Untimely death! Auto accident! Cancer! Life is full of tragedies, but not all of life’s tragedies are of the same magnitude. The failure of a business, the end of a special relationship, a missed opportunity can all be tragedies to those who are directly involved. Large or small, tragedies will come, and we must learn how to deal with them.
As followers of the Messiah Yeshua, it is incumbent upon us to respond to life’s tragedies in a way that is honoring to God. God’s Word, the Bible, is our primary source for discovering God’s will in this matter. Sometimes the Bible speaks on specific issues by direct command, such as the imperative, Thou shalt not kill.” At other times, God instructs us by more general principles or teachings, such as, “so then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Though these are the most obvious, there is yet another way in which we receive instruction from the Bible—through the examples of others (cf. I Cor. 10:6). In learning to deal with the tragedies of life we find a godly example in the prophet Habakkuk.
Perplexed first by the unreined evil he saw in Judah and even more so by God’s subsequent use of Babylon as a chastening instrument, Habakkuk posed a series of questions and allegations. These were followed by God’s response.
In Chapter One, verses 1-4, we see Habakkuk’s concern over Israel’s apostasy and God’s seeming lack of responsiveness to the situation. In verses 5-11, we hear God’s response: He is doing something. He is raising up the Chaldeans to chastise Israel. The remainder of Chapter One finds Habakkuk first acknowledging God’s holiness and justice, but then questioning God’s choice of methods, i.e., using the wicked to “swallow up those more righteous than they.”
As Chapter Two begins, Habakkuk has moved from his panic-stricken response of Chapter One to a response of resolve, expectancy and humility, as he waits for God’s answer. After commissioning Habakkuk to record and report the forthcoming response, God assures Habakkuk that the Chaldeans will be judged. The five “woes” of Chapter Two chronicle God’s righteous judgment upon them.
Chapter Three begins with Habakkuk’s prayer, in which he beseeches God to act on Israel’s behalf in a special plea for mercy. Habakkuk’s prayer is then followed by a visionary recounting of God’s past actions on Israel’s behalf. Verses 3-15 may be a poetic account of God’s mighty deeds during Israel’s redemption from Egypt. Here, after Habakkuk’s reflection upon God’s past faithfulness, we see his godly response to tragedy in the last four verses of the book.
Verse 16 presents a vivid picture of Habakkuk’s emotional response to the impending tragedy. Here we see a man who is emotionally distraught. His symptoms include an upset stomach, quivering lips and a deep inner ache. That sounds like the physical distress of a person who is about to have a good cry. Habakkuk was not a stoic. Emotionally, he seems deeply moved by the coming tragedy. Yet there is more to his response.
In verses 17-18 we see Habakkuk’s volitional response. In verse 17 he postulates the worst of all possible situations—famine and the resultant total socio-economic devastation of Israel. Having envisioned the worst, he deals with that possibility.
Then, in verse 18, we see Habakkuk’s resolve—his choice to trust God anyway, come what may. In spite of all outward appearances to the contrary, Habakkuk will continue to trust in and glorify God. Why? Because he knows that God is his source of strength, and that ultimately God will lift him above his circumstances.
What, then, can we learn from Habakkuk’s example? How are we to respond to the tragedies in our lives?
First, we can freely express our grief. It is perfectly acceptable to cry and express the depth of our sorrow and pain. Such a response may be difficult for some people, especially men. Our society teaches us that “real men do not allow themselves to be hurt deeply or cry.” This is nonsense. God’s Word indicates otherwise. Did not Yeshua, our ideal example, weep? It is recorded in John 11:35.
The second—and perhaps most important—lesson we can learn from Habakkuk is that we can choose to trust God and even rejoice in him in spite of the most tragic circumstances. We can choose to rely upon God’s strength and his ability ultimately to deliver us from those circumstances. Here again, we can turn to Yeshua, our ideal example, who exhibited that same resolve. In Matthew 26:39 we read his well-remembered prayer as he faced the cross, “…O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
The next time you find yourself confronted by tragedy, have a good cry and then turn to our faithful Savior, the “author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2).