Question:

In Habakkuk 1:2-4, especially verse 3, Habakkuk questioned the wisdom of God. Is it wrong to do so? I believe the correct attitude toward God is to trust and obey; what do you think?

Also in Genesis 18:23-32, Abraham plead to God not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. I think it is wrong for Abraham to do that since definitely God knows everything and God knows what is best. Shouldn't Abraham simply keep quiet?

Your help will be much appreciated.


Answer:

"O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, "Violence!" and You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds" (Habakkuk 1:2-4).

A question for you: Is Habakkuk questioning God's wisdom or stating, in the form of questions, that he doesn't understand what God is doing?

Without a doubt Habakkuk is upset with what he is seeing and with what appears to him as a lack of response from God. He isn't the first. Jeremiah asked, "Righteous are You, O LORD, when I plead with You; yet let me talk with You about Your judgments. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously?" (Jeremiah 12:1). Job, as he suffered, wanted to know: "Why do the wicked live and become old, yes, become mighty in power?" (Job 21:7). Asaph also found this problem troubling, "But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other men" (Psalms 73:2-5). Malachi wondered if it was worth following God. "So now we call the proud blessed, for those who do wickedness are raised up; they even tempt God and go free" (Malachi 3:15).

Habakkuk had been crying out to God, but it appeared that God wasn't listening to his prayers. Jeremiah also felt that way. "He has set me in dark places like the dead of long ago. He has hedged me in so that I cannot get out; He has made my chain heavy. Even when I cry and shout, He shuts out my prayer" (Lamentations 3:6-8). Job thought God wasn't listening to his plight either. "And now my soul is poured out because of my plight; the days of affliction take hold of me. My bones are pierced in me at night, and my gnawing pains take no rest. By great force my garment is disfigured; it binds me about as the collar of my coat. He has cast me into the mire, and I have become like dust and ashes. I cry out to You, but You do not answer me; I stand up, and You regard me. But You have become cruel to me; with the strength of Your hand You oppose me" (Job 30:16-21). David, too, had his times of despair. "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent" (Psalms 22:1-2). Jesus quoted those same words while on the cross (Matthew 27:46).

God answered Habakkuk by revealing to him that the wicked would be punished. He was sending an enemy nation to destroy Israel. That answer took Habakkuk by surprise. There was violence in Israel because of the wicked, so God is going to send in people even more wicked and violent to solve the problem? (Habakkuk 1:12-17). Habakkuk thought that God was too good and too righteous to do that to His chosen people.

People continue to do the same thing today. People cry out against the wickedness in the world. They demand justice, but they don’t like what justice demands. “A good and righteous God would never send people to Hell! There cannot be such a place!” But God is both good and severe. "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off" (Romans 11:22). People like to be told the righteous will be rewarded, but they don’t like the thought of the wicked being punished (Ezekiel 18:20-32). We like the idea that God will forgive our sins and not hold our past against us. Yet, if we commit evil, we want God to remember all our good deeds as if they overshadow the bad. It doesn’t work that way. If God will only consider the repentant sinner’s present condition, then justice requires that he only considers the fallen’s current condition.

God, then, in Habakkuk chapter 2 begins to list out all the sins Israel has been involved in and basically asks Habakkuk what did he expect God to do with such wicked people. Habakkuk's answer was embarrassed silence. "But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20).

But your question is whether Habakkuk was wrong to ask these questions. It is clear that God didn't think so; He answered Habakkuk's questions. Habakkuk had the wrong idea about what was happening and why it was happening, but God encouraged him to learn from the situation. Habakkuk learned to trust God when he saw the pure justice of God. "When I heard, my body trembled; my lips quivered at the voice; rottenness entered my bones; and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble. When he comes up to the people, he will invade them with his troops. Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls - yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer's feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills" (Habakkuk 3:16-19).

You see the same thing with Abraham. God actually debated whether to tell Abraham about His plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. "And the LORD said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing?"" (Genesis 18:17). His conclusion was that Abraham needed to know so that the lesson could be passed down to his descendants. "For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him" (Genesis 18:19). If God didn't want to be questioned, He wouldn't have told Abraham. But God told him, knowing it would generate questions.

Abraham had the same reaction most of us would have (including Habakkuk): Wait a minute! There are some good people down there! "And Abraham came near and said, "Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked?"" (Genesis 18:23). God allowed Abraham to negotiate a reprieve for the cities. Abraham was worried exactly how many good people there actually were in the cities. He started at 50, but eventually dropped the number down to 10. Why did God allow it? Because He wanted Abraham to see His justice. God wasn't being arbitrary in His destruction. Think about it. In four cities in that plain -- major cities -- not even ten good people could be found! The lesson has stuck with mankind ever since. Sodom and Gomorrah have become a synonym for complete corruption and wickedness.

In many false religions, people are told not to question what goes on. Questions are treated as insubordination. But God invites questions because in answering question there is an opportunity to learn. ""Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD, "Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). ""Present your case," says the LORD. "Bring forth your strong reasons," says the King of Jacob" (Isaiah 41:21). Why? The answer is found in the verse before: "That they may see and know, and consider and understand together, that the hand of the LORD has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it" (Isaiah 41:20).

Thank you so much for your detailed reply!