How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
Habakkuk’s three short chapters present a dialogue between the prophet and God. Its setting seems to have been during the zenith of Babylon’s power, when the occupiers ruled over the land of the people of God with an iron hand. Unlike many of the other prophetic books, Habakkuk doesn’t attribute Israel’s captivity and exile to punishment for their many sins against God and neighbor. Instead, he describes how bad life under the thumb of Babylon is, and he clearly can’t understand why God isn’t doing something about it. As he sees it, the Babylonians behave in much worse ways than the Israelites ever thought about doing. Life is not fair, and this does not make sense to someone who believes God is primarily a god of justice. In a bit of an existential crisis, he asks God to explain himself: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”
God’s response to Habakkuk is not to give him a reason, but to advise patience. God assumes responsibility for the rise of the Babylonian empire; he is quite aware of all the bad things they are doing, and he will see that the evil that they do comes back on their own heads, but it will be on his own timetable. “The revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”
The book ends with a psalm recalling God’s past acts of power on behalf of his people, and urging him to intervene once again. In language reminiscent of Job’s, Habakkuk vows to remain faithful to God even if the world falls apart around him. “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.”
Habakkuk is yet another example of a Biblical character who had doubts about the nature of God. His observations about what is happening to him and around him do not square with his understanding of God. Rather than engage in theological contortions to explain away any discrepancy, he expresses his doubts and concerns honestly to God. Like Jacob, he wrestles with God, and will not let go until he is blessed with understanding. Like Job, he is unafraid of making his case directly to God. And like Jacob and Job and so many others before and after him, he is rewarded. His understanding of God takes a quantum leap to that place beyond logic we call faith.
God isn’t angry with us when we have doubts about his goodness, justice, or even existence. Such doubts are often the way to God, rather than away from them. And that’s good news to me.