“Your eyes are too pure to look on evil, and you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. So why do you tolerate those who are treacherous? Why are you silent while one who is wicked swallows up one who is more righteous than himself?” (CSB – Read the chapter)
The world is not like it’s supposed to be. That is a truth everyone understands. Everyone. No matter what religion they profess or no religion at all, we all have a general sense that the world is broken. Our understanding of exactly why it’s broken and what the solution should be varies, but on the brokenness we all can agree. This is called the problem of evil and it is exactly what we find Habakkuk wrestling with here at the end of chapter 1. Let’s wrestle with him.
First, don’t forget how we got here. Habakkuk was wrestling with the state of his culture. He cried out to God in his frustration over the ongoing moral decay and injustice that was everywhere he looked. His culture was crumbling and God didn’t seem interested in doing anything about it. So, Habakkuk let Him know about it. With volume.
Next, God responded. Habakkuk actually got a response to his questioning. Why he got such a clear a response when we often feel like we don’t get a response at all we can’t say, but what we can say is that God’s response may have left him regretting he even asked in the first place. God revealed that He did indeed have plans to deal with the suffocating injustice in Israel’s culture. He was going to send Babylon to punish them. This was the same Babylon whose own level of injustice made Israel look like an innocent lamb.
Habakkuk’s response back to God could be summarized with a single word and a few punctuation marks: WHAT?!?!?!?!?
God, what do you mean you’re going to use the Babylonians to punish us? They’re way worse than we are! I was complaining to you about the injustice in Israel, feeling like you didn’t care, and you’re going to show you care through the use of a nation even more rife with injustice than we are?!? What gives? How can you tolerate evil like this? Why do you sit back and watch while the evil persecute the righteous? Aren’t you righteous yourself?
Habakkuk here is wrestling with the problem of evil. How can a God who is good allow for the existence, the proliferation of evil in His world? The reason this question is so hard is that none of us can divorce ourselves from it emotionally. Sitting in a classroom, totally unaffected by it, we can construct some pretty good answers. Indeed, Christian theologians and philosophers over the centuries have answered the question really thoroughly. But when the evil is at our own door, in our own lives, even in our own hearts, clinical answers lose their power. So we wrestle.
Can we do anything other than just wrestle with all of this?
Yes, but it’ll take courage and faith.
The first thing we can do is to engage with the various Christian answers available to the problem of evil. It is important to at least understand things like the fact that God honors our choices, even the bad ones, and doesn’t shield us or the people around us from their consequences. He could not start restricting some choices to the exclusion of others because where would He stop? When He comes to finally deal with evil, He will deal with all of it. And He is coming one day to finally deal with evil. All of it. Forever. Also, He understands our suffering in Christ. No other worldview, theistic or atheistic, can offer that. He suffers alongside us such that we never have to suffer alone. More than that, He is powerful enough to still accomplish His good plans for His people (this assumes we are His people…if we’re not, this doesn’t benefit us) in spite of and even through the evil happening in His world.
But again, this only gets us so far if we or someone we love are the ones suffering. To go further we have to learn to trust in the character of God. There are three things about God’s character that are the most important for us to understand and trust. He is holy. He is good. And He is just. This means that evil doesn’t come from Him, He never commits evil, and He will deal with evil completely. If we are going to make it successfully through a season of evil or suffering, this is absolutely fundamental for us to understand. Not just for us to understand, but for us to believe with all our heart.
There’s one more thing to do and which Habakkuk demonstrates for us. We’ll talk about that next time.