Life Lessons from Habbakuk
The Bible gives us lots of complementary perspectives on suffering and how to handle it, and wisdom is knowing which strand of biblical teaching to apply in a specific situation. Habakkuk is one of the places from which we can glean that teaching. Here are a few useful life lessons from Habakkuk.
First, the direction of Habakkuk’s question is really interesting. When we think about suffering, we often ask the question, ‘Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?’ We tend to see it as an issue of love. If God is all loving, why does he not intervene to end suffering? But Habakkuk turns that question on its head. His question, especially in his second complaint (1:13), is ‘Why does God allow good things to happen to bad people?’. He sees it as an issue of justice. If God is just, why does he not intervene to end injustice?
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t wrestle with the first question – I think we should, and I think there are various answers which can help us – but it’s a good challenge to consider why we are less likely to ask the second question. Is it because the suffering of injustice often affects others more than it affects us and so we’re less bothered by it? Is it because we have understood that God is love, but we haven’t also understood that he is just? It’s challenging!
The very fact of what Habakkuk does in his conversation with God is instructive. When he is feeling confused, hurt, perhaps even angry about what is happening around or to him, he doesn’t let those feelings just fester. He doesn’t, to our knowledge, complain to other people or try and win the pity of others. He takes his confusion and hurt and anger to God. He’s not afraid to be painfully honest with God. And this is something you often see when the Bible talks about suffering. We can be honest with God about what we’re thinking and feeling, and actually, it’s the healthiest way to handle those thoughts and feelings. As I once heard someone say, ‘God already knows you’re thinking it, so why not just talk to him about it.’ Honesty with God about where we’re at can deepen our relationship with him and can be a vital first step to being able to stand firm in the face of confusion or suffering.
God’s response to Habakkuk is basically to call him to wait (Hab. 2:3). God will enact perfect justice, and so Habakkuk’s complaint will be dealt with, he may just have to wait a while for that time to come. But the wait isn’t because God’s at the mercy of some other factor. He’s not having to wait for a green light from someone else. He has a plan, the perfect plan, and at the right time, the perfect time, he will enact that plan. Even if it seems like there’s a delay, there’s actually not (Hab. 2:3). The same response is found in the New Testament. The ultimate answer to suffering is the certain promise of the end of suffering when the new creation comes in full (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17). Our role now is to look ahead and to wait.
The call to wait is probably an answer to the problem of suffering which we don’t much like. We feel like it’s not enough and question whether it can really sustain, but the New Testament authors clearly think it can, and so again we are challenged to consider why we might not feel that way. Is it because our instant gratification, consumer culture means we’ve become so used to having what we want when we want it? Have we lost the ability to wait patiently with eager anticipation? And have we really understood how good the new creation will be when it comes?
Habakkuk’s conclusion also has an important message for us. Having been on this journey, wrestling with his pains and questions in dialogue with God, Habakkuk reaches the conclusion that the only thing he really needs in order to keep going, even if the injustice doesn’t stop, even if he loses everything, is God himself (Hab. 3:17-19). He recognises that the true source of life and joy is not a comfortable life without injustice and suffering, it’s not fruitful crops or plentiful herds, it’s God himself. It’s in God that he will rejoice, and in God that he will take joy.
The same is true for us. And for those ‘in Christ’ it is something that can never be taken away. I think Paul is thinking of the same point as Habakkuk when he ends his long reflection on the suffering which is an inevitable part of being a child of God (Rom. 8:17-39) with the guarantee that nothing – absolutely nothing – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. No matter what might happen, we can know that we are loved by God. It’s that relationship which, even in the worst of circumstances, can bring us true life, true peace, and even, true joy.
Habakkuk is one of the Bible’s greatest resources for those enduring suffering. Yet more proof that the Minor Prophets are the hidden gems of the Old Testament!
This post originally appeared on the website of King’s Church Hastings & Bexhill.