Why do good people suffer? Why does it seem like evil goes unpunished? If God is such a good God, then why does evil still exist? These have been questions that have been asked during many years, but with few answers. Over 2400 years ago, the prophet Habakkuk asked the very same questions.
According to Jewish historians, Habakkuk lived near Jerusalem just a few years before Babylon invaded the nation of Judah and burned Jerusalem. He was a wealthy cultivator of fig groves, vineyards and livestock. Habakkuk lived during the time of the prophets Jeremiah and Nahum, and like these prophets, he became concerned about the sins in the nation and the lack of concern about God’s eminent judgment. He agonized about the citizens’ rebellious attitudes toward God and the warnings from the prophets. This heavy concern led Habakkuk to prayer.
By going to a guard post, probably on his estate, he asked God, “Why does evil go unpunished? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?”
God gave a surprising answer, “I am raising up the Babylonians.”
This answer caused anxiety in Habakkuk because the Babylonian army was known to be horrendous. When they invaded a nation, they captured the youth, burned buildings, farms, crops; slaughtered livestock and infants and robbed treasure houses of all the wealth. They were ruthless and heartless.
Habakkuk continued his questioning with God, “Why do you tolerate the wicked?”
God replied, “Write down the vision and make it plain. Though it linger, wait for it…The righteous will live by his faith…The Lord is in His Holy temple.” At this time, God began to explain that even though the Babylonians were noted for their evil deeds, their turn at judgment would come. Although the nation of Judah would go into captivity to Babylon, the nation would return back to the land and would rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.
At the end of the book, Habakkuk wrote a hymn of worship. He was reminded of his covenant relationship with Jehovah God. Habakkuk had his own personal faith grow in knowing that God “was still on His Holy Throne.” Judgment was eminent, but God was still on His throne watching over His chosen people.
His faith grew in knowing that he could ask God as many questions as he wanted, even though God may only answer just a few; but those few answers were sufficient. His faith grew because his doubts and fears were able to melt into confidence in the wisdom of the Lord. Habakkuk was at peace with God’s decision. His faith grew because Habakkuk learned that waiting on God’s timing will produce patience and proper perspective of life.
At the end of the hymn, Habakkuk’s transformed attitude produced a strong statement of faith.
“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and there are no grapes on the vine…though there are no sheep in the pen, and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD. I will be joyful in God my Savior. The sovereign LORD is my strength.”
Notice the phrases that dealt with Habakkuk’s estate; his income; his wealth. Habakkuk worshiped. Jerusalem had committed idolatry against God, but Habakkuk worshipped. The religious leaders in Jerusalem had committed fraud and refused to repent, but Habakkuk worshipped. Habakkuk realized that his estate would be burned in a few years by the Babylonians, but he worshipped. Habakkuk was at peace.
What can we learn from Habakkuk? Even though evil still exists, God is still on His throne. Like Habakkuk, when we are in the midst of trials, we can get alone with God and cry out; sometimes quiet sobs, sometimes loud deep cries. We talk to our Heavenly Father. God gives Himself. Then we can worship perhaps by singing the old hymn written by Horatio Spafford, “Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, Let this blest assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul. It is well with my soul.”
The Rev. Kitty Mills teaches Sunday School at Mount View Pentecostal Holiness Church in Claudville, Virginia.