Where is God in the chaos?

We live in extremely challenging times. Our unemployment rate is among the highest in the world. Our economy is tanking. Skilled people are emigrating. Crime, poverty, corruption and violence are endemic in our society. Chaos seems to be overtaking our land, with the looting and terrorism that took place in parts of the country last year and the government seemingly unable to govern properly. If we’re honest, it’s not a pretty picture.

Where is God in all of this? Many of us are accustomed to teaching that tells us that God’s will is for us to only live a blessed, happy, healthy and wealthy life, to “live our best life now”. According to this view, suffering is not God’s will for our lives. Suffering only happens when we live outside God’s will or are afflicted by Satan.

The problem with this is that when chaos and tough times hit us, we struggle to process it. We think, “how could a good God allow this?” and invariably start to think that God has let us down on his guarantee for our best lives now. Perhaps we get angry and bitter with God as a result. Our problem is that we don’t have a good theology of suffering.

As Christians, how are we to respond in times of suffering? Habakkuk, one of the minor Old Testament prophets, is really helpful in this regard. Habakkuk prophesied to the nation of Judah during the seventh century BC. At that time, Judah was ruled by corrupt and evil men who oppressed the people, and led the nation to forsake the worship of God and instead led them into idolatry and sexual immorality. Habakkuk sees all this wickedness and injustice and it seems to him as if God is sitting by and doing nothing. He cries out to God to intervene among his chosen people of Judah.

God answers Habakkuk, but not in the way Habakkuk expects. He tells him that he is most certainly not indifferent to the plight of Judah. He is going to intervene. But the way he will intervene is by raising up the pagan Babylonian empire. He will cause the Babylonians to wreak havoc and destruction upon Judah. Their homes and possessions will be destroyed, their land taken and they will go as captives into exile, as slaves of the Babylonians.

How then does Habakkuk’s prophecy help us in building a biblical theology of suffering? Here are three ways:

Calamity is God’s will

Contrary to the “best life now” preachers, there are times when God permits suffering in our lives. This is abundantly clear from Habakkuk. God himself raises up the Babylonians to inflict misery on his chosen people. How can we trust a God who acts like this? Doesn’t this make God out to be cruel? Not at all. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise us a trouble-free life. If there is one thing that he does promise, it is that we will face trials. James 1:2-3 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”God, in his providence, brings trials and chaos into our lives in order to work out his good and perfect will: to grow our faith in Christ and dependence upon him.

Injustice won’t prevail

Though God permitted the evil Babylonians to inflict destruction and injustice upon Judah, he won’t let evil go unpunished. In chapter 2 of Habakkuk’s prophecy, God pronounces series of “woes” upon Babylon. There will be a limit to their wickedness, as God promises to punish them. He is true to his promise. Eventually the great Babylonian empire is brought to nothing by God. God’s chosen people, Judah, who have been captives in Babylon, return to their land.

What this shows us that because God is sovereign, there is always a limit of how long evil and injustice can continue on earth. No empire, president or political party will last forever. God is the one who raises them up and brings them down. He promises to restrain evil in the present. Things may get bad, but never as bad as they could be because God is still in control. Ultimately all evil-doers will be dealt with in the future, when God returns on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.

The Righteous shall live by faith

How then does Habakkuk make sense of the suffering that his people are enduring, that indeed God has permitted? Does he get angry and bitter with God and reject him? No. The last few verses of Habakkuk’s prophecy (chapter 3:17-19) provide us with a godly response to suffering, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

Despite chaos and utter calamity, Habakkuk rejoices in the Lord. He takes joy in the God of his salvation. How come? His trust and security is not in the things that God gives him, but in God himself, and his sure promises. He lives by faith (Hab. 2:4). Instead of becoming angry with God during trials, we are called to patiently trust in him, to live by faith, because he will most certainly fulfil his promises to us too. What is God’s promise to us then? Ultimately evil won’t triumph. We may certainly endure wickedness now. But trusting in Jesus Christ, we have real hope in the midst of the darkness. How so? Jesus came to earth to deal with evil once and for all by his death on the cross for our sins. On the third day he rose from the dead, forgiving us our sins, crushing the power of the enemy, giving us peace with God and sealing us by his Spirit for eternal life with him.

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