Habakkuk may not have given us the answers us want, or to the depth and breadth that we want, but we have learned that (1) the world is not fair, (2) “fairness” is not the standard by which life was created to run or even a wise strategy, and (3) we must learn to trust God’s wisdom.
First of all, the world is not fair. Your mother always taught you this, and she either learned it by observation or got it from God. It doesn’t work so that the good people find reward, blessing, and success, and the bad people just find more trouble, failure, and even punishment. The world is full of common grace, meaning that we’re all in the same pool together and are subject to the same forces in life. What the Bible says is that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. We all experience sickness and health, success and failure, joy and sorrow, reward and punishment. God has created a world of fairness in the sense that we are all treated the same regardless of our moral fiber and character. That has both strengths and weaknesses. For bad people, it gives them enough exposure to good that they might be able to see the error of their ways and turn towards the light. On the other hand, they can too easily think that they are getting away with their bad behavior and ignore all signs to the contrary. For good people, they can experience the honest joy that come from goodness, but at the same time experience some true and deep-seated feelings that they deserve better than what comes their way. We all understand that.
Second, we learn that fairness is not the standard by which life was created to run, and for that matter, it’s not even a wise strategy. As I said in one of the discussion questions, the retribution principle is a self-defeating strategy. If this is the way the world worked, people would start being good just to get the prize, and therefore they really wouldn’t be being good—just selfish or greedy. People would quickly get caught up in earning “points” to get blessings, presumably earning by their good behavior whatever their hearts desired. Corruption of the soul would be the quick and inevitable result. We would try to be good for all the wrong reasons, which wouldn’t then be good. Life just can’t possibly work that way, and we are remiss to think if God were really good He would run the world according to the retribution principle. Instead, good and bad things happen to us all, at apparently undetectable percentages. What God has done instead, though, is to give us, through the Holy Spirit, at least some ability to see His hand in our lives and the blessings we do receive so that we have access to “inside information,” so to speak, and become aware of God’s blessing in our lives, even in the hard times.
Lastly, we must learn to trust God’s wisdom. We are taught that God is sovereign, that He loves us and works for our good in context of His overarching plan of salvation. It doesn’t mean everything that happens to us makes us happy, but that we can trust God to be working towards our sanctification and ultimate glorification. What God has in mind is to make us holy, even if that doesn’t lead to our happiness and comfort, and to do whatever it takes to make us as much like Himself as we walk through life. We’re not robots under His thumb—under His control like pre-programmed zombies—but free agents choosing to learn His mind, seek His heart, and follow in His ways. We learn that God is compassionate, just, holy, and wise. Though the path is not always clear, and the course of life doesn’t always seem to be favorable, we learn to trust God’s wisdom and put our lives unreservedly in His care. We study His word for revelation, we seek His mind in study and prayer, and we look for His hand at work around us, in us, and through us.
Learning to trust God’s wisdom doesn’t remove the negatives from life, but it does take away its sting. Paul has learned these important lessons and instructs us in them.
• 2 Cor. 4.7-12: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”
• 1 Cor. 15.54-57: “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
• 2 Cor. 4.16-18: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
• Philippians 4.11-13: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
As Habakkuk has learned, so must we also learn that God is calling us to think differently. We can’t trust our eyes or our interpretations of our circumstances. We must learn to see the ways God sees, think the way He things, and to see life for what is truly going on. It is a mistake to think like a normal human being; instead, we have to learn a whole new way of thinking (Rom. 12.2). Abraham had to learn a whole new way of thinking as he exercised faith in God. Moses had a to learn a whole new way of thinking as he worked to take care of God’s people. Joshua had to learn a whole new way of thinking when it came to the conquest of Canaan. It’s what Hebrews 11 is about—it’s what the whole Bible is about! And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Peter, and all the others who had to learn to think in unearthly ways in their pursuit of a life of faith. The same quest rests on our shoulders and in our hearts. We have to learn not to judge God because our perceptions tell us one thing in particular, but to learn to trust the wisdom of God, see with the eyes of faith, and learn to think differently.