Why Does God Allow These Things?
How to Rejoice in the Midst of Violence!
Life did change on Tuesday, September 11, 2001! "But where," we sob through our tears, "was God when the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hit, and so many non-combatant lives were immediately snuffed out?" "But as if that were not enough," we add, "Almost all recognize that evil is beginning to pop up all around us—even in the house of God and among his leaders. So where will it all end?"
The prophet Habakkuk knew exactly what perplexes us in our current hour of despair, for he too was hard hit by the prevalence of sin that reared its ugly head everywhere, even among the people of the book, as described in Habakkuk 1:1—4. "How long," the prophet demanded in deep perplexity of body and soul, "must evil find such easy expression even among the people of God?" Domestic strife, violence, iniquity and perversions of all types threatened to triumph over all good and righteousness in the prophet's day—and some think it is also winning the war in our day.
God's answer to Habakkuk was even more perplexing in Habakkuk 1:5—11, for the High and Holy God uttered the unthinkable: He would use an obviously more wicked people (in Israel's case, it was the Babylonians) to chastise his believing body, who had abandoned him for their own interests and ways. So it was indeed a fact of life: sin must ultimately be accompanied by confession or, if there was no repentance of wrong and evil, ultimately punishment would be necessary. Therefore, we must be warned against the danger of a misplaced confidence that depends on the fact that no harm will come to us, to our nation, or to our Church, because we are the people of God. "God's mercy will not allow for that," we unwisely assure each other.
Actually, Habakkuk, no less than all of us in our hour of calamity, was tremendously shaken by all that was to take place. Likewise, on that day in September, "[We too] heard and [our] hearts pounded; [our] lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into [our] bones, and [our] legs trembled" (Hab. 3:16). But the prophet teaches us that we must cease our insistence to look at the immediate circumstances themselves (in B.C., the Babylonians; in A.D., the terrorists); instead, we must now turn to look to God himself. As long as the prophet and we persist in pointing to the greater wickedness of the Babylonians or the terrorists, it will be just that long that our perplexity and unhappiness will persist. It is thoroughly unbiblical and unspiritual to reduce this, or any other tragedy, to only one cause and blame it on those who are obviously godless people. It's not the Babylonians, the communists, the lawless, the violent, the terrorists, inflation that alone is our problem; the crux of the matter for believers is this: Do I yet see my need for humbling myself before God and his holy purposes? It may well be time for sackcloth and ashes of the heart for all of God's people.
What are we to do then? Must we starve? What if "...the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, ...and the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food [?]" (Hab. 3:17). Is that the end? How am I supposed to be happy and resolute about that?
Our petition must be not for deliverance, nor that we should be spared suffering or personal discomfort. All of this was of little or no concern to Habakkuk as long as the work of God would be kept pure, revived, and brought back to new vitality and exuberance once again (Hab. 3:2). We only plead that as the wrath of God comes in that time of national emergency, that God would exercise his great mercy (Hab. 3:2b). We only long for the work of God to be revived and restored to its full power and authority in all our lives.
In this the prophet could "...rejoice in the Lord, ... [and] be joyful in God [his] Savior" (Hab. 3:18). Was this a matter of mere resignation? Or, "Best thing is not to think about it, for it's all too distressing." Or "Pull yourself together"?
That is dead wrong! We are to know a holy joy that can rejoice in the midst of suffering. So how do we do that without merely pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps?
Here is God's answer to that question. "The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights" (Hab. 3:19). "…The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him" (Hab. 2:20). The sole contemplation of the Overruling God makes my heart and yours bound like calves leaping for joy in the sheer delight of the Master's presence. This alone can lift me to the heights of joy itself.
Again, where was God when we needed him most? The text said he was in his Heavenly Temple governing the whole universe towards the goals he had set from the foundation of the world! So let us hush up in his presence.
"But how can I find any joy in all of this?" The answer: Our joy is in the Lord himself and not in the times or the circumstances. He is our Rock and our Fortress, our exceeding available source of help in times of trouble (Ps. 46:1). Let every evil force break loose; God will capture and rebuke in detail every cynical monstrous deed those perpetrators have ever seen—should they too reject the grace and message of God.
Outwardly, we are afraid and traumatized almost to the point of having heart failure (Hab. 3:16), but deep down there is a peace that passes all understanding. It is anchored and clearly focused on a Lord who can give songs in the night. He makes us rejoice in who he is and how he continues to be our all in all.
As S. H. Kellogg observed in his commentary on Leviticus back in 1899:
The nation that will not serve [God] shall perish. All this is not theology, merely, or ethics, but history. All history witnesses that moral corruption and relaxed legislation, especially in matters affecting the relations of the sexes, brings in their train sure retribution, not in Hades, but here on earth. Let us not miss taking the lesson by imagining that this law was for Israel, but not for other peoples…God visited a heavy judgment upon the Canaanite nations…Hence the land spued them out. Our modern democracies, English, American, French, German, or whatever they be, would do well to pause in their progressive repudiation of the law of God on many social questions, and heed the solemn warning. For, despite unbelief of multitudes, the Holy One still governs the world, and it is certain that He will never abdicate His throne or righteousness to submit any of his laws to the sanction of a popular vote" (pp. 430-31).
All of that in 1899? Indeed, it's as true as it ever was!
So, "When through the deep waters, I call thee to go, The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless. And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress, And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress" (How Firm a Foundation).
Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., is President Emeritus and Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Old Testament and Old Testament Ethics.