Why Doesn't God Act More Like God?

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Habakkuk 1:1-17

Have you ever wondered why God allows so much suffering in the world? Have you ever prayed for help and he didn’t seem to answer? Well, you’re not alone.

The Hebrew prophet Habakkuk was an ancient man with a modern problem. Habakkuk lived and worked in the kingdom of Judah during the late 7th century B.C. – the final days of Jewish independence. He seems to have had some sort of official connection to the temple in Jerusalem. Habakkuk was a “prophet-in-residence,” so to speak, for the religious establishment. His life and world could hardly have been more different from ours. So why is it that we still pay attention to the little book he wrote?

The reason is that despite the almost unimaginable differences between Habakkuk’s time and ours, between his life and yours and mine, he struggled with exactly the same kinds of questions we do. The differences between him and us are all superficial. On the deepest and most important level, we’re just the same. We can recognize in Habakkuk a spiritual brother.

Habakkuk’s problem was with God. His book begins with this simple introduction: “The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet received” (v. 1, niv). This phrase could also be translated, “Habakkuk’s burden.” Habakkuk had something he wanted to say, something he had to say. Perhaps it would be more accurate to put it this way: Habakkuk had something he had to ask. He was rather unusual in that though he was a prophet – one of God’s anointed spokesmen – Habakkuk had more questions than answers. Habakkuk believed in God. He knew God. He served God. But he didn’t understand God. So he struggled with exactly the same questions we have when we’re confronted with all the suffering and evil in the world. They can all be boiled down to this one: Why doesn’t God act more like God?

A QUESTION

Listen to how Habakkuk puts it:

Our Lord, how long must I beg for your help before you listen? How long before you save us from all this violence? Why do you make me watch such terrible injustice? Why do you allow violence, lawlessness, crime, and cruelty to spread everywhere? Laws cannot be enforced; justice is always the loser; criminals crowd out honest people and twist the laws around.

Hab. 1:2, cev

Condensed to its short form, Habakkuk’s question to God is simply this: “Why do you tolerate wrong?” (v. 3, niv).

The prophet was living in a sick and dying society, one which was increasingly filled with crime and violence, where social injustice and human rights abuses multiplied. The very authorities who ought to have been correcting these wrongs were instead contributing to them. Crime was out of control; violence abounded and innocent people were suffering every day. Does that sound familiar? Things haven’t really changed all that much, have they?

So in the midst of all this rampant evil and untold human misery, Habakkuk has been praying. He’s cried out to God for help, but God is unaccountably silent. He doesn’t seem to answer or even hear Habakkuk’s prayers. And God is strangely passive. In situations of wrong that scream for God to do something, he apparently does nothing. Habakkuk wants to know why.

Think of it this way. What would you do if you were God? If you had all power and controlled everything, if you could change peoples’ minds and hearts by your simple word, if you could create something out of nothing, if you could heal the sick, even raise the dead, if you ruled over all the forces of nature, and had authority even over the evil powers, what would you do? What would you do when you saw a “crack” cocaine baby lying in an incubator in a neonatal Intensive Care Unit, eyes taped shut, a tube down its throat, writhing in pain? What would you do when a cancer patient, wasted away from his disease and devastated by its treatment, cried out to you for help, for relief? What would you do when a beloved child of yours who had loved and served you all her life prayed earnestly to you year after year for the salvation of her son? If you were God, what would you do? Surely you’d do something, wouldn’t you?

It seems to us that if God really acted like God, there would be no more fatal accidents, no more birth defects, no more cancer or AIDS, no more earthquakes or floods. I could understand that. I could believe in him then. It would be easy. Everyone would. But when we cry out to him and he just seems to do nothing, how can that be? That’s Habakkuk’s question. And mine sometimes. And yours too, I imagine.

AN ANSWER

God doesn’t remain silent forever. He responds to the prophet’s cry of complaint. He speaks in verse 5: “Look and be amazed at what’s happening among the nations! Even if you were told, you would never believe what’s taking place now.” God tells Habakkuk that he’s about to do something amazing. “Wait til you see this,” he says to his prophet. “You won’t believe even when you do see it!” The fact is, God is involved in the world. He does know what’s going on. He is neither helpless nor uninterested. God is not deaf or dumb like an idol. He sees and hears everything, and he acts. Despite how things may appear, God controls history. He rules the world. What happens to us always happens somehow in accordance with his plan, in order to fulfill his purposes.

