I recently had a friend pass an article on to me that made a common (and sadly mistaken) deduction from Habakkuk 1:13. Habakkuk 1:13 says “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong…” and the deduction was that God cannot look upon sin, therefore in Matthew 27:36/Mark 15:34 when Jesus says “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he is actually saying that God the Father turned away from him when he was on the cross.
So does Habakkuk 1:13 suggest that God cannot look upon sin?
Let’s walk through the passage leading up to vs. 13 and place the statement in it’s setting.
In Habakkuk 1:2-4, Habakkuk complains that God doesn’t seem to hear Israel’s cries for help (vs. 2), he asks why God makes him see sin and watch passively watch it himself (vs. 3), and complains that since God is sitting by and watching, justice is not happening because the wicked are running around unfettered (vs. 4).
In Habakkuk 1:5-11, God comes back at Habakkuk and states that the wicked are not unfettered and running amuck; they’re actually following God’s command. To prove his point, God is about to rise up the Babylonians (v. 5-6) who are thoroughly wicked (v. 7-10) and don’t even know that they’re working for him (v.11).
Then, in Habakkuk 1:12-17 Habakkuk continues in protest. Habakkuk says that this doesn’t make sense since God will not be the one dying when he sends Babylon (vs. 12 – The ESV says “we will not die” but it’s more likely that the pronoun is “you”), God still appears to be sitting by and watching his people be destroyed by those more wicked than themselves (v.13), and God’s plan won’t do anything for Babylon except to add to the slaughter (vs. 14) and reinforce Babylon’s idolatry/wickedness (vs. 15-17).
So the whole passage is not some sort of didactic passage about the nature of God or anything else complex. It’s the gut-reaction of a prophet who sees God doing things that don’t make any sense to him.
Looking at vs. 13 specifically, Habakkuk says:
“You who are of purer eyes than to see evil
and cannot look at wrong,
why do you idly look at traitors
and remain silent when the wicked swallows up
the man more righteous than he?”
The passage is poetic, which means that it is written in colic parallelism. The first cola (part) is this “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong”, but the second cola expands on the ideas of the first cola “why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?”
The whole idea isn’t that God cannot see sin, but rather that there’s injustice when God sits by and does nothing about sin. Specifically speaking, the verb “see” (Hbr – ra’ah) is super common (1,313 occurrences in the OT) and has a broad spectrum of meaning. It doesn’t simply mean “see” as in “witness”, but carries the semantic range of observing, considering, gazing upon (longingly), etc. The idea in Habakkuk 1:13 seems to be one of “idly tolerating” or “unconcernedly watching” (based on the expansion provided in the second cola).
The rest of Habakkuk makes it fairly clear that God never sits by and does nothing about sin and never lets the wicked run around out of control.
So can God see sin? Of course. He’s not tempted by it, and he doesn’t ever sit back and enjoy the show.
What about Jesus on the cross?
Well, if the Habakkuk 1:13 part of the equation is removed, the equation falls apart.
As for Jesus’ calling out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, that’s a different post altogether.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “First Bite in a LONG Time” Unger