Questioning God (Habakkuk 1:1-4)


Have you ever wanted to question God? I’m not talking about having questions for God, like “Is light energy or particle?” I’m talking about coming with some tough questions for God – maybe even doubts and challenges.

I’m a fan of the West Wing. It’s a show about a fictional president of the United States named President Bartlett. In one episode, President Bartlett is still reeling from the sudden and pointless death of his longtime friend and confident, Mrs. Landingham. Alone in a cathedral, he rails at God.

I give thanks to you, O Lord. Am I really to believe that these are the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To h*** with your punishments. I was your servant here on Earth. And I spread your word and I did your work. To h*** with your punishments. To h*** with you!

I remember feeling shocked when I watched this. Some of you are probably shocked as well. You expect lightning to strike him dead. How dare he question God? How dare he rail and make accusations and then storm out like that? It sounds heretical.

I know that some of you rarely suffer from doubt. I know this because you’ve told me. There are some of you who have never had anything but trust in God, and it’s difficult for you to relate to those who would dare to question God. You’ve been given a gift that is rare, and that is something to be appreciated.

When Philip Yancey’s book Disappointment with God came out, I remember loving the title. I loved the book too, by the way. I talked to an elderly man at the church, someone I respected a lot. He was disgusted by the title. “How could any Christian write a book called Disappointment with God?” he asked. He was ready to conclude that Yancey couldn’t possibly be a Christian. I know that some of you feel the same way. To question God or to get angry with God is a character flaw, you think, and you just can’t relate.

But I know there are lots of us here today who can relate. You know what it’s like to question God. You can relate to those who have been through tough experiences that have made them question God and their faith. It’s the mother and father whose son was killed by a drunk driver. It’s the family whose father committed suicide. It’s the small business owner whose business has taken a nosedive, and the pressure of the payroll is killing him.

Many times, we read the newspapers and say, “How could God allow that to happen?” A woman with her 10-year-old daughter, 13-year-old son, and 10-year-old niece were driving in a van a few days before Christmas. They somehow hit an SUV, and all four were killed. I know you can say this sort of thing just happens, but why? Could God have prevented it? How could something like this happen to a family?

That’s not even the big question. You watch a movie like Hotel Rwanda and ask, “How could a genocide like that happen? How could an estimated 800,000 people be slaughtered in 100 days? How could God allow this to happen?

So some of us don’t really have a history of questioning God. For others of us, it’s a constant struggle.

My question today is this: how do you handle questions and doubts? Do you deny them? Stuff them down? Does it reveal a character flaw in you that has to be dealt with? What is the right thing to do when we have doubts?

A Book of Questions

Not surprisingly, this question comes up in Scripture. But you may be surprised that a couple of books of the Bible deal extensively with this question. One is the book of Job. One day we’ll look at that book, but not now. I’d like to look at the other book that deals with questioning God.

It’s the book of Habakkuk, a book you may have heard, but not really remembered. But it’s a book that’s full of questions for God. It’s also a book that teaches us what to do when we have questions for God. So if you have a Bible, I’d invite you to turn to this book. It’s the fifth last book in the Old Testament.

The question again is: how do we handle it when we have questions and doubts with God? Habakkuk answers this question.

Habakkuk 1:1 says, “The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.” The word prophecy there is a good one, but there’s a nuance that doesn’t come out. It’s the idea that it’s not just a prophecy; it’s a burden. It’s not just a light thing. It’s heavy. It’s something that he can’t get off of his mind.

Habakkuk’s prophecy really is a burden. It’s different from any other prophet’s book that we have in our bible. Usually a prophet speaks to the people on behalf of God. In this case, we have recorded a conversation between Habakkuk and God. Habakkuk has questions, and he’s like God to step up and answer.

It’s important to realize a couple of things before we look at how Habakkuk questioned God. One is that this is a prophecy that has been received from God. Another version says, “The following is the message which God revealed to Habakkuk the prophet” (NET Bible). So what we have in this book isn’t just a record of one man’s struggle with God. We have in here something that God thinks is going to be valuable for us to understand. This is something that God wants us to read.

The other thing is that this is more than a private journal. I guess Habakkuk could have kept this private. But this book was written for the benefit of Israel, and it’s come down to us today. Why? We’re going to read later that part of this book was meant to be used in public worship. The act of questioning God is something we can all relate to, and it’s ultimately something that can lead us to worship.

Habakkuk’s Question

So here are the options that I think you have when you have questions and doubts.

One: you can pretend you don’t have a question. You can figure that it’s just wrong to question God in the first place. How dare you ask God? How dare you doubt him? You little pip-squeak! Don’t you dare question God. You’re way out of line.

