Faith In a Troubled World, Meditations on Hab 1.1-4
“How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrong?
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 justice is perverted.”
Getting Started ...
Habakkuk lives in a time of gross and violent injustice. He lives in a time when society has not only grown accustomed to abuse of our fellow humans but has come to expect it and even sanction it. That is “just the way life is.” The historian John Bright describes the society of Habakkuk’s day as obsessed with a “premonition of doom and gnawing insecurity . . .” (History of Israel, 3rd Edition, p. 320).
The world power structure of his day was radically changing. The Assyrian Empire, which had been the master of the east for centuries, was in its death roes. Now a new power called
Habakkuk looked around and saw his world, his nation, God’s People bent on self-destruction. He saw a society where neighbors took advantage of each other any chance they could. He saw a country where the poor and outcast were severely discriminated against.
And Habakkuk is confused! He is confused because he does not understand why Yahweh, the God of Israel, tolerates this situation. He confesses the holiness and justice of God but confesses dismay that God has not stepped in to rectify the horrendous scene before him. He is confused because he finds God’s People to be at odds with his faith. He is confused because he wonders if faith can even survive in this kind of world.
I love the prophet Habakkuk! I think he is my favorite of the prophets. I often visit him for imaginary chats, just as I did this week. He seems so relevant to my life in this postmodern and post-Christian world. He speaks, seemingly, directly to my life and my world. My world that also has a “premonition of doom.” Think about our world for a moment, do we not live in a world amazingly similar to Habakkuk’s? I read through the New York Times and U.S. News and World Report at Starbucks recently imagining that I was Habakkuk. Our world definitely seems to have a gnawing insecurity. Huge corporations like Enron (or some insurance co.) sap millions of dollars from the little man, leaving hundreds of thousands wondering about their future.
Yes our world is like Habakkuk’s! He read the local paper and shook his head in dismay and said in a loud and painful cry, “How LONG! O, Lord, how Long!” It is as much an exclamation as a question. We read the paper and say, with Habakkuk, “Is God really in control?” “How can God let us go on treating each other as we do?” We must admit that we believe he is – but at times it looks as if he isn’t!!
A Complaint as Prayer
Habakkuk is among God’s faithful. He wants to do what is right in Yahweh’s eyes, he wants
The prophet does something that most of us, on the face of it, despise. He complains! In our society complaining is associated with the sore loser ... the ‘cry baby.’ That, however, is not the kind of complaining that Habakkuk is doing. Habakkuk’s complaint is called a “lament” and it is vital to genuine biblical faith. Habakkuk’s complaint (or lament) is a cry of weariness. The prophet is tired of the world as it is. He is exhausted from the fight of merely existing in a world in which the one standard is “look out for yourself!”
Because he is weary of Sin he complains to God. Because he is tired of injustice he laments. Because he is weary of evil he calls to God, “How Long, O Lord” (v. 2). This my brothers and sisters is the language of worship – it is the language of prayer!
How does one exercise faith in a world like ours? If Habakkuk is any indication the first step is wrestling with God in prayer. What can the Christian do about
Faith in a troubled world is anchored and shown in prayer – honest wrestling prayer. No not a prayer every once in a while habit -- but constant prayer. The text lets us know that Habakkuk has been uttering this lament in prayer for a long time. Over lengthy periods of time faith is demonstrated through calling on his Name. Habakkuk challenges – because he was challenged – hunger and thirst after righteousness and seek God’s kingdom first in our lives and in this world. It made the prophet sad, even angry, that his world was dominated by a view that could tolerate the mistreatment of fellow humans. That sadness fed his prayer life. That sadness caused him to plead, cry and wrestle in prayer with Yahweh to send forth his righteousness.
Complacency and Faith in Troubled World(s)
Christians must avoid the spiritual disease of complacency at all costs. You see complacency kills our search for intimacy with God. It kills the God-born hunger in our hearts for righteousness. Complacency convinces us that this age isn’t so bad – especially if I am not personally impacted by its injustice. Complacency whispers that I need not be concerned about corruption in officials or the courts.
