Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
Habakkuk 1:3-4 (NIV)
I have known many fellow followers of Jesus over the years who would confess to never willingly cracking open the Old Testament unless under the social pressure of being asked to do so during a Sunday worship service. Even if they said they “occasionally” read from the Old Testament on their own, I’m sure that reading would be confined to the books of Psalms and Proverbs. Okay, maybe a few chapters of Genesis or one of the short stories like Ruth or Esther. If I were to ask them, “When was the last time you read the prophet Habakkuk?” they would probably just laugh at me. I’d wager that hearing a pastor say, “Let’s all open to the book of Habakkuk!” is maybe a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
We live in a world in which things “trend” on social media for minutes before being buried by another “trend.” Current events likewise dominate media and social media for a day or two tops before media and social media is on to the next hot topic in search of clicks and likes.
So what could an ancient Hebrew prophet have to say in 600 B.C. that is in any way relevant to my world today?
Let me walk through the verses I pasted at the top of this post:
“Why [God] do you make me look at injustice?
Why [God] do you tolerate wrongdoing?“
Like mules leaving almost 50 dead immigrants rotting in the back of a tractor trailer?
Like drug cartels flooding the streets with opioids killing people in record numbers and never being held accountable?
“Destruction and violence are before me;“
Like mass shooters opening fire in schools, churches, and malls?
Like demonstrations that torch entire neighborhoods of minority-owned businesses and end with dead bodies lying in the street?
“there is strife, and conflict abounds“
Like individuals breaking off relationships with friends and family because they disagree on issues?
Like name calling, insults, and threats calling for death, murder, and assassination on social media?
Like political division between factions who refuse to compromise?
“Therefore the law is paralyzed,“
Like 400 law enforcement personnel who stood outside a classroom as children were being shot?
Like the headline I just read in this morning’s Wall Street Journal: “Who Would Want to Be a Police Officer in Seattle?”
“and justice never prevails“
Like the fact that not one of Jeffery Epstein’s high-profile customers has been named or indicted for raping underage girls?
Like political corruption that gets ignored and swept under the rug for the “greater good” of keeping a political party of choice in power?
The prophet Habakkuk lived in a period of political corruption, crime, violence, war, and social upheaval under a corrupt king and a nefarious ruling class. He pens his poetic dialogue with the Almighty and opens with a line that aptly described the questions of my own soul as I daily read the headlines:
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
It felt pretty relevant to me in the quiet as I read the chapter this morning. Habakkuk is giving voice to questions and sentiments that are echoed throughout history and will always resonate in a fallen world that is the domain of the “Prince of this World,” in which evil is present, and worldly kingdoms and institutions hold sway.
It is easy to feel as if God is both silent and absent.
Habakkuk’s short, poetic dialogue with God has a simple outline:
Question one: Why are you silent and will not act against injustice?
God’s answer: Just wait. I’m going to raise up the Babylonians to bring about the justice that I’ve been announcing through you and other prophets like your peer Jeremiah for some time now. I’ve been patiently listening for people to listen and repent. That’s not happening, so get ready.
Question two: Serious?!? Why would you use the evil Babylonians?!?
Tomorrow’s chapter is God’s answer to this second question.
In the quiet this morning, I found myself identifying with Habakkuk’s questions. In the middle of writing this post, I went downstairs to have breakfast with Wendy and we perused the headlines. Habakkuk’s lines kept resonating in my head and heart as I read.
God’s response also echoed. Within the Great Story, faith is defined as “the assurance of what we hope for, the evidence of that which we can’t see.” That includes the reality that God appears to be silent, and it seems like God is not doing anything, but I have limited, finite human senses and knowledge. So, my heart cries out like Habakkuk.
Having just finished the book of Revelations, I know that God has promised to bring divine justice to the earth one day and deal with evil and the fruits of evil once-and-for-all. Until then, my prayerful cries of “How long, oh Lord?” rise as incense in heaven’s Throne Room along with your cries, and everyone else’s cries.
When will God make good on His promised judgment?
I don’t know.
I have faith that He will.
Until then, I’ll keep crying out along with brother Habakkuk.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.