Have you ever felt that God is acting unfairly or unjustly? Looking at the world can create a disconnect between who we believe God is and what we see Him doing. We believe that He is good, just and fair; yet when we read the news, we see an unsettling lack of goodness, justice, and fairness in the world. If God is good, why evil?
Perhaps a tragic circumstance in your life has created for you a dissonance between who God is and what He is doing. After all, He is completely sovereign over everything that happens, including tragedy and hardship (Prov. 16:33, 21:1). Why do His justice and compassion not compel Him to step in and right the wrongs happening all around us?
The Bible tells the story of a man who asked these questions. His name was Habakkuk, and he too felt a disconnect between God’s character and God’s conduct. The book of Habakkuk is a story of him wrestling with God and trying to come to terms with his confusion.
In Habakkuk 1:2-4, he cries out to God and laments the evil he sees. He asks, “Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing?” The rest of the book is an unfolding answer to this question. By putting ourselves in Habakkuk’s shoes and journeying with him through the book, we learn several strategies for how we should respond when God seems unjust.
1. Dialogue with God. (1:5-2:1)
While God never explicitly states this command, Habakkuk’s pattern of interacting with God is a clear example for us. He takes his concerns directly to God and pours his heart out in an unpolished, raw lament. He confesses that his faith is not without pockets of doubt and confusion. Instead of whitewashing the cracks in his faith, Habakkuk lets his doubt drive him to question God in the midst of pain.
How different this is from the way we often respond to doubt. Often, my response to doubt is to suppress it. I would rather maintain a stained-glass, pious exterior than admit my anger toward God. But there is a poisonous consequence to denying doubt: we slowly become bitter with God and grow distant from him. When we are angry God but cannot tell Him how we feel, avoidance becomes the new norm in our relationship with him. Habakkuk shows us a better way – dialogue instead of denial.
2. Trust in God. (2:1-4)
When Habakkuk asks God how He can allow evil to go unpunished and still be just, God responds that He is going to punish the evil in Israel – by sending Babylon to invade Israel (1:5-11). This only intensifies Habakkuk’s agony. How could God use a more wicked nation to punish a less wicked nation? How does that make Him just?
God’s response strikes a blow to the self-sufficiency which underlies the question: “Behold, [the enemy’s] soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith (2:4).” There is a contrast between arrogance and faith. In context, the arrogant enemy is Babylon; by application, it is anyone who presumes to tell God how to run the universe. By finding fault with God, Habakkuk was deciding for himself how the universe should be run and then holding God accountable to his decision. But an attitude of faith recognizes our limited knowledge and defers to God infinite knowledge.
3. Look to God’s ultimate justice. (2:6-20)
To show that we can trust God, we are given a vision of God’s just judgment. God reveals that Babylon too will be judged for her sin. This occurred in 538 B.C., when Persia rose to power and overthrew Babylon. Long after Habakkuk’s lifetime, God’s justice was meted out.
This side of the cross, we look to God’s ultimate judgment at the return of Christ. Every act of injustice people think they get away with be exposed. No act of injustice will go unpunished (see Rev. 20:11-15). That justice does not presently prevail on this earth does not mean it never will. Postponed judgment does not mean no justice at all. Why is God delaying his judgment? According to 2 Peter 3:9, it is to allow time for people to come to Christ. His exercise of justice is informed by his mercy and patience. But ultimately, His justice will have the last word.
4. Rejoice in God. (3:1-19)
The process of dialogue transposes Habakkuk’s mood from lament into joy. Because he encounters God’s character, he trusts His conduct. His fresh vision of God allows for no response other than rejoicing. Personal knowledge of God, trust in His character, and hope in His final judgment fuel the flames of joy in Habakkuk’s heart. In 3:17-19, he resolve to rejoice despite circumstances; even a devastating crop and cattle failure cannot take away his joy. Why? Because that joy is grounded not in ever-changing circumstances but in God’s unchanging character.
Two caveats are important to note here. First, rejoicing does not entail a complete lack of grief. God is good, but the world is still fallen. This means joy and lament will often coexist. The apostle Paul captures this tension in 2 Corinthians 6:10, where he describes himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Sometimes, tears will fall down our smiling faces as we look to God’s character in the midst of brokenness.
Secondly, rejoicing is not an instantaneous reaction to tragedy. Joy cannot be manufactured and self-produced. It springs from an intimate and intense encounter with God, and this comes through a process of dialogue and interaction with Him. So allow yourself space to pour your wounded heart out to God. As you dialogue with Him the midst of your grief, allow God to reveal Himself to you and give you a reason to rejoice even in the midst of your grief. Let your doubts propel you to new heights of intimacy with God.
[Note: This post is a condensed version of a 3-week sermon series on Habakkuk that I preached at Northwest Bible Chapel in July 2015. To listen to those messages, go here.]