“Life just doesn’t seem fair.” How often do you find yourself uttering those words? The unscrupulous continue to get richer while the poor continue to be oppressed and victimized. This complaint is especially poignant when family, friends, or leaders whom we expect to act honorably and for our welfare betray our trust. We experience the injustice of people getting away with backstabbing, manipulation, and deception, prospering while those who choose to do what is right are misunderstood and discriminated against. Where is God in the midst of all these? Does God see and judge? If so when and how?
The book of Habakkuk is a very short dialogue between God and the prophet on exactly these questions. Not much is known about this prophet of Judah, but the context of his complaints hint that he prophesied during the declining years of Judah. Judah had over and over again forsaken God and engaged in all kinds of evil—idolatry, corruption, and violence. Like most prophets, Habakkuk was concerned about the wickedness and injustice in Judah. And he wants to know when the Lord will answer his call for help. But unlike other prophets who would direct their message at God’s people, Habakkuk directs his laments at God:
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.(1)
Habakkuk wrestles with what he knows about God’s character alongside God’s apparent tolerance of the violence and injustice that he witnesses around him. He knows God to be perfectly holy and perfectly just. How is it then that God can idly look on and not punish the guilty? And instead the transgressors are enjoying the fruits of their wrongdoing.
Habakkuk’s experience demonstrates that bewilderment and affliction are not necessarily signs of spiritual immaturity or unfortunate distraction from faith. Instead these cries contribute to the development of strong faith and are the raw materials of prayer and worship. By challenging and questioning God, Habakkuk learns to seek the intentions and purposes of God, becoming a joyful example of one who lives by faith. Doubting God’s fairness or sovereignty does not necessarily mean we have parted from faith or that we are questioning belief itself. Asking God probing questions is very much a part of the life of faith.
And though he doesn’t engage all his questions, God indeed responds to Habakkuk.
As we see the evil around us, often we cannot help but wonder why is it that God hasn’t done anything about it. We remember innocent lives that are taken in the name of religion, we remember friends who are tortured and murdered for the sake of truth, we recall moral evil committed against innocent children.
But nothing escapes God’s attention. God hears every single one of our prayers and is not unaware of the evil and sinfulness around us. And God promises that ultimately those who experience injustice in this world will be comforted. It is against this encouraging hope that the book of Habakkuk closes with a beautiful song that ends with rejoicing at the sovereignty and faithfulness of God.
I’Ching Thomas is associate director of training at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Singapore.
(1) Habakkuk 1:2-4.