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Understanding Evil

Profiles of the Bible: Habakkuk

How do we understand the existence of evil in this world? Why doesn’t God do anything? If God is so good, why does he allow evil to continue? Why doesn’t he stop it? How badly does this question bother you? This is question that the book of Habakkuk tries to address.

For the prophet Habakkuk, this question seriously bothered him. Listen to how he describes what he sees: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” Habakkuk was not just sitting in an academic classroom comfortably considering the philosophical question of evil. It is in his face. He sees violence and injustice. The prophet comes before God with his uncertainty.

God responds with a surprising answer. God was going to send the Chaldeans (Babylonians) to come and destroy the nation. God’s answer was surprising on two levels. The first reason was because the Assyrian Empire was in a battle with the Babylonians for dominance. The Babylonians were a threat but had not yet secured their position. The second reason was that the Babylonians were clearly more evil and more heinous than the Israelites. How could God use such a tool?

The problem bothered Habakkuk so much that he told God that he was going to stand on the wall of the city until God gave him an answer. God indeed does answer Habakkuk. God promises that he would punish the Chaldeans as well. Arrogance, pride, and extortion will be dealt with.

Habakkuk’s final response is amazing. The final chapter of the book of Habakkuk ends with the prophet worshipping God. But he also pleads with God. In justice, he asked that God would remember mercy. “O LORD, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O LORD, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2 ESV)

Several themes emerge from this book. First we see the prophet playing the role of a faithful messenger of God. Often the image of a faithful prophet is a watchman. The responsibility of the watchman was to warn the people of impending danger and also of rescue. Habakkuk did both. He warned the people of the incoming punishment that was the result of Israel’s sin. But he also assured people that God was in control of the nations. Though the Chaldeans looked like they were in control, the Creator of the Universe was using them as an instrument to enact His will.

A second theme is God’s sovereign control. Israel was supposed to be God’s representative on earth. It was supposed to demonstrate what it was like for a people to live under God’s reign. They were also God’s special people. If God did not protect or deliver them, does this mean that God is not truly God or not powerful enough? God reveals to Habakkuk that God indeed is in control. Though political and nations fall, God is still King.

A final theme is God’s power to redeem horrible situations and use them for His glory. Though Israel is about to go through a traumatic experience, God was still in control. Indeed, God does redeem the situation. He will bring a remnant of people back from exile. And though Israel will never be as strong, independent or as powerful as it was in King David’s time, God will still fulfill his promise that he gave to Abraham. God was going to use this people to bring the promised Messiah. Israel would only be a small corner in the various empires that arose, but God was going to be faithful to his promise to redeem a people for himself.