, God does something better. He gives us a closer look at and a deeper understanding of His character. He lets us see His holiness more fully. He helps us get our minds just a bit more around His sovereignty. He sets our eyes on a wider view of the weight of managing all of human history and keeping the world spinning like it should. All of this doesn’t give us an answer; it gives us understanding.
This is what Habakkuk experienced. God revealed more of Himself to Habakkuk and the prophet came away in awe. In the third chapter, he is no longer worried about the Babylonians. Instead, he glories in God’s commitment to justice and proclaims a warning to the nations that justice will be served. In the end, his anger and doubts and complaints of injustice resolve into faith. Even though the world around him may be descending into madness, he will trust in the Lord.
The prophet puts it more eloquently than I could: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Habakkuk 3:17-19a
May you recoil at the injustice of a world broken by sin. May you rage against the evil and take your anger to the Lord. May you not give up when you don’t find easy answers. May you see more of the Lord’s fullness than you knew before. And may you come to trust in the Lord more deeply and fully than you have ever known to do. Follow the path of Habakkuk and find the faith you desire.