“How long, Lord, must I call for help and you do not listen or cry out to you about violence and you do not save? Why do you force me to look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Oppression and violence are right in front of me. Strife is ongoing, and conflict escalates. This is why the law is ineffective and justice never emerges. For the wicked restrict the righteous; therefore, justice comes out perverted.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever struggled with the state of the world? Of course you have. We all do from time to time. We look at the state of things around us and lament how they are. We all recognize sin in some capacity even though we don’t all identify it in the same terms. We recognize sin and we instinctively cry out for it to be dealt with. We cry out to a power higher than ourselves whether human (often the government) or divine. If you have ever found yourself in this kind of a position–and you have found yourself in this position before–Habakkuk is for you. This, of all the Minor Prophets, and maybe of all the books of the Old Testament, is the one with which most folks should have the easiest time understanding and connecting. As we work through this over the next few days, I think you’ll see why.
Habakkuk was wrestling with the state of his culture. This prophet about whom we otherwise know almost nothing, ministered in the waning days of the southern Israelite kingdom of Judah. Israel to the north was gone; destroyed by the Assyrians. And, to his utter frustration and even dismay, Judah didn’t seem to have learned Israel’s lesson by observation. Worse yet, God didn’t seem to be inclined to do anything about it.
It is Habakkuk’s very struggle with this that makes his prophecy collection so unique. Generally speaking, the prophets directed their messages at one group of people or another on behalf of God. Most often it is the people of Israel who are on the receiving end. Occasionally it is someone else, like Nahum’s message aimed at the Assyrians (although written specifically for the benefit of the Israelites).
Habakkuk, though, never directs his words at any of his contemporaries. Instead, his entire message is aimed at God Himself. In doing this, Habakkuk does something really important: He gives us the permission to ask God hard questions. More than that, he gives the permission to bring our doubts and even our accusations to God. He gives us permission to wrestle with God.
Read these opening couple of verses of the dialogue again. Listen to Habakkuk’s tone. Try to put some emotion in it rather than doing the standard sterile Bible reading that we too often do. “How long, Lord, must I call for help and you do not listen or cry out to you about violence and you do not save? Why do you force me to look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?”
Can you hear the edge in his voice? These aren’t just questions. These are accusations. He’s got an axe to grind with God. He’s sick to death over the state of his culture, he knows God could do something about it if He wanted, but He’s apparently–at least as far as Habakkuk can tell–not interested.
Again, have you been there before? Habakkuk understands that there is a God-sized problem in front of him and so he takes it straight to the source to find out why things are the way they are; to find out why God has allowed them to be the way they are. Is He not the God Habakkuk thought He was? Is He really just? Is He really good? Does He care at all?
Listen: If Habakkuk was asking God these kinds of questions and his work was considered Scripture, then we can too. When we’re struggling with injustice, we can bring our concerns right to the feet of the God who is just. He’s big enough to handle that. In fact, He welcomes it. He’s the only one who will ultimately be able to do anything about it. He’s the only one who really cares about it.
Habakkuk’s is an example worth following. Come back in a couple of days and we’ll talk about the way we need to do this if we are going to get anything like what we hope out of our asking. Stay tuned tomorrow, though, for something just a bit different than the norm. See you then.