It’s the age old question.
It’s the question that keeps me up at night, begging me to think of anything, anything else. It turns my stomach into knots, tightening, twisting until I think I’ll be sick. I've studied it. I've dissected it. I’ve theologized it. I’ve shoved it under the rug and washed my hands of it a thousand times.
I’m okay until something happens. Something senseless. Something disturbing and disruptive, an inciting incident that changes the trajectory of my story and the story of the world. Friday night was one of those incidents, bringing the question bubbling at the surface until it was so festered and painful that it broke wide open.
If God is good, why do people suffer? If God is good, how is there evil in the world? If God is good, when does he intervene once and for all? This is what was running through my head as I read the news reports Friday night. As I learned about people attending a game, a concert, a dinner out, I couldn’t think of anything else. Why? Why did these people have to suffer? How is there such evil in the world? When will God say enough is enough?
As these questions stirred, I turned to a familiar text. When these questions are too much for me to discern on my own, I turn to Habakkuk. A small little prophetic book tucked towards the end of the Old Testament. As Habakkuk comes face to face with injustice he cries to God.
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.”
The Israelites watched the northern kingdom dissolve into oblivion, lost forever when they were conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BCE. One-hundred years later, the southern tribe was facing a similar situation with the Babylonians. The Babylonians were sweeping the earth, and Habakkuk’s prophecy would have been given before their capture of Jerusalem in 597 BCE.
The injustice Habakkuk describes is not only coming from external threats, but the people themselves are becoming more and more unjust. Justice is rooted in God’s character, and justice is demanded of God’s people. Unfortunately, God’s people are inclined to worship the tools of their wealth above and beyond their God. The text tells us that fishermen are making sacrifices to their nets, the thing that brings them greater control over their life. The object that brings them their fortune, providing them security.
When our concern lies in self preservation, we cling to the illusion that we control our own destinies, and we worship the things that provide us with the marks of success: wealth, power, security and information. In turn, we neglect to worship God, failing to live justly. We cannot have concern for our neighbor’s good when we are focused on ourself. Justice is perverted when self-interests need protected.
Growing up in Kansas and now living in Nebraska, I have ran to the basement when the tornado sirens squealed dozens of times. I have listened intently to the radio announce the exact touch points of the twister, calculating the threat. As Habakkuk and God’s conversation continues into chapter 2, Habakkuk stands watch on the ramparts. The ramparts are the defensive walls around the city. After Habakkuk cries out against injustice and asking God where he is, Habakkuk climbs up on top of the city walls. It’s like there’s a tornado coming his way, and he’s standing out on the front porch crying out, “Tornado, GO AWAY! God, where are you?” And then climbing on the roof with binoculars to look around to figure out where God is. The tornado is coming, he can see that. But he isn’t in the basement closet