How Long . . . Must People Suffer? . . . Will God Be Silent?
How long, 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 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 1:2-4 (NIV)
The prophet Habakkuk lived in the days just prior to God's long-threatened judgment against his people. God's people had refused to listen to many prophets calling them back to God, to repentance. There was violence, oppression, injustice, conflict. And God remained silent to the cries of the violated, the oppressed, the righteous.
When Habakkuk cried out "How long?" to God, God's answer astounded him: God would punish his people by using the utterly wicked Babylonians to destroy their country!
When Habakkuk cries out about this second injustice, God assures the prophet that he will later destroy the destroyers as well. No matter what wickedness the nations are purporting, God is in control. He doesn't answer the problem of evil, or why good people suffer. Instead God concludes his second answer by stating, "The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him" (2:20).
Habakkuk is satisfied. Though God may seem silent, he is in control. The "righteous will live by his faith" (2:4). Even though there seems to be no hope—all food sources have dried up—yet Habakkuk knows he can hope in the Lord: "Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior" (3:18).
Today, all over the world, people are crying out, "How long, Lord?" People in refugee camps, people fleeing from and enduring terrorism, torture, imprisonment, war, bombings, drug wars, injustice of all sorts, perverted justice, cruelty, hunger, poverty, homelessness, and natural disasters. Why is God silent? We too can be sure that God sees, and will punish. God will judge individuals and nations by the way they treat these refugees, these oppressed.
In Jesus, God identifies with all the oppressed. In Matthew 25 Jesus points out that as we have treated the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, and the prisoner, the "least of these brothers and sisters of mine," we have done so to him. And he will judge us accordingly.
Prayer: Thank you for the assurance that you are in control, Lord, even though there is so much suffering, so much oppression. Help us as individuals and as nations to repent and lament the injustices in our countries and in the world. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to "preach good news to the poor . . . to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" — so that we too can rejoice in you and be joyful in God our Savior. Amen.
Marie Holtrop is a longtime member of Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan—since moving to Michigan in 1977—and an even longer-time social justice advocate. She encourages all of us to spend ourselves on behalf of all God's imagebearers who are experiencing oppression, injustice, terrorism, poverty: all the "least of these."