That’s the good news. But before Habakkuk gets too excited, God goes on to explain to him just what it is that he’s going to do among the nations. The amazing things that are going to take place are going to be amazingly bad for his people Israel, not amazingly good. “I’m sending the Babylonians,” God says, “They are fierce and cruel – marching across the land, conquering cities and towns. How fearsome and frightening. Their only laws and rules are the ones they make up” (vv. 6-7). God’s response to all the evil things in Israel’s society is to judge and punish them by sending the vicious armies of Babylon to conquer the people, destroy their country, and carry them off into captivity.

A DILEMMA

So that’s the answer God gives to Habakkuk. But it isn’t a very satisfying one. Instead of solving his problem, this answer only increases the prophet’s trouble.

Holy Lord God, mighty rock, you are eternal . . . . You are using those Babylonians to judge and punish others. But you can’t stand sin or wrong. So don’t sit by in silence while they gobble down people who are better than they are.

vv. 12-13

Habakkuk is caught in a real dilemma. He had been complaining that God wasn’t doing anything about all the suffering and injustice which he saw around him. And as he cried out to God with his questions, God was just silent. Then when God finally did respond to Habakkuk, the answer he gave raised more questions than it settled.

It’s as if God said, “I hear your prayers. I see your problems. There is idolatry and injustice in the land. The poor are being exploited and the rich are worshiping their own pleasure and comfort. My people are turning their backs on me and going their own way. My response to all this is to bring on the Babylonians, who will come and destroy the land.”

“But wait a minute,” we can hear Habakkuk thinking. “The Babylonians! Why, they’re worse than we are! They’re completely immoral. They have no concept of right and wrong. They’re brutal and heartless, and as for idolatry, well, have you ever been to Babylon? How can you possibly think of using them as an instrument of your justice? Is it just to punish sin by using people who are even more evil than those you’re punishing?”

A SOLUTION

Whatever the particular issue may be, the crux of Habakkuk’s problem (and ours) is how to reconcile our faith with our experience. We believe certain truths about God, and rightly so. Habakkuk rehearses them for us here in verses 12 and 13: God is eternal, above and outside all time and history. God is self existent and sovereign. He does rule over the universe. God is reliable and dependable, a “Mighty Rock.” He can be trusted. We’re safe with him. He’s not out to hurt or destroy us. Above all, God is the holy Lord – “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil.” He is pure goodness. God does not, he cannot, compromise with evil. Humans may be corrupted but never God. He can neither do wrong nor be associated with it. This is the God whom believers know and love. “My God, my Holy One,” Habakkuk calls him (v. 12, niv). He is ours and we are his.

The prophet knows all this, and he believes it, but the problem was that he couldn’t tell that any of the things were true just then from what was happening in his world. What he thought about God seemed to be contradicted by what he saw happening around him. That’s what caused his distress. And that’s what causes our distress when we’re caught in the same dilemma. So what is the solution?

Well, there isn’t one, at least not a neat and easy one. At the end of chapter 1, Habakkuk is left dangling, so to speak. God doesn’t make everything clear to him immediately. But in its own way, that too is a kind of solution, because what we see here is Habakkuk continuing to struggle with God about his problems. When your faith seems to be contradicted by your experience, the easy thing to do is to give up your faith. Just abandon it. “If God is all good, then he is not all-powerful. If God is all-powerful then he is not all good,” says the American writer Norman Mailer in a recent book. “I am a disbeliever in the omnipotence of God because of the Holocaust. But for 35 years or so I’ve been believing that he is doing the best he can.” That’s one way to solve the problem of evil. You simply say that God can’t really do anything about it – he’s just doing the best he can.

But this isn’t a very good solution, because it leaves us with a God who isn’t really God. Better to wrestle with the problem like Habakkuk and refuse to either give up your faith or deny your experience. Did you notice that the whole time he’s asking his questions and uttering his complaints, Habakkuk is praying. He’s taking all these doubts and struggles to God. He’s talking them over with him. And he’s willing to leave them there too, and to leave himself in the hands of a God whose ways he sometimes can’t understand.

That may be the best you and I can do as well. If you’re struggling with your faith, with unanswered prayers, with what seems like the triumph of evil against you, all you may be able to do just now is to cry out about it to God and cast yourself on him. It isn’t the whole answer. It’s only a temporary solution. But it’s a pretty good one, because no matter how things may seem, God does hear you. He does care about you, and he will help you. We must learn, like Habakkuk, to be patient.