Near the end of the seventh century BC, Judah’s decline and Babylon’s rise, along with God’s covenant promises, made it clear that the Lord would use the pagan Babylonian empire to bring judgment on His people. This distressed the prophet Habakkuk greatly, prompting him to question the Lord’s justice. Perhaps we empathize with the prophet; why would a holy God use wicked men to chastise His people?
As is His right by virtue of being our Creator, the Lord did not justify or explain Himself fully to Habakkuk. Instead, He reminded the prophet of His inscrutability, just as He replied to Job (Hab. 2:20; Job 38–42). Ultimately, although we may not fully understand how our Lord remains holy when He uses evil men to achieve His purposes, God’s intent never matches the intent of evildoers (Gen. 50:19–20).
The Lord is actually so pure and holy that He cannot even gaze on sin, as Habakkuk 1:12–13 recognizes. Of course, the prophet’s point is not that God is blind to wicked thoughts and actions. Habakkuk actually means that the Lord, majestic in His holiness, can by no means tolerate evil. How different, then, is God from His creatures? We are fallen, impure people (Ps. 14:2–3) who are so tolerant of sin that we believe a proclivity to do what is wrong is essential to humanity. “To err is human, to forgive divine” is our favorite proverb, and it implies that sinless people are not really human and that God must forgive all men and women, whether they repent or not.
Mercy that is obligated, however, is not mercy at all. To call God merciful is to affirm His sovereign right to have mercy on whom He will have mercy (Rom. 9:15). Grace and forgiveness are not dispensed indiscriminately to all men but only to those the Lord has chosen for salvation. Furthermore, sin is not essential to being human. Because we are fallen descendants of Adam, sin pervades every fiber of our being, yet it was not part of us as we were originally created (Gen. 1:31). Adam was human before he fell, Jesus remains truly man even though He never sinned, and we will still be human when we are glorified (Dan. 12:2; 1 Cor. 15:35–58).
Finitude, not the transgression of the Lord’s revealed will, is essential to our existence as human creatures. It is not a sin to be finite, but it is a sin to violate God’s law and corrupt ourselves. This is what all of us have done in Adam.