Suffering & Sovereignty: A look at the message of Habakkuk
Habakkuk is a fascinating little book! Tucked away in the so-called minor prophets towards the end of the Old Testament, it has a unique style and a timeless message. As a church we spent some time earlier in the year looking at its message and exploring what God wanted to teach us through it.
The first two chapters of the book are a dialogue between Habakkuk and God. Habakkuk raises some issues with God and God replies in dramatic style! Habakkuk then has a choice to make in the way he responds. The third chapter reads like a psalm and in it we see Habakkuk responding to what he has learned of God in the previous exchanges.
In this post I try to briefly outline some of the key themes which emerged in our study. However, if you are pushed for time please don’t read this post; instead read the book of Habakkuk and then maybe come back to this later!
Theme 1: Crying out to God when we are suffering or confused is important
Too often I have found myself thinking that to express raw emotion to God is somehow dishonouring to the Creator of the Universe and that I should instead be more respectful in the way I speak. However, Habakkuk gives us a different pattern! He describes what he sees around him – iniquity, wickedness, strife, contention, destruction and violence. He sees justice being perverted and the wicked on the rise. It is a pretty bleak picture and it is reflected right across the nation of Judah. The people have rejected God and are suffering as a result.
Habakkuk sees all this and takes it to God with two anguished cries: ‘How long, O Lord?’ and ‘Why?’ These are the two great questions of suffering. When there is difficulty and oppression, when there are things we don’t understand, when we feel pain and suffering, our cry is ‘How long? and ‘Why?’ We cry out ‘How long?’ because we want to see an end to our suffering. We cry out ‘Why?’ because we want to know the purpose of our suffering.
Expressing these emotions to God is healthy. Expressing confusion at what is happening is a way of us processing the fact that we don’t know everything.
And God is big enough to handle our expressions of turmoil!
Theme 2: God is sovereign and acts in the way He sees best
God reveals to Habakkuk that His plan involves inflicting further, unimaginable suffering on His people. And not only that, but He is going to do it by using the ungodly Babylonians to carry out His plans! This creates further confusion for Habakkuk. ‘How can you do this, God?’ is the question of the second half of chapter 1.
But God is the ruler of all things. He is supremely powerful and what He says will come to pass. His sovereign ways are sometimes incomprehensible and confusing to us but they are always the best way.
Theme 3: God is holy and hates sin
Most of chapter 2 is our holy, sovereign God delivering a devastating critique of the characteristics of the unrighteous. Like a tolling bell, five times He pronounces ‘Woe’ upon groups of people: those who accumulate financial gain in a violent way, those who exploit others, those who commit violence, those who commit debauchery and those who commit idolatry. These are the inhabitants of the land. These are the reason for the ongoing suffering of God’s people. And these are the people who are the reason why God needs to use His extreme method of punishment, the Babylonians.
This terrifying passage should make every one of us realise afresh the seriousness of sin which was serious enough for God to cause His own Son Jesus to suffer and die. The right response for us is, together with the whole earth, to fall silent before the holy God (2:20).
Theme 4: God has acted and will do it again
God not only judges sin but He also saves. In chapter 3 Habakkuk writes a psalm of praise to God. He recounts the stories of God acting to save His people. The message is clear: God is sovereign and He saves. There is nothing outside of His control.
Even when we are in the midst of suffering and confusion we can call out to Him to act again and bring salvation.
Theme 5: It is possible to find peace and joy in difficult times
The book of Habakkuk ends with one of the most amazing statements of faith in the Bible. After all his conversations with God, in a time of great suffering with more suffering to follow, and surrounded by confusing circumstances Habakkuk is able to ‘wait quietly’ for God’s plan to unfold. Not only that, but he is also able to fix his eyes on God and rejoice in the salvation which comes from His hand.
So Habakkuk provides a pattern for us. His emotion-filled expressions of anguish and confusion cause him to process his pain, confusion and disappointment and come to a place of encountering God. From that place he finds rest and a faith-filled confidence in His sovereign and saving God!
Thank you Simon. The podcasts from our series on Habakkuk are available online.