“O LORD, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! O LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult” (Psalm 94:1-3 ESV)?
Whenever the world encounters tragedy, whenever an unimaginable horror is revealed, it asks this question of the Church: “If there is a God, why didn’t he stop this from happening?” It’s a valid question, and it is asked not only by the world, but by Christians as well. Unthinkable tragedy has been the stumbling block keeping people from believing in God, and the impetus for a loss of faith for many Christians.
I’ve heard people say that, “Well, there’s just evil in the world….” This certainly is true, but decidedly deficient as an explanation.
Habakkuk was one of the twelve minor prophets in the Bible (minor referring to the volume of their written work). Likely written in the late 6th century B.C., Habakkuk is largely a work teaching that “the righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 ESV). Chapters one and two reflect a conversation between God and Habakkuk; they are followed by the final chapter which is a prayer.
This conversation revolves around two complaints that Habakkuk has against God. They sound rather familiar. The first complaint is this:
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.
–Habakkuk 1:2-4 ESV
God responds by telling Habakkuk, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told” (Habakkuk 1:5 ESV). He then describes a force, the Chaldeans, whom He has raised up, going through the earth. Presumably this is to execute some justice in the land of Israel. Habakkuk, and I as well, didn’t really hear the answer he was looking for, but he acknowledged that God was using the Chaldeans to execute judgment.
So Habakkuk registers his second complaint:
“Are you not from everlasting,
O Lord my God, my Holy One?
We shall not die.
O Lord, you have ordained them as a judgment,
and you, O Rock, have established them for reproof.
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
the man more righteous than he?”
–Habakkuk 1:12-13, ESV
Here God responds with, “Just trust me!” I find it ironic that Christianity is all about believing in Someone we cannot see, yet we can’t see that faith needs to be applied to every aspect of our lives, not just our salvation. Yes, we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8), but then we are told that the righteous live by faith! It’s not a “believe once and you’re done” kind of thing. Paul points out that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV emphasis mine).
God’s words to Habakkuk were these: “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end–it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3 ESV). 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (ESV).
There’s a word that is used among theologians, theodicy. Theodicy addresses the fact that there is evil in the world, but that God wants good for us and will execute judgment in His time. Another word that is often used in conjunction with theodicy is sovereignty. When we say that God is sovereign we mean that He has all power and will use it at His discretion. Again, not very satisfying… until we shift our perspective. Instead of looking at God and saying, “why aren’t you doing anything???”, we need to see Him as He is, a loving Father who acts at the best possible time.
It can be extremely difficult to see anything more than the destruction and pain in people’s lives when tragedy strikes. It can be particularly hard when it strikes us. But He is a good God who is there for you, and always will be. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”
The book concludes with a joyful Habakkuk speaking words of faith, words of trust and hope.
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.
He says that even if everything necessary for life was cut off, he will trust God. It’s reminiscent of Job’s confession, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” (Job 13:15 KJV).
It is tremendously difficult to see things like deadly natural disasters, human trafficking, and school shootings. We feel pain and compassion, and we wonder where God is in all of these things. And it is not a sin to question God. But perhaps what we need to ask is “what would you have me do?” Ultimately our job is to live out our faith as an expression of the love that God has for us to a lost and hurting world. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV).
Where is God? He is still on the throne! The winds and waves of destruction which buffet us as a hurricane assaults the coast are no match for Him. And through Him we can endure whatever the world throws at us. And we can do it with the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7 ESV). This doesn’t mean that we understand, just that we trust Him.
***image from http://knowbefore.weatherbug.com/2013/05/22/the-price-of-destruction-tornado-aftermath/