The tragic deaths of the A Rocha leaders in South Africa last week have reminded me of one of my most valued books. Written by Dr James Dobson, the title seems to say it all: "When God Doesn't Make Sense".
There are times when most of us find it hard to understand what God is up to. Why does He allow things to happen which seem to be against my good and my family's best interest? Why he doesn't intervene and do something to help me when I feel I simply can't go on. It's a book every Christian would do well to read.
The prophet Habakkuk has something to teach us too, not least because he was prepared to ask the sort of questions we often don't especially when it comes to prayer. He certainly didn't pull any punches. To put it bluntly, he said: "God, why have you let this happen? I can't understand what you're doing. What on earth are you up to? Why don't you answer my prayers?"
And yet in spite of his confusion and pain, Habakkuk ends up voicing some of the most profound and moving words found in Scripture. "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Saviour."
The Book of Habakkuk is the record of a man's painful spiritual journey. It begins with pain and questions, and it ends with pain too. But by the end the questions have gone; they've been replaced by faith.
Now faith does not mean we understand what is happening. It's human to think that God will always work in ways that make sense to us, of course, but the Scriptures teach us something rather different. None of us want to walk this way. When we are well and everything is "hunky dory" we say "God is blessing" and we praise him. But the Bible shows us that God's people are often be called to go a very different way. Time and time again, people have asked me "Why has God allowed this to happen?" and time after time I have had to reply, "I can't tell you."
It is not wrong to seek understanding of course, but we may have to come to the point where we appreciate that our quest is going to end in failure. For like Habakkuk (and Job) we may end up admitting that we simply cannot understand God's ways. In that sense then, faith will mean hanging on in there when we haven't a clue what's happening.
It's important to appreciate that when Habakkuk declared, "The righteous will live by his faith," he was talking about practical faith, the faith we live by, the kind of faith that enables us to trust God and to praise Him in the darkest hours.
But it's not blind faith of course. It's been well said that the Jews didn't think of history so much as memory. They remembered what God had done for His people in the past and that gave them the confidence to trust Him for the future. This is what gave Habakkuk his confidence. "Lord I have heard of your fame," he says. "I stand in awe of your deeds."
As Christians we have something much more awesome to encourage us: we remember Jesus. Christ has died. Christ is risen and Christ will come again in glory.
As humans we have an instinctive need to understand and to approve what God is doing. The apostle Peter seems to have thought like this too. But as He washed His disciples' feet, Jesus reminded him that there are times when we will not understand, and at times like that all we can do is trust.
There is a hymn that sums it up well
When darkness seems to veil his face
I rest on his unchanging grace
In every high and storm gale
My anchor holds within the veil
His oath his covenant and blood
Supports me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
None of us knows what the future holds, but God has given us all the proof we need to show us that He loves us, will take care of us and will ensure that all things will work for our good. There are times when I don't find that easy but, like Habakkuk, I am encouraged to believe that "The Sovereign Lord is my strength". It's my prayer that all those who are feeling devastated by grief at this moment will be strengthened in their faith might be able to grieve yet not without hope.
Rob James is a Baptist minister, writer and church and media consultant to the Evangelical Alliance Wales. He is the author of Little Thoughts About a Big God.