In light of the recent Australian bushfires, we perhaps cannot be blamed for asking, Why is God allowing such a thing to happen? How can God turn a blind eye to the devastation that has come as a result of these fires – the loss of property, animals, even human life? Why doesn’t God do something about it? Why does God allow so many to needlessly suffer?
It is these kinds of questions that the prophet Habakkuk also struggled with, roughly six hundred years before Christ. He experienced a crisis of faith. He looked at the atrocities that were happening around him and the circumstances that God’s people found themselves in, and he could not help but question what he saw. Habakkuk simply couldn’t comprehend what God was doing. Habakkuk was praying persistently, but God was not answering. “How long, Lord, must I call for help and You do not listen…(?)” (Hab 1:2 HCSB). Why would God not intervene, deliver those who were suffering, bring an end to this needless devastation? Habakkuk’s prayers are being ignored. How is this even possible, that a prophet of God wasn’t being heard by God?
We would be remiss to not ask the same sorts of questions in the midst of the bushfires. Churches around Australia and around the world are gathered in fervent prayer, pleading for God to bring the soothing balm of rain to our parched lands. And yet for the most part, our prayers are not being answered with a resounding ‘yes’ (though we give thanks for what rain has fallen in the last few days). Firefighters have died, homes have been destroyed, communities are crying out in agony, the threat continues. Directly or indirectly, every Australian is affected. And so we ask, Doesn’t God care? Isn’t God concerned?
For Habakkuk, the answer seemed to be that God didn’t care. Everything seemed to look like divine indifference. The images conjured in Habakkuk’s writing are ones of violence, destruction, devastation. But what concerned Habakkuk more than the violence was the Lord’s apparent indifference. How could God sit and do nothing despite the righteous prayers of his prophet and people? There was no relief! And this is surely an acute concern that we share in light of the bushfires. When we consider the suffering and death that’s come about as a result of so much burning, surely we can all identify with the seemingindifference of God in the face of devastation?
What made things even worse for Habakkuk was that God was actually the one bringing about what was happening around him. It very much seemed like the Lord was being unjust. See God’s answer in Habakkuk 1:5-11. God clearly knows the evil, ruthless, merciless and ferocious people he is dealing with, and he clearly knows the sort of destruction that will ensue when they are let loose on his people. And yet, God doesn’t just let it happen, he causes it to happen. And so Habakkuk is again perplexed. How could his God, the holy and dependable God of Israel, use the heathen Babylonians to accomplish his righteous purposes? And notice here, that despite the Babylonian attack being divine judgement, Habakkuk pleads in objection on the grounds that their actions are unjust. Habakkuk questions God’s moral integrity, as the prophet’s theological convictions did not seem to match what was happening around him. You can see it in Habakkuk’s response. God is surely eternal and holy (1:12a), the rock and protector (1:12b), pure and unable to look on evil (1:13); and yet God is causing the merciless slaughter of the nations through an evil army (1:14-17).
At the end of this chapter, Habakkuk comes full circle and asks the same question that he started with: “How long?” (1:2, 17). And then, having expressed his concerns to God, the prophet remarkably stations himself as a watchman in the watchtower (2:1). He watches in anticipation for how the Lord might reply. He has made his argument. He can’t understand. And now he trusts that God, who knows best, will respond. Surely this is the same for us? Habakkuk invites us to come in and wrestle with these same questions. Gods ways and timing do not line up with our limited perspective. And so, in the midst of these terrible bushfires, we must consider the actions of the prophet Habakkuk. We must voice our concerns, cry out in desperation and bring it all to the feet of our Lord in fervent prayer. Like Habakkuk, we must also hold on to the truth that God is good and steadfast, and he is working out his good purposes even if we may not understand it. And this wouldn’t be the first time God has worked out his purposes despite appearances. Who would have thought that God was working his purposes out through the suffering and agonising death of his Son? So let us turn to this great God in faith and ask him for what we need.