Habakkuk is sensing a tremendous disconnect between what the Bible says about God and how he sees God working (or not working) in the world. While the Bible is full of talk about God’s love, care, and fairness, all Habakkuk sees is suffering, confusion, abuse, and disregard. We know God is just, but nothing in the world looks that way. We know God is holy, but then why does He tolerate so much unholiness? Habakkuk is looking for some possible way to put together what he knows of God with what he sees in the world, and he’s coming up blank. Nothing makes sense, God doesn’t make sense, and life is one big bucket of problems and confusion.
Habakkuk starts off the chapter by rehearsing some things we know about God: He’s eternal, He sees everything and knows everything, and He orchestrates (at least to some extent) the rise and fall of empires. He is supposed to be watching over His people and judging the evildoers, though sometimes He even has to discipline His own people. We know these theological truths from the Bible, and we accept them as sensible.
But that’s different from what we are experiencing. What we are seeing is a contradiction: God can’t tolerate wrong, but He tolerates wrong. He is seemingly unconcerned that the bad guys are conquering the good guys, and while we know that the good guys have been less than dazzling in their morality, they were leagues ahead of the bad guys. Habakkuk isn’t able to make sense out of any of it. First of all, what kind of God is this that is either orchestrating this or ignoring it? Secondly, if God can’t contradict Himself, then why are we seeing so many contradictions? The prophet is seeing a senseless discrepancy between theology and reality.
Habakkuk tries to reason it through. God created humankind, and all that is, for that matter. God loves us all, and is sovereign over all. His intent is to bless all nations through the descendants of Abraham. But then what we see is people being slaughtered like sheep, which is just a waste of human lives. Would God create people just for them to be killed? Would God bless the wretched people at the expense of good people? Can injustice be the tool of a just God? The prophet’s head is spinning, and his soul is in a state of unrest.
But he wouldn’t bother to speak his pain and confusion if he didn’t expect a reasoned reply, if he didn’t think there was an answer that would make sense. He would only bother to pray if he still had faith that the Creator God of the universe would answer him with something that made sense and revealed the secret mysteries of God’s mind and God’s ways. He closes the chapter with a resolve to seek God and pursue His mind until the Lord revealed Himself to him. The only way to learn is to seek; the only way to hear is to listen; the only way to truth is through God.