On January 8th, a disturbed young man named Jared Loughner went on a bloody rampage and shot nineteen people outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, AZ. One of the six innocent victims killed was a nine year old girl, Christina Taylor-Green. Her mother described her as an aspiring politician who had just been elected to the student council at her elementary school. Only in the third grade, Christina’s dream was to attend Penn State University and then serve people who were less fortunate than her.
I don’t know about you, but when I heard the story, all I could do was say “Why…why…why?” It’s not fair: an innocent young girl is gone. She was a child—she did not deserve to die. And then I thought: what a waste. Here was someone who wanted to give her life to improve the lives of other people. Imagine how many lives she could have touched and changed if she had grown into an adult.
The tragedy in Arizona highlighted a universal conundrum. For thousands of years, people across various languages and cultures have asked profound questions about the nature of reality, like “why do bad things happen to good people, innocent people, even children?” Or more pointedly: “How can an all loving and all powerful God allow for the existence of evil and suffering?”
Thankfully, the Bible tackles these tricky questions directly. One of the ways it does so is through a man named Habakkuk. Habakkuk was a prophet: he was God’s mouthpiece. God spoke to him and he then shared God’s message with God’s people. Like us, Habakkuk lived during a turbulent time in history. Around 597 BC, Babylon, the dominant world superpower, besieged Jerusalem. Eventually, Jerusalem would be destroyed and the chosen people of Israel would be deported to serve as slaves in a foreign country.
During this time, Habakkuk felt bent out of shape and so he wrote down his struggles, fears and musings into a journal. Eventually this journal was made public as a source of encouragement to the embattled Israelites. His book is very intimate and personal: He uses “I” countless times as he expressed his thoughts & feelings. Unlike the other prophets, Habakkuk did not address or confront the Israelites. Instead, he challenged God himself.
In Habakkuk 1:1—4, the author starts out with four rapid fire questions: 1—“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” 2—“Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” 3—“Why do you make me look at injustice?” 4—“Why do you tolerate wrong?” (New International Version)
Habakkuk’s questioning of God reveals that it’s OK to challenge God. Habakkuk asks God some pointed questions and demands answers. Apparently, Habakkuk had the faith to believe that God was big enough and smart enough to provide answers. Otherwise, his questioning would be an exercise in futility. Yet even though he believed in God’s power, he was not afraid of God: he could wrestle with God without the fear of being crushed by God. Habakkuk knew God and respected God and trusted God, but was not intimidated by God. His relationship with God was robust, real, even gritty.
How do you see God? Is God distant to you? Is he simply an idea or abstract concept? Is he a stern taskmaster that you fear crossing? Or on the other hand, do you see him as your buddy, but he is not big enough to solve the problems in your life and in our world?
I think Habakkuk highlights a glaring void in many of our lives: we struggle with mystery and tension, transition and pain. We like our lives to be neat and tidy: everything has its compartment and place. We want to control it all. But we can’t. That is not how life works. Life is messy and sloppy and difficult. Sometimes we get answers to our problems and pains and sometimes we don’t. Habakkuk got this. He understood that God’s ways exceed our understanding. Yet it did not stop him from confronting God and wrestling with him.
How about you? Do you believe it’s OK to challenge God? The Bible teaches that God invites all of us to engage him and interact with him: to talk to him, to pray to him, to express our thoughts, doubts, fears, hopes and dreams. Especially, as we grieve the loss of an innocent girl.