Questioning God, Walking Through Grief

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Senseless murders and searing pain in the faces of the victims’ families. Nations contending with other nations. Hurting and hungry children. Divisive politics and numerous scandals. Whether you are reading this piece on the day it is shared  or years from now, the evil that floods my news feed this morning and the personal suffering that fills my own life or those I love is continuous and all too familiar. And if you are simply human, evil and suffering has found its way in and around your life as well. Arguably two of the most compelling questions we ask in these times are:

“How long, O Lord?” and “Why?”

These questions often haunt us in evil and suffering because, as Christians, we know God is compassionate and loving. We want to believe God will give reprieve and administer justice in the land of the living, while we are living. And even when our head might be filled with relevant theology on evil and suffering, it’s our heart that asks these questions. We see hearts asking these questions as far back as the ancient words of Scripture.

Habakkuk wastes no time in his lament over what seems to surround him:

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence’! and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? (1:2-3)

Habakkuk was weighed down by the suffering and evil he witnessed. The world saw wars and disputes between nations; internal crises frequented God’s people; deaths and murders abounded; people were in constant rebellion toward God and embraced evil; faith was hidden and weak; and tragedies were numerous. Sound familiar? It’s no wonder that many commentaries view this book as contemporary as today’s news headlines.

And yet this book, bathed in lament, ends in praise on the lips of Habakkuk: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (3:18). What was it? What marked Habakkuk’s journey from lament over evil and suffering to thankfulness and praise to God? The message of Habakkuk, as relevant as the evil that surrounds and the suffering we face, teaches us the following points:

1) We must walk through, not away from our grief and questions.

Habakkuk approaches God with a crises of personal faith and bold accusations. He minces no words, accusing God of not hearing him, not saving, and looking “idly” at wrong (1:2-3). Whether it be the wrong and evil that abounded during the time of Habakkuk and continues during our day, or the personal suffering that finds its way in our lives, we can apply the same general message from Habakkuk’s approach. Suffering and evil will either cause us to walk toward or away from God, and in Habakkuk’s case, it was toward.

After I found out from a doctor that I would probably “never have children,” a wise mentor and friend told me in my grief, “Kristin, you need to have it out with God, or your questions will come out later in bitterness.” What did she mean? She meant what Habakkuk lived out—coming directly to God with fears, anger, questions, sadness…whatever it is that we carry. Indeed, the book of Habakkuk begins with lament and ends in worship, but this didn’t happen overnight. He didn’t get to a place of praise in the midst of suffering without the beginning step of grief and asking God his honest questions.

2) God will answer our cries.

God answers Habakkuk, telling him he is at work (1:5), and he will judge the evil and end the suffering one day (2:6-20). He doesn’t strike him down with a lightning bolt or disregard his bold and ignorant accusations. God answers Habakkuk (and us) in our time of despair and weak faith to point us to him who is, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps 103:8). He’s powerful enough to part the Red Sea, but he’s gentle and loving enough to answer our cries. And while his answer may not be as specific as we want, He will give us what we need through his Word, which is sufficient in all things (Ps 19:7-9). He will use resources and people to comfort us as they “mourn with those who mourn” (Rom 12:15). And God will pour out his peace that “surpasses all understanding” as we continue to come to him through our prayers (Phil 4:7-8).

3) There is a Greater Gift than the answer to our “Why” and “How Long.”

In the midst of our grief and question asking, God will give us something greater than the answers to our “why” of both evil and suffering. Included in his answer to the evil that abounded, God tells Habakkuk, “And the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4). That message is the same message to us, thousands of years later. We may not know all the whys of our circumstances, but God can help us live by a steadfast faith and trust in him, a God who weeps over the hurting of his people (John 11:35), but who also uses all things for our good (Rom 8:28). A God who is sovereign over all evil (Job) but cannot be tempted by evil (Jas 1:13). And yes indeed, a God who will one day wipe every tear from our eye and end all suffering (Rev 21:4). The answer he gives is himself.

My brother and sister-in-law and the rest of our family didn’t know why my nephew was unexpectedly stillborn at thirty-six weeks. We asked the “why” questions, and God didn’t give us the specific reasons. But while we grieved, he comforted, and he provided a strengthening of our faith and more of himself. He gave my family and me a deeper intimacy with himself that isn’t always present in our prosperous seasons. Habakkuk, too, didn’t have all the answers, but he resolved to live by faith and a walk with God. He determined that even when hardship and tragedies struck (3:17), his heart would say:

I will rejoice in the Lord, I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (3:18)

Our journey of lament and our pursuit of God melts our fear, questioning, and despair into worship. And suddenly, the “how long” and the “why” become immersed in who God is – a God who loves us and will one day end evil and suffering.

SufferingKristin Nave