Habakkuk calls such mentalities on the carpet. He demonstrates just how foreign such an outlook is to those who belong to the covenant community of Yahweh. He challenges us to hate evil and seek God about it in prayer. Prayer not only demonstrates our faith while living in a troubled world, but it also FEEDS and STRENGTHENS our faith. In prayer we learn, as did Habakkuk, “that no matter how loud the roar of the storm, no matter the strength of the wind or the force of the rain – God is with us.” (Jerry Jones, Beyond the Storm, p. 165). In prayer we enjoy the refreshment. How so? In prayer we may not discover the answer to injustice or why God tarries. However, in prayer – in worship – we find the gracious Presence of the Father. The same Father who once lost a Son to a mob bent on lawlessness and injustice. We find companionship for the dark night and strength – yes even divine strength to live by faith in a troubled world.
That is why Habakkuk laments and wrestles with God in prayer.
I recently read a book by Eugene Genovese, The World the Slaves Made. It amazes me how the “world” the slaves made was formed out of a troubled world – it was the creation of faith. Imagine, if you will, that you were born in 1838 (you think) and you just happen to be black. You are now 20 years old in 1858. You don’t know who your father is, nor your mother, because you were sold shortly after birth. You have seen children taken from their mothers and it grieves you. You have witnessed white men take slave girls and father children by them only to see them sold into slavery themselves. The other day you wandered off the plantation without supervision and received thirty-nine lashes for trying to escape. On a day called Sunday you see a bunch of white folks go to a building called a “church” and worship some “God.” You even think in your mind that you might have faith in this God too. I ask you, how would you, if you were one of those slaves, maintain faith in your troubled world?
I tell you, honestly, I don’t know if I could have – but they did! In fact faith thrived. How did they do it? They did what Habakkuk did – they prayed their laments. They sang their prayers and they triumphed over the world that had them in chains. They have left all Christians a priceless treasure of faith filled prayers songs we call “spirituals.” They sang prayers like, “There is a Balm in
Go down, Moses
Way down in Egyptland
Tell old Pharaoh
To let my people go.
(Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred years of African-American Writing,
ed. Deirdre Mullane, p. 277)
Steal away to Jesus
Steal away, steal away home,
I ain’t got long to stay here.
We’ll soon be free,
We’ll soon be free,
We’ll soon be free,
When de Lord will call us home.
My brudder, how long,
My brudder, how long,
My brudder, how long,
‘Fore we done sufferin’ here?
(Crossing the Danger Water, p. 291)
Did you hear the same question that Habakkuk asked? “How Long, O Lord?” It is the cry of God’s People down through the ages. But in that troubled world faith not only was born but thrived. We sing their prayers of deliverance. We sing their songs of prayer for God’s justice to intervene. We sing their songs of unshakable faith. The slaves had faith by going and wrestling with God in prayer – they did not find the answers they longed for but they found something even better – the companionship of God. The slaves are just one example of faith thriving in this fallen and sinful world. But its one that I am grateful for.
As Christians we believe that God has in fact answered Habakkuk’s complaint. He has heard the slaves of long ago. God wants us to seek him, and him alone, not the “comfort” of the world. God assures Habakkuk that he is working to overcome the evil he laments (1.5-11). No, God will not tolerate evil and injustice. He does not just want to punish evil but eradicate it, he wants to cure it!
God points the prophet forward to a time he cannot see – to the time of the Cross of Jesus Christ. There in the face of the Ultimate outrage against justice we see God’s one and only answer to the problems Habakkuk has cried out over. God challenges us to see in that event his answer to the evil of this world. He condemns and punishes all the evil the Prophet complained about and the slaves sang about – he tells us to look at the figure of the Man on the Tree and see the wrath of God displayed against injustice. We see the resurrection and are assured that God does in fact make it right. Our prayers are being heard, they have not fallen on deaf ears.
So we Christians, in the year 2007, will commune with God in his holy temple and keep silent prayer before him (2.20). We will continue to wrestle in prayer for God’s way to be our way. We will pray for God’s kingdom to have dominion over all hearts. We will pray for justice to be empowered in our world. We will maintain faith – through gift of prayer – in this mighty unfriendly and troubled world. We will call to our God and he will give us the strength and see us through. I end this meditation some of the most stirring words in all of Scripture:
“Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are not 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 Savior.”
Oh, God may it be so.