Bottom line: Habakkuk teaches us that - in the face of human suffering - it is not wrong to question God. He shows that honest questions can lead to faith.
In our first reading the prophet Habakkuk describes terrible suffering and asks, "How long?" and "Why?" You and I have asked the same question. The question is sometimes referred to as "the problem of pain." If God is all good and all powerful, how can he allow so much suffering? Now, this Sunday I do not intend to solve the mystery of human suffering, but I would like to give you a few "talking points." Some things to consider as you talk to others about the problem of pain or as you ask yourself how God could permit people to suffer.
First, we must recognize that the question is not new. The Book of Job addresses the question head on. And today, in a few verses, the prophet Habakkuk describes the dark side of human existence: violence, misery, ruin, destruction, strife and discord. The prophet asks: Why? How long?
The things Habakkuk describes continue today. Why does God allow such suffering? After all, He could have made a world without any real dangers - maybe like one of those TV reality shows. He could have filled earth with gentle creatures, incapable of harming one another.
But a counter-question arises: What would such a world be like? A risk-free world would be very different from the one we live in. It would have no tectonic plates, no storms, no fire, no ice, no fast moving objects.* When you think about it, the only attractive part of a risk-free world would be the insurance premiums. Zero.
And what about a world filled with only gentle creatures? It would be lovely, but it would lack a lot. A lion that subsists on grass would not inspire much awe. It is possible to imagine a robot-like human being (I know a few). They might be very beautiful and very useful. But once they have some degree of true intelligence and freedom, they become harder to control and predict. That, however, is the very reason we have millions of novels, plays and movies about human beings - and very few with an ape or cow as the main character.**
A world without risks, populated only by gentle creatures, would be beautiful - and perhaps somewhere such a world exists. However beautiful it would be, it not be nearly so interesting as the world you and I live in. Real risk, real intelligence and real freedom open the door to suffering. That suffering exists does not, in itself, disprove God's existence.
Whether one is an atheist, an agnostic or believer, we find ourselves thrown into the same imperfect, pain-filled world. The violence, misery, ruin, destruction, strife and discord, that Habukkuk describes, affects us all. At the same time, all of us experience something else: a sense of right and wrong. We use that moral sense every day, probably waking hour, to judge others.*** We have an internal standard of justice and injustice that we assume others also recognize. And the fact that we ask how God could permit suffering means that we apply that standard even to God.**** But this is a two-edged sword. Where does this sense of right and wrong come from? Even though ordinarily we simply take for granted this standard of justice, a thinking person will ask where it comes from. The depth, universality and persistence of our sense of right and wrong does not prove God's existence, but it surely points to the existence of a transcendent being.
Once again, I am not offering this as a solution to the problem of pain. When I experience suffering - or see someone I love suffer - I (like you) ask, Why? The prophet Habakukk asked a similar question. What I have tried to do by offering some "talking points" is to indicate that Habakkuk's response is not irrational. After describing present suffering and afflictions to come, after asking, "why?" and "how long?" he concludes with this sentence: "The just, because of his faith, shall live."
Habakkuk teaches us that - in the face of human suffering - it is not wrong to question God. He shows that honest questions can lead to faith. And like the disciples in today's Gospel, we ask the Lord, "Increase our faith."
*Nor with Hawking's famous law of gravity. Even if sentient creatures had elaborate padding, it would only protect them from falls from small heights.
**And when an animal such a dog, cat or monkey is the main character, we make them interesting by projecting our human foibles and nobility onto them.
***We judge others, but we dread their judgment on us. One of the reasons many people dislike Christians is that they perceive that we are judging them. At the same time, they feel little hesitation judging us.
****Animals give no evidence of this standard. They do not, for example, divide up available food into equal portions.
From Archives (27th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
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