A Theodicy in Three Acts
Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey | Pastor
First Baptist Church, Spanish Fort, AL
Maybe you have heard of “a tragedy in three acts” but what about “a theodicy in three acts”? Dr. Philip Irving Mitchell, Director of the University Honors Program at Dallas Baptist University, explains, “A theodicy is an attempt to justify or defend God in the face of evil by answering the following problem, which in its most basic form involves these assumptions:
- God is all good and all powerful (and, therefore, all knowing).
- The universe/creation was made by God and/or exists in a contingent relationship to God.
- Evil exists in the world. Why?”[i]
Dr. John Koessler, professor and chair of the Pastoral Studies Department at Moody Bible Institute, explains, “The book of Habakkuk was written around 600 b.c. Little is known about the prophet whose words we read, but we can all relate to his message. Habakkuk is concerned with evil in the world, especially as practiced by the people of Judah. They are God’s people, and Habakkuk wonders aloud how God can allow such sordid behavior to go unpunished. God’s answer is less than satisfying and Habakkuk and God engage in a dialogue about evil in the world and God’s judgment, power, and goodness. This is a discussion of theodicy.”[ii] Dr. Waylon Bailey, former professor of Old Testament at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, comments, “One thing appears clear about Habakkuk, even if it too rests on inference rather than clear statements of the text. Habakkuk was a person of great faith and great courage who dared take the theological teaching of his day and test it against the experiences of his own personal life and of the nation. [Dr. J. N. Boo Heflin explains,] “Habakkuk adopted the role of the philosopher of religion, seeking to understand the troubling times in light of his theological heritage. … Whereas his colleagues served primarily as messengers from God to the people, Habakkuk took the concerns that troubled him and his fellow citizens to God.” [Dr. Bailey concludes,] “Such action shows he was ‘an honest doubter, contemplative and speculative by nature … [with] moral and ethical sensitivity … [who] searched for truth … maintained profound reverence for God … with a deep personal faith.’”[iii] Dr. Charles C. Ryrie (1925-2016), former professor of systematic theology and dean of doctoral studies at Dallas Theological Seminary and former president and professor at what is now Cairn University, writes, “The book presents a picture of man who trusted God, yet was perplexed. Habakkuk’s questions were two: (1) Why did God permit the increasing evil in Judah to go unpunished (1:2-4)? (2) How could a holy God justify using the Babylonians, a people more wicked than the Jews, to punish the Jews (1:12-21)? The answer to the first question is recorded in 1:5-11 and to the second in (2:2-20). Thus the book is a theodicy, a defense of God’s goodness and power in view of the existence of evil.”[iv]
Habakkuk 3:17-19 reads, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills.” Thus, a theodicy in three acts.
Act One: We see Habakkuk looking out at a painful reality.
Habakkuk faced bad conditions, in fact, he faced overwhelming desolation from the Babylonians also known as the Chaldeans. Habakkuk faced the situation and circumstance head on. Dr. Rick W. Byargeon (1957-2013) former assistant Old Testament and Hebrew at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, explains the following in the Conclusion of his doctoral dissertation: “Ecclesiastes challenges us to face up to the enigmas of life and recognize that our inability to explain them is a reminder that true wisdom comes when one is willing to live life in the tensions of life and yet affirm the goodness of God.”[v] “Dr. Mack Roark mentioned this quote in Rick’s memorial service and I made a point to get it written down after the service,” according to Carey Curtis Merrifield, who also shared, “I have thought many times about this statement, and especially all it meant for Rick as he journeyed through the ugly pain of cancer.”[vi] This is only one of a host of painful realities. What is your painful reality?
Act Two: We see Habakkuk looking up with a prayerful request.
Dr. Ray Pritchard, president of Keep Believing Ministries, shared the following in a message at Moody Bible Institute Founder’s Week (February 5, 2016): “You don’t hear many sermons about doubt. It is an unfamiliar topic to most people, even though there are whole books of the Bible that deal with the issue of doubt in various ways, such as Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Habakkuk. Many of the Psalms touch on the theme of doubt and feeling abandoned by God.”[vii]
The precise defining of doubt. Dr. Pritchard confesses, “As I have pondered the matter, I have concluded our doubts tend to fall into three categories: First, there are intellectual doubts. These are doubts most often raised by those outside the Christian faith. Is the Bible the Word of God? Is Jesus the Son of God? Did he really rise from the dead? Is Jesus really the only way to heaven? Second, there are spiritual doubts. These tend to be the doubts of those inside the church. Am I really a Christian? Have I truly believed? Why is it so hard to pray? Why do I still feel guilty? Why is it taking me so long to get better? Third, there are circumstantial doubts. This is the largest category because it encompasses all the ‘whys’ of life.”[viii]
The proper dealing with doubt. From Today in the Word, a Devotional from Moody Global Ministries, we are reminded, “People wrestle with their spiritual doubts in many different ways-the prophet Habakkuk took his questions directly to God.” The writer offers the following encouragement:
“So take that issue that’s been troubling you, the one you secretly think He can’t answer or deal with, and do what the prophet Habakkuk did. Speak your thoughts openly before Him (He sees them anyway!), and close your prayer with verses 17 through 19.”[ix]
From The Bible Knowledge Commentary, we read, “In the dark days of Jehoiakim’s reign just before the Babylonian Captivity, the Prophet Habakkuk penned an unusual message of hope and encouragement for God’s people. Though doubts and confusion reign when sin runs rampant, an encounter with God can turn those doubts into devotion and all confusion into confidence.
Habakkuk’s book begins with an interrogation of God but ends as an intercession to God. Worry is transformed into worship. Fear turns to faith. Terror becomes trust. Hang-ups are resolved with hope. Anguish melts into adoration.
What begins with a question mark ends in an exclamation point. The answer to Habakkuk’s ‘Why?’ is ‘Who!’ His confusion, ‘Why all the conflict?’ is resolved with his comprehension of who is in control: God!”[x]
Part Two Coming Soon!
[i]Philip Irving Mitchell, “Theodicy: An Overview” (Dallas Baptist University) Accessed: 11/28/15 http://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/theodicy.htm .
[ii]The Moody Handbook of Preaching, ed. John Koessler (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2008), 253. Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.
[iii]New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Waylon Bailey, Habakkuk (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 1999), 20: 253. Database © 2013 WORDsearch Corp.
[iv]Charles C. Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible, Expanded Edition, NASB (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995), 1442.
[v]Rick W. Byargeon, “The Significance of the Enjoy Life Concept in Qoheleth’s Challenge of the Wisdom Tradition,” Ph. D. Dissertation, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1991, Conclusion. [Note: Kevin Woodruff, Adult & Graduate Studies Outreach Librarian/Instructor in Christian Studies, at Bryan College, and Casey Curtis Merrifield, PhD Student at Dallas Baptist University, provided this information.] [vi]Casey Curtis Merrifield, Personal Interview, 04/06/16.
[vii]Ray Pritchard, If I Believe, Why Do I Doubt? (Elmhurst, IL: Keep Believing Ministries, 2016), 1.
[viii]Pritchard, Doubt, 2.
[ix]Today in the Word: A Devotional from Moody Global Ministries (Chicago, IL: Moody, November 23, 2004) Accessed: 04/07/16 http://www.todayintheword.org/titw_devotion.aspx?id=169725 .
[x]John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary Faculty, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 1:1507.