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The God who understands

When I was growing up there was a song by Jackson Browne about a disillusioned person who recognizes his need for help and visits a doctor. His problem is simple yet profound and one that is shared by many sensitive souls (especially younger ones)—he wants to know how to deal with the darkness he’s witnessed in his life. Listen to his plight:


Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears, without crying
Now I want to understand.

I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good, without hiding
You must help me if you can.

Doctor, my eyes
Tell me what is wrong
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?


Rewind two and a half millenniums and these are the kind of thoughts and feelings that must have plagued Habakkuk. The difference is that whereas the person in our song turns inward and wants to know if he’s been irreparably damaged to the point of no return by what he has experienced, the prophet turns his attention towards God and wants to know why He’s allowed all of this to happen. He asks of Yahweh, "Why do you make me look at injustice?" (1:3). It sounds like something straight out of the Psalms—an indictment against God for His failure to enforce His law. “Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds” (1:3).

As the prophet sees it, the problem isn’t primarily one of education concerning the law—it was first posted on two tablets of stone and brought down from the mountain by Moses. Since that time, it’s been communicated from generation to generation. No, the difficulty lies in God's apparent indifference to all that's going on, effectively “paralyzing” the law so that “justice never prevails” (v. 4). The result is that “The wicked hem in the righteous” (v. 4) and what rules the day is not the righteousness that God desires. Habakkuk is perplexed, pained and disillusioned by these things.

Although we are separated from the prophet by over twenty-five centuries, it’s not hard to connect with his lament. As our world continues to self-implode, it’s natural to question why God doesn’t intervene in some way. For those who seek to do what is right, it’s disheartening to see the evil that is perpetuated and seemingly has the upper hand in so many ways.

Nevertheless, we are not to conclude that God’s failure to act in the way we might expect Him to means that He is oblivious to what is going on or even worse, doesn’t care. The fact is, He is acutely aware of what is happening and understands it infinitely better than we do. To this point, note how the introduction to Habakkuk is framed, “The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received” (v. 1). Many commentators have noted that Habakkuk differs from the other prophets in that whereas they speak to Israel or Judah on God’s behalf, he speaks to God on Judah’s behalf. But this verse reminds us that the whole of Habakkuk’s message, including his complaint against God, is channeled by God--received from Him! Not only does He understand—He wants the opportunity to “explain” Himself to us. Whatever else you might want to say about God, He is not remote or detached from His people. He is in touch with their lives and in tune with their needs. Oh yes, our Father understands.

That’s not everything that needs to be said on the matter, but that’s a start and it’s where Habakkuk begins his message.

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