It’s perfectly normal to ask questions, and there’s nothing unspiritual or sinful about it. God know that He hasn’t shown us everything there is to see, and therefore He knows there are a number of things we’re not going to understand. There are reasons not to tell us everything, but that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to think about them and try to figure them out.
Fairness is one of those questions. We want life to be fair, but we know it isn’t. We want to know the deeper truths about why good people have to suffer, why bad things happen to good people, and why sometimes it seems that other people, even those we consider to be bad people, have it much easier and much better. It doesn’t make sense that a good God would be OK with that, or why an all-powerful God wouldn’t do something about it. Or so it seems on the surface. We understand that we only see a few pieces of the puzzle, but that’s part of the frustration, too. We want to see more, we want to know more deeply, and we want to understand more thoroughly. Is that too much to ask?
No, it’s not too much to ask. God never minds that we ask questions; He expects and welcomes them. He made our minds to figure things out, to plumb the depths of understanding, and even to seek God with all the intellect, curiosity, and “doubt” we can muster.
There are different kinds of doubt, and we must distinguish between them. Some doubt just wants to know more, and that’s great. It’s a combination of curiosity, uncertainty, and a quest for knowledge. God wants us to be both smart and wise. Other doubt wants evidence and proof, and through the examples in Scripture, God is often compliant with people’s requests for more. He lets Moses see the back of His goodness, He grants fleece requests to Gideon, and gives Ahaz a sign through the prophet Isaiah. God also honors this second kind of doubt. But there are other times when doubt is just obstinacy, cynicism, and mistrust. This is the kind of doubt that God rebukes and asks for trust in its place.
Habakkuk’s oracle is not so much a prophecy for the people as it is a taking of the people’s case of doubts to God’s throne. The prophecy has already been given through Jeremiah and Isaiah: Judah will fall to the Babylonians. The book of Habakkuk is the people’s (or at least the prophet’s reply: This doesn’t make any sense!
Habakkuk is passionate in his plea: “It doesn’t make any sense that we fall to the Babylonians—they’re worse than we are. If we are being judged for sin, why do they get to be the victors and enjoy the spoil? And as far as judging us, I’ve been crying out in prayer for your help for a long time. I have seen this coming, and it’s been on my prayer list. I have been seeking You; I have been crying out to You. But You’ve been ignoring me; You haven’t come to our help. How can you just listen and not answer. Don’t You understand what’s at stake?
“The Babylonians are the worst people ever. You’ve seen what they do, and what they believe. They are knocking on the door our country, and threaten to destroy us. How can You just sit there and let that happen, especially when I am praying so faithfully?
“You’re supposed to be a just God, but there’s nothing just about this. I see injustice in every direction, with You turning a blind eye to wrong after wrong. Everywhere I look there is immorality, idolatry, violence, hatred, destruction, illegal actions, corrupt judges, rulers who are no better than criminals, and crooked lawyers. And these are the people who are going to get rewarded? Where’s the fairness in that?
“Meanwhile it’s the good people of the world who are suffering. In the meantime, when we go to court to right a wrong, the judge sides with the wrongdoer. The cops are in on the take. The governors are part of the scheme, and they’re all making money off it. There’s no reason to call this justice—it’s a joke. And the good people of the world are taking the hit for it.”
That sentiment is Habakkuk’s prayer and plea. How can good God sign off on this plan, and how can a powerful God not intervene? And how can a loving God ignore these prayers of mine and the godly people of the country?
This time, however, God responds. After what may have been an agonizingly long period of silence, He finally breaks the quiet with a disquieting message: “I can guarantee that you won’t understand the plan I’ve enacted, because you don’t have all the pieces to make sense of the puzzle. This action will all take place fairly soon, and it will probably raise more questions than it answers, but keep talking to me.
“You’re right that I’m raising up the Babylonians, but I know perfectly well what I am doing. They are the most appropriate punishment for the people of Judah and their sin against Me. (Maybe you have been praying, Habakkuk, but there haven’t been too many others. Judah is hopelessly enslaved by sin and rebellion.) The people of Judah’s sin against me have been ruthless and impetuous, so I am bringing a ruthless and impetuous people against them. Judah has shown no fear of God in their rebellion, so I will bring against them a people who really have no fear of God. The Babylonians are a law to themselves, but that’s exactly as my people have been living—they do what they want with no regard for My Law. They promote their own honor, not Mine. My people have been decadent for a long time, and so I am bringing a decadent people against them. The Babylonians have rebelled against all authority over them—does that sound familiar, Habakkuk? Their own strength is their God, but the people of Judah have been relying on their own wits, wisdom, and strength for so long, it’s time for them to see what their sin looks like when it reaches My ears. The Babylonians are the perfect mirror for My people. What the Judahites see in the Babylonians is how the sin of the Judahites looks to me. Finally they will understand, and they will get what they have earned.”