Two: you can ask the questions, but go for easy answers. This one allows room for doubt – a good thing – but doesn’t go too far in questioning God. You face a tragedy that you can’t figure out? Sure, come to God with your questions, but don’t forget that all things work together for good.

Three: Let the questions loose. Don’t be threatened by the questions. Just be honest.

Which one do you think Habakkuk chose? Let’s find out. In Habakkuk 1:2-4, we find out which approach he chose:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.

So which one do you think he chose? Ignore the questions? Ask them but look for easy answers? Or go flat out with your questions? He chose the last one. Habakkuk let’s loose and is completely honest with God. He complains. He comes close to making accusations to God.

The core of his complaint is in verse 3: “Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” This is one of the top questions we have of God today as well. It’s what they call the problem of evil. How could a good and powerful God allow evil in the world? Why genocide and murders and abuse and accidents?

Habakkuk has a pretty specific list of complaints that seem pretty relevant today. He lived under a king who was ambitious, cruel, and corrupt. Wickedness and oppression were everywhere. The justice system was a joke. And he challenged God: what are you doing about it?

And God didn’t zap him dead when he asked these questions. Quite the opposite. Instead, we have these words written down for us so that we can learn from his experience, and so we can know it’s okay to come to God when we have questions as well.

How do you handle your questions and doubts? According to Habakkuk, don’t deny them and don’t settle for easy answers. Let the questions fly. Bring them to God. Let them loose.

When We Question

We’re going to look at God’s answer next week. But for a few minutes, I want to look at how questioning God can be good for our spiritual lives. Not all questioning, of course. But Habakkuk teaches us that there is a faithful way to question, a way to have doubts and even to challenge God while still remaining faithful. Just like Habakkuk, we can ask for God's attention and express our confusion when we cannot comprehend his ways.

Habakkuk teaches us a few things about when we have questions. Here’s just a few.

God can handle our honesty. Here’s the thing. Do you think God would like us to lie or be honest? Of course, God is all about truth. He values honesty. So one of the things we can learn from Habakkuk is that God is okay with our honesty. We can come to God with our honest questions and doubts and it won’t be threatening to God. God is more than able to handle our honesty.

I love Habakkuk because he is so honest. He doesn’t sugarcoat his questions either. He says:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?

There is not a lot of sugarcoating going on here. He is laying out how he really feels before God.

One-third of the psalms are prayers and songs of lament. They express honest feelings and doubts. There’s a lesson here for us. We don’t have to come to God only when we’re happy, and we have everything figured out. We can also come to God with complete honesty and brokenness. Even our doubts and our questions can be acts of worship. Don’t be afraid to ask God difficult questions, because he can handle the honesty.

There are a lot of times that I don’t know the answers. I can’t tell you how many times I hear someone’s story and what they’ve been through and I’m left speechless. I don’t have the answers, but I know that God isn’t threatened when we bring the questions to him. He even gave us a book that models this for us.

Our questions take God seriously. Habakkuk’s questions were based on a premise: that God is good and that he can’t tolerate evil. In other words, Habakkuk’s questions were, in a way, statements of faith in God. When we question God, we are often asking why he doesn’t act in a way that’s consistent with who we believe him to be. So our questions are often statements of faith and trust in disguise.

That’s why I think Habakkuk’s protest is faithful. It’s faithful because it’s all about who God is. It’s done out of the conviction that God is good all the time.

Our questions drive us to God. You’ll notice something in Habakkuk’s questions. He’s not asking questions about God. He’s asking questions of God. Faithful protest continues to address God. Questioning and having doubts can actually strengthen our faith. They lead us to seek answers from God, even if we approach Him with a challenge or a desire to understand why.

That’s really the definition of a healthy relationship. It’s not whether you have fights or disagreements. It’s whether you’re talking to each other or about each other. When someone comes to me to talk about someone else negatively, that’s a very bad sign. When they communicate, even when it's difficult, it gives hope for the relationship.

So we actually need people who doubt. People who doubt are a gift to us. Without them our faith might become glib. We don’t ever need to settle for easy answers, or to feel threatened by our questions. Instead, we can bring our questions and even our doubts as acts of worship to God.

I don’t know what questions and what doubts you have brought with you this morning. The Bible has a book that teaches us to take our questions and doubts seriously. It encourages us to have honest conversations with God about these issues.

We opened with the scene from the West Wing. You were probably shocked by how Bartlett talked to God. The last line of the speech was, “ To h*** with your punishments. To h*** with you!”

The last phrase, “To h*** with you,” can literally be translated, “May you go to a cross.” Challenging God serves as a reminder of His great sacrifice for us, despite our doubts. He doesn’t turn away those of us who question. Instead, he gives himself to us. So bring, and continue to bring, your questions to him.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada