How Long, Oh Lord?
This passage begins with a lament that is quite familiar to all of us. It is something we have heard ourselves saying when we are caught up in the midst of seemingly insurmountable troubles that go on and on, without reprieve. Habakkuk’s lament sounds almost like a prolonged whine: “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” But you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.” I don’t know about you, but I have thought and said such things, albeit less elegantly, when I had reached the point of frustration in trying to deal with a difficult thing in my life. Though I know in my head that God has promised to never abandon me, when my emotions are frayed and it seems like everything is spinning out of control, I sometimes lose sight of that knowledge. When we look at what is presently going on in the country, and in the world, we are often overwhelmed with the senselessness, the violence and the destruction and we wonder, “Where is God?” But our times are no different than any other. Our fallen humanity is the reason for the violence, the misery and the clamorous discord. Yes, Habakkuk’s lament here is very recognizable.
But God answers Habakkuk, it seems, with words that sound very much like those of a wise parent speaking gently to his or her frustrated son or daughter : “Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.” And there it is! God’s time is not our time. One of the greatest virtues, and one of the most difficult for we human beings to develop, is that of patient endurance. It is a virtue rooted in self-discipline. It is one of the virtues of a mature soul, of an adult human being. The fact is that the promises of God “press on to fulfillment,” and they “will surely come,” they “will not disappoint.” We just have to learn the wisdom of patience and to humbly recognize that God’s time is not ours. Indeed, what we hope for may not even happen in our lifetimes, but we must live and act in the belief that God is using us as his instruments in the world, now, to help Him “press on” toward that fulfillment. We may not see the results, but if we submit our wills to that of God’s will, we can become the means, in God’s time, through which he teaches and continues the “vision” forward to its fulfillment. In fact, we do this best when we unite our sufferings with Christ’s, patiently enduring whatever comes, believing always in the good ends that only God can bring about.
Finally, God’s word to Habakkuk ends with this: “The rash man has no integrity; but the just man, because of his faith, shall live.” The just man or woman of faith is the one who has taken on the virtues of self-discipline and patient endurance. It is the rash ones of the world who cause all of the violence and its consequences. Let us, then, try, with God’s grace, to let go of our own answers and listen more deeply to his Fatherly counsel to us to be patient. He is aware of our needs, He sees the violence, but He also sees the end, which we cannot see. He knows the “big picture” that is far beyond our understanding. The just man or woman, therefore, puts his or her trust in God’s wisdom and patiently endures for His sake. God will provide!