Summary: Dealing with life’s big questions.
The scripture reading today is only one verse. It says it all, because Habakkuk is asking the question that all of us have asked at times: “Oh Lord, if you are good, why is life sometimes so bad?” As he wrote this, Habakkuk understood that his nation had sinned and offended God. He understood that the nation deserved God’s judgment. But what he could not understand was why God would use a nation more evil than his own to punish them. It was one thing to discipline the nation; it was another thing altogether to punish it with a nation as evil and cruel as Babylon. Somehow it just didn’t seem right.
We are like Habakkuk in that we sometimes wonder why God does the things he does. Life doesn’t seem fair at times, and we can’t understand why it turns out the way it does. If life was meant to be good, why do bad things happen? Or as Erma Bombeck asked: “If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?” Why isn’t life fair? If God is righteous, why does he tolerate evil? Why does he allow those who are evil to prosper? Why does he allow the righteous to suffer? Why does my little one-year-old granddaughter have leukemia, while someone who abuses children enjoys good health? Why does God allow this to go on? Why do really good people sometimes have so many struggles, and some people who are really bad seem to have all the benefits and blessings of life? Those are the questions that Habakkuk was asking, and which God answers in this brief book of the Bible.
All of us have been where Habakkuk was. We have all been knocked off our feet by the circumstances of life. We have been staggered by things which have occurred, and our minds have been sent reeling. Through the years I have had many people say to me: “I know you are not to question these things, but . . . .” I’m not sure where we got the idea that we are not to question the things that happen to us in life. I think that is how we grow. How will we understand if we never ask questions and think seriously about the great issues of life? How else will we work through them? As I read the Bible, I see many of the great people of the Bible wrestling with God. They don’t understand, and they want answers. They want life to make sense, and to have some assurance that God is aware of what is happening. They are seeking for some final resolution. Many of the Psalms were written because of unresolved questions in the psalmist’s life. He does not hold back in his language and expression about how he is feeling, whether he is feeling angry, sad or joyful. The prophets grapple with God over what he reveals to them. Sometimes they are even angry with God. Certainly Job wrestled with God over the loss of his children, his wealth and health. I believe God expects us to wrestle with him over these things. He invites us to come and struggle with him. He honors those who seek to know him and the answers to life.
Our problem is that we don’t want to go to the effort of struggling with God. We just want to give up. We want to assume that God is unfair and unconcerned, and leave God behind. It is the easy way to walk away disappointed with God — never really grappling with him. I see the great people of the Bible wounded in their spirits crying out to God, even yelling at him. I see them asking the difficult questions. I hear them demanding justice. But I do not see them giving up and walking away as they nurse their disappointment. I see them asking questions, but asking them with the belief that there are answers, even if it is not the answer they want. I watch them come boldly to God expecting that he will answer. Jeremiah said to God: “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1). This is exactly what Habakkuk does. He argues with God. He is angry. He cannot understand what God is doing, and he does not agree with it. But he comes to God; he does not run from him. He does not pout. He comes boldly to God, because he knows God. He asks the difficult question because he is sure there is a reasonable answer. He may not like the answer. He may not even completely understand it. But he knows there is an answer, and that if he wrestles with God long enough, God will honor his quest and reveal things to him that he would never have understood otherwise. In fact, much of what we know about God through the Scriptures is because we have the record of those who faithfully wrestled with God until they reached a point of understanding or resolution. That is what the book of Habakkuk is all about.