The Book of the Twelve (Minor Prophets) 16: Habakkuk
“The Problem of Evil” in the prophet Habakkuk.
Raising the Question - Why do bad things happen to “good people”? Why would a good God permit the kinds of atrocities that happen in the world? These questions fall under the usual title, “The Problem of Evil.” In the next “Book of the Twelve” text, Habakkuk, we have one of the biblical texts which address some aspects of this question. The ancient Songwriter, Habakkuk, references the coming Babylonian invasion and this indicates a time for the writing around 605 B.C. Habakkuk’s name means “one who embraces.” He may have been a priest since the oracle concludes with the statement, “For the choir director, on my stringed instruments.” His name indicates the final theme of the book: the prophet clings to the Covenant Lord as his salvation and strength (3:17-19). Two questions arise in Habakkuk that relate to the Problem of Evil. Why do You put up with wrongdoing?” (1:3) in your people? and “So why do you put up with such treacherous people [such as the Babylonians, used to judge Judah]? (1:13)” Habakkuk 1:13b asks the question - “Why do you say nothing when the wicked devour those more righteous than they are?” In light of the problem of evil in a world made and ruled by a good and righteous God, the central and repeated theme of the Scripture resonates in Habakkuk. Though we are tempted to complain about God’s rule in the world. The second question unveils one of our challenges. We often use a sliding scale for assessing evil, e.g., “more righteous than they are” (1:13). However, God’s justice transcends this. “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (2:20).
Providing the Answer - There are two aspects to the answer to the Problem raised. The first is that justice will come. As we have seen in other examples, e.g., Obadiah and Nahum, “what goes around comes around.” “The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! 2:17 The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them” (2:16-27). Secondly, the lack of immediate justice for God’s righteous people should call forth trust. God’s people must trust Him through the trial. “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith” (2:4). That is what he says finally in 3:17-19: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail, And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold, And there be no cattle in the stalls, 18 Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. 19 The Lord GOD is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, And makes me walk on my high places.”
Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more