Habakkuk and the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is this: How can a good God allow evil to exist? This is not a new problem, but it remains both perplexing and complex. The prophet Habakkuk, like countless others, also wrestled with the seemingly contradicting realities of the goodness of God and the presence of evil. The difference with Habakkuk is that he was able to converse with God directly. As we listen in on their conversation, God’s answer gives us insight into how we should shape our thinking about the problem of evil.

The first thing to note is that even before asking his question, Habakkuk affirms the goodness and holiness of God.

O LORD, are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One…your eyes are too pure to look on evil. You cannot tolerate wrong.

1:12-13

In Habakkuk’s mind there is no doubt about the goodness of God. God has clearly revealed who he is and he is not to be doubted. But what Habakkuk doesn’t understand is the presence of evil, which is why he continues:

Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

1:13

Indeed. How can the God who cannot tolerate wrong, tolerate wicked and godless men? Having boldly stated his question, Habakkuk waits in expectation for God to answer. Yahweh’s answer contains at least four points worthy of our consideration:

  1. Justice will prevail: The world may seem backwards right now, but a day is coming when all will be set right again. Those who have plundered others will themselves be plundered. Those who have shed blood will have their blood shed. Those who have lifted themselves up in pride will be brought low in shame.
  2. The righteous live by faith: In contrast to the wicked man who lives by his own desire, the righteous man lives by faith in the words of God. The word of God states that the righteous man is blessed, and even if there be a world full of evidence to the contrary, the righteous know what true reality is and they live accordingly. They know that it is God who lifts up the humble. They know the works of the wicked will come to nothing. And they know an idol is absolutely useless.
  3. The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD: This is the reality which the righteous know by faith and live in accordance to. There is a day coming when all of creation will sing the glory of Yahweh because all creation, all nations, and all tribes will know the glory of God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. And if this is the guaranteed end-point of human history, how then shall we live?
  4. Let all the earth be silent before the LORD: In contrast to the deaf and dumb idols of the wicked, Yahweh is real. He hears and speaks. He sees and knows the injustice and idolatry of mankind and will speak words of judgement at the appointed time. All the blasphemy, curses, and ridicule which are thrown at Almighty God will one day be silenced forever. Nobody will be able to bring an accusation against God, for the whole world will see him for who he is and will shut their mouths.

But not all will be silent. Immediately following God’s statement about the silence of the earth, Habakkuk breaks out in song. The mouths of the wicked will be silenced, but the mouths of the righteous will sing the glory of God. Like Habakkuk, they will recount the mighty deeds of God: deeds of judgement, mercy, salvation, goodness, and final victory. Habakkuk’s hope, and his answer to the problem and prevalence of evil, is a deeper knowledge of the LORD. And so this ancient prophet ends his song of praise with these words:

…yet I will rejoice in the LORD,

I will be joyful in God my Saviour.

The Sovereign LORD is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

he enables me to go on the heights.

3:18-19

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