This morning we looked at some of the age-old questions to do with suffering, justice and God’s ways discussed in the book of Habakkuk. One of the minor prophets, we know little about Habakkuk himself, but the questions he asks of God echo through the ages. Where is God when suffering seems to abound? Why is there such injustice in the world? What is God going to do about such things?

Habakkuk’s raw honesty shows us that we can approach God with our questions, no matter what they are – but we have to be prepared to be taken-aback by His answers! Israel at this time was suffering greatly, but that suffering was exacerbated in Habakkuk’s eyes by the fact that a godless nation, the Babylonians, were the ones doing the punishing. Bad enough that society had broken down and injustice and wrongdoing were everywhere. But how could God be serious in saying that He would use the Babylonians as agents of His wrath?

“God, you chose Babylonians for your judgment work?

Rock-Solid God, you gave them the job of discipline?

But you can’t be serious!

You can’t condone evil!

So why don’t you do something about this?

Why are you silent now?

This outrage! Evil men swallow up the righteous

and you stand around and watch!” (Hab 1:12-13)

So often, we complain ‘It’s not fair!’ and want God to bring justice into play. But God reminds Habakkuk in chapter 2 that the problem of sin affects everyone. What we really need is mercy, for if it were not for God’s mercy, we would all be condemned, damned, eternally separated from God. We are all able to approach a holy God only because of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ. Without God’s grace and mercy, we would not be here at all.

Habakkuk 2 talks about ‘the righteous shall live by faith’ – key verses which Paul will go on to expound in Romans and in much of the New Testament. And God, in His answers, shows us that His ways are far beyond our understanding (Is 55:8-9). God doesn’t always give us answers to our questions – and sometimes, as with Job, even when we do get answers, we don’t fully understand them! What He does give us, however, is Himself.

Habakkuk is awed as he realises who God is. And the journey he has made is the same journey we must make: we come first of all to God with all our questions, all our confusion, all our frustration and all our pain. We hide nothing from Him – what’s the point? He knows our every thought even before it makes its way to our mouths! But as we listen to His answers, we will come to recognise that what we really need is not just justice, but mercy. We come to the cross and there we find ‘mercy there was great and grace was free/ pardon there was multiplied to me’. We are ‘stopped in our tracks, down on our knees’, like Habakkuk, for we see not only God’s power and might, but we find in Him grace and mercy. And somehow, in ways we can’t fully understand or explain, we receive new strength and hope.

What does steady, loyal, believing faith actually look like? I think Habakkuk summarises this for us in Hab 3:16-18:

“I heard and my heart pounded,

my lips quivered at the sound;

decay crept into my bones,

and my legs trembled.

Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity

to come on the nation invading us.

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 Saviour. (Hab 3:16-18)

This is the ‘even if’ faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego which will not waver, even if there is no visible evidence of God. It’s the faith that will bless God’s name ‘when the sun’s shining down on me’ but also ‘on the road marked with suffering/ though there’s pain in the offering’ (Matt Redman, ‘Blessed Be Your Name’). We are not called to understand God. We are not called to like what He does. We are not called to demand fairness. Instead, we are offered grace and mercy and love and are called to worship God, as Job did, whether God gives or takes away. We are called to say ‘blessed be Your name’ in all circumstances, ‘always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Eph 5:20) because we know that God is in control. Habakkuk ends by saying ‘Counting on God’s rule to prevail I take heart and gain strength’ (Hab 3:19). If we do this, we will have feet like a deer and be able to go on the mountain heights.