Is God deaf to the world’s cries for help? Why does God allow evil to get the upper hand? Scrolling through Facebook friends’ posts yesterday while I put off writing this post about Habakkuk, I found myself echoing that prophet’s words,
“Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?” Habakkuk 1:3
I thought of those words because several Facebook friends shared a harrowing story of a refugee’s experience of imprisonment and torture under an unjust and corrupt regime. In the last few weeks the media seems fuller than ever of stories of oppression and brutal violence in many places in our world. If you have any sense of compassion and feeling you want to do something, but what? Or you want someone else to do something and get angry when what is done makes things worse, as often happens when violence is used to combat violence. You feel helpless. All the more so if you are the victim of injustice, corruption or violence. For people of faith disturbing question arise, ‘Why don’t you stop this God? Are you powerless to intervene? How long will you allow this?? Why are you not listening to all those cries or help?’
These are not new questions. Several centuries before Christ the prophet Habbakuk struggled with the same questions. The Book of Habbakuk was written at a traumatic time. Habbakuk was overwhelmed by what he saw and cried out to God:
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judgement comes forth perverted.” Habakkuk 1: 2 – 4
Habakkuk is powerless to help. He can only voice his people’s cry of anguish, a lament that is echoed in many of the cries of suffering people today. The first part of God’s answer. that God would send yet another wave of violence by a foreign army, raises more questions than it answers. It is no surprise then that Habakkuk complains to God a second time. God’s answer has no quick fix promise. Deliverance would come eventually, but it would be “at the appointed time” (Habakkuk 2: 3). The answer was ‘wait for it’ and the waiting would be long, a wait that would test the faith of the faithful. In the end faith would be rewarded for those who continued to live in faith.
Recently I visited the prison on Robben Island, for 400 years a place of banishment, exile and imprisonment in South Africa, but now a symbol of hope, of triumph over adversity. Here Nelson Mandela and other opponents of the Apartheid regime were held for decades. I heard from a former political prisoner how prisoners helped each other to keep alive the hope of a better future, even while enduring the harshness of their captivity, forced labour and sometimes torture. So many people cried out to God for change during a long painful waiting. And so many continued to do so because they held to a God-given vision and trusted God even through the toughest times. The Book of Habakkuk ends with a beautiful poem, expressing trust in God and even joy, even while the suffering continued.
“Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines:
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food:
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
Go, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.” Habakkuk 3: 17 – 19
Image Credit: Pixabay, CCO, Public Domain