March 22, 2010

The Problem of Answered Prayer

Habakkuk 1:5-2:1

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you can not tolerate wrongdoing.
Habakkuk 1:13


The prophet Habakkuk wrestled with “the problem of unanswered prayer” (see 1:1-4). But as today’s Bible reading shows, Habakkuk wasn’t always satisfied with God’s answers to prayer either. Sometimes “the problem of answered prayer” can be as hard as “the problem of unanswered prayer.”

GodtoldHabakkukhewouldraiseuptheBabylonians to punish Judah for its injustice and wickedness. But Habakkuk wondered how that could be a solution to the problems he prayed about. The Babylonians were more wicked than the people of Judah! How could God use evil to accomplish something good? Would God just replace one kind of suffering (for the oppressed) with another kind that was worse (for everyone)?

That may be a question we also ask sometimes. We see evidence of sin, and we wish God would take it away. But then the problems seem to go from bad to worse. Is there no end to the suffering in this world?

God does not take pleasure in our pain. But God can use even suffering to reveal his good will in our lives (see Romans 8:28-39). We see the clearest example of this in the cross of Christ, where the greatest evil accomplished the greatest good. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Thank you, Lord, for assuring us that in all things you are at work for the good of those who love you. Help us always to trust in your perfect will for us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

About the author — Peter Hoytema

Peter Hoytema has been a pastor for nearly 30 years and has served congregations in Ontario and New Jersey. He is currently the pastor of a congregation in Strathroy, Ontario. He is a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary and San Francisco Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Grace, are the parents of four adult children.

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