Summary: When Habakkuk asked God to eradicate evil he got an answer he never expected. His reflections on that answer help us to consider how to respond to evil, how to understand why God allows evil to cause great suffering and draws us closer to our Lord.
One of the great literary achievements of the 20th Century has become one of the great cinematic achievements of the 21st Century. The first instalment of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is quite simply a phenomenal film that has brought to life a phenomenal book.
And that is a totally unbiased opinion – from someone who only saw the movie 7 times!
The setting of the story is one in which evil is stirring in the world, moving out in a search for power over all the peoples of “Middle Earth” as it is called. An evil ruler is seeking total domination by getting back a long lost ring of power, which had been hidden for millennia, but is now in the possession of a young hobbit – little people who live simple, peaceful lives in a distant corner of Middle Earth. Once the Dark Lord learns that Frodo Baggins has this ring he sets all his forces to work to get hold of it and to rule the world once he has it. Armies are amassing and a small band of terrorists is sent out to find the hobbit and the ring. As the Dark Lord’s plans unfold the world starts to change and over all the races of Middle Earth hangs the threat of even greater, more devastating change if the ring is not taken to the Dark Lord’s very doorstep and destroyed in the fires that forged it in the first place. How people respond to this evil threat is a key theme of “The Lord of the Rings”.
Of course the threat and reality of evil, and how people respond to it, is one of the classic themes of much great story telling – and one that has taken on considerable poignancy since the events of September 11th, 2001. Such events, as well as things like the storms and bushfires that have hit NSW so hard in recent weeks, take away or threaten to take away something of our way of life - from the loss of material possessions, to the loss of a sense of peace and security in our world, to the loss of our very lives. How we react to evil, suffering and loss is something that is very much on the minds and hearts of people around the world these days.
People’s responses can vary widely to these things, of course. For example:
• Some seem to want to pretend that they are remote and irrelevant, as if they didn’t happen or don’t matter. Did you see the cartoon about the café in Bondi, with the customer complaining to the waiter that there is ash in his latte? Unfortunately that is not far from the mark – there were some people in Sydney who simply didn’t want to know about the bushfires.
• Some react to evil and tragedy by turning on God. As military action in Afghanistan got under way, one letter to a Sydney paper claimed that no one wanted war, but the god of the Jews and Muslims and Christians wasn’t listening. The inference was that God didn’t care or that He was powerless to act.
• Some react the other way, by turning to some sort of faith experience. Witness what happened in the US after September 11, where there was an upsurge in church attendance.
One way or the other acts of evil or natural disasters confront us and we must respond in some way. How do we, as God’s people, respond to the shock and the implications of recent events? In fact, how do we respond to all the experiences of the effects of evil that we encounter in our lives? In particular, what happens to our relationship with God when these things happen?
To assist in thinking about these questions I want us to consider the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. He was a prophet who was confronted with a situation of evil and devastation and had to think through what it meant for his faith and his understanding of God. In the discussion that follows I do not mean to imply that there is one right response for Christians or that the Bible gives us some sort of simple, straightforward, easy to follow formula for such situations. But there is great wisdom in God’s word and the things He reveals to us in Habakkuk are helpful us as we seek to grow in grace.
Summary Overview of Habakkuk
Now relax, Habakkuk is a short book, only 3 chapters long. Whatsmore, I am not going to go over it verse by verse. Rather, I am simply going to give a quick overview of its contents and draw a single line of concluding thought from it.
Starts with Habakkuk complaining to God. He saw in Judah that injustice prevailed, destruction and violence were a way of life and wicked people dominated over the righteous. He wanted to know why God didn’t do something about this. He asked God, “why aren’t you listening?”