“Why do you make me see iniquity,
and why do you idly look at wrong?” Habakkuk 1:3
This direct, emotion-filled question is a good candidate for the current anthem of the church. Why is so much sin going unpunished? Why is there no justice in the world? How long will our prayers go unanswered? When it feels like the whole world is falling apart, we want to know: Where are you God and why don’t you do something?
I relate to Habakkuk’s lament. He lived in a time of political turmoil. His complaint stems from the disappointment of a weary saint who witnessed violence, strife, and contention. These have been our headlines for over a year. And it seems to be getting worse. Maybe you have been complaining to God too.
We are not wrong to hate the perversion of justice. On the contrary, it can be evidence of the Holy Spirit within us when we chafe at moral corruption and the abuse of power. But we can easily make faulty assumptions in those moments. We think God has stopped working. Or worse, that He does not care enough to act.
When it seems like God tolerates too much sin for too long, even faithful Christians get discouraged and believe evil is prevailing. What are we missing?
God is at Work in Astounding Ways
“Look among the nations and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told.” Habakkuk 1:5
The Lord answers Habakkuk’s cry with a gentle rebuke. He is a kind, patient Father, trying to help His child recognize the limits of his own understanding. An assurance God is working – but in ways we would have never imagined; with methods we would not approve and on timelines we do not expect.
God is sovereignly controlling entire governments for His own purposes. But like Habakkuk, we remain unconvinced, and want to cry out as he did:
“Are you not from everlasting,
O Lord my God, my Holy One?…
You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
the more righteous than he?” Habakkuk 1:12a-13
Bible scholar Dr. Paul Wegner wrote about this text, “This is a classic statement of the puzzle of how an all-powerful God can allow sin to continue unchecked.”
I am grateful for passages in the Bible that so fittingly capture my own thoughts at times. How often am I complaining to God about what seems to me a lack of action on His part? Or maybe, the wrong action. Or the wrong time for His action. What a gracious God to show me what great company I am in when I doubt like this. Our loving, patient Father bears with the continued accusations of His confused, exasperated children.
We would do well to remember God’s people never imagined the promised Messiah-King would arrive hundreds of years later as an infant in straw poverty to a no-name family from an insignificant town. Nor did God’s people perceive this Messiah would die after only three years of active ministry, like a common thief on a cross. But this was all part of God’s perfect plan.
Living by Faith in God’s Promises
Take note of God’s reply to Habakkuk:
“For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
it hastens to the end – it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
it will surely come; it will not delay.” Habakkuk 2:3
Like children in the backseat on a long road trip (before all the distracting entertainment available on handheld devices) we want to know if we are there yet! This journey can feel so long, and our Heavenly Father can feel so distant at times. But we are called not just to wait, but to have confidence that God will accomplish all He promised to do. That requires faith. Here God warns against pride, pointing us to a humble trust in Him:
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
but the righteous shall live by his faith.” Habakkuk 2:4
We know we are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ, but how often do we remember we are to live by God’s grace through faith in Christ? The Lord contrasts the righteous person with those whose soul is puffed up. The one who relies on himself is puffed up. The one who relies on God believes He will unfold His plan, His way in His time. The one who trusts God also believes His plan, His way, and His time are good. “The kind of faith that Habakkuk describes and that the NT authors promote,” writes Dr. Paul Wegner, “is continuing trust in God and clinging to God’s promises, even in the darkest days.”
These days feel dark. Our faith wavers. But the object of our faith never does.
When I read “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong,” from Habakkuk 1:13, I can’t help but think of the lyrics from “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,”
How great the pain of searing loss!
The Father turns His face away;
As wounds which marred the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.
Jesus Christ bore all our sins at the cross. So much evil was laid on Him that the Father couldn’t even look at His Son. Yet this was God’s wise way and perfect time to save sinners who come to Him in repentant faith. God’s plan is still active. He is drawing people to faith in Christ and building His church day by day, persistently pursuing His sinful image bearers.
Enduring with Confidence
As I’ve pondered this Scriptures more, it occurred to me that God’s patient tolerance rarely bothers me as it relates to my sin. It is only when He is slow to anger over other people’s sin that I cry foul. The grace and forgiveness I am eager to receive is not always what I wish for the rest of the world. In that regard the Lord is teaching me compassion and humility.
But alongside that lesson, I see another promise to rejoice in that helps me endure these challenging times; Jesus promised to return to make all things right regarding sin in the world!
A day is coming when everyone’s sin will either be forgiven because they believed in Jesus Christ or punished because they did not. In every corner of the world. God is not sitting idly by as the world runs amok. His appointed time is coming – if it seems slow wait for it; it will surely come– when the wicked will be punished, and the righteous will be rewarded. Ponder that truth. Meditate on it. Justice will be served. The faithful will be rewarded.
Let these promises bolster your confidence and help you remember God is all the while at work.
 Dr. Paul Wegner said this in his commentary on this verse for the ESV Study Bible.