What to do When Life Hurts: A Lesson from Habakkuk
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What to do When Life Hurts: A Lesson from Habakkuk

What do we do when life hurts? Sometimes life hurts so much that we question the existence of God. How could the omniscient and omnipotent God allow such hardship to exist? The academic pursuit of an answer to these questions yields a theodicy—a defense of God’s righteousness despite the existence of evil. It is important to develop a theoretical theodicy to be intellectually prepared for suffering before misery comes.

It is also important to have a practical theodicy—one which we can hold to during the pain of life. This practical theodicy will guide us through the basic stages of grief to a place where we can praise God during pain. The book of Habakkuk records how the prophet 1) cried out to God amid his pain (Hab. 1:1-4); 2) questioned God’s plan (Hab. 1:12-2:1); and 3) praised God who had proven himself trustworthy and righteous in his actions (Hab. 3).

Suffering and Doubt

Habakkuk was overwhelmed by the wickedness around him and questioned God’s inactivity (Hab. 1:3-4). He questioned God’s plan to discipline his people (Hab. 1:13-17). Although Habakkuk did not understand what God was doing, he was reminded to live by trusting in God. One of the most famous verses of the Bible is God’s call for the suffering to trust him even though they don’t understand—“The righteous one will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4 CSB).

Calvin accurately described what it means to live by faith when he wrote, “to live by faith means to abandon voluntarily all the defenses which so often fail us. One who knows himself destitute of all protection will live in his faith if he seeks whatever he needs from God alone; if he disregards the world and fixes his mind on heaven.”[1] Habakkuk 2:4 reminds the reader that the sin will be punished, faith is the source of life, and faithfulness will be rewarded with life. God still allows atrocities to take place. God still allows evil to flourish and good to suffer. Will we trust him?

Seeing the Yet UnseenGod's Justice

Even before Habakkuk complained, God was already in action. He was “raising[2] up the Chaldeans” (1:6). They would be his instrument of discipline. God had acted to correct the problem. The problem was that Habakkuk, and other sufferers, often cannot see what God is doing. This is often the case with our suffering. We know we want God to act, but we often fail to realize that God has already began to act. Believers should remember that God may have already acted to alleviate our suffering before we even realize we are in danger. Because of Habakkuk’s faith he was able to offer the great hymn of praise in chapter 3. Habakkuk wrote, “Now I must quietly wait for the day of distress to come against the people invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, through the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though the flocks disappear from the pen and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will celebrate in the LORD; I will rejoice int the God of my salvation!” (3:16-18).

Having a Practical Theodicy Ready

The book of Revelation is “a call for the endurance of the saints” (14:12). Habakkuk is a plan for the endurance of the saints. Habakkuk provides a practical theodicy to which believers can anchor during storms. Habakkuk shows us that is it is good to have seasons open grief, soul and Scripture searching and struggling. These things are necessary to have a robust faith. We can be confident that God is acting even now to set things right.

When we, like Habakkuk, can cry out to God and still trust God, then we will be able to endure. Although we may not understand, we can understand who God is and live by trusting in him—Habakkuk 2:4. We can also find comfort in the fact that Jesus has borne the ultimate pain on Calvary so that we may be comforted by God forever. Because of Jesus’ work, we can know that heaven will obliterate the memory of our pain—Romans 8:28. As we thus live by faith, we can sing, “It Is Well With My Soul.”

[1] Joseph Haroutunian and Louise Pettibone Smith, Calvin: Commentaries (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), 224.

[2] “Raising up” is from מֵקִים֙ which often carries the idea of “bringing about” a thing or situation (Deuteronomy 29:22; 2 Kings 23:25; Nahum 1:9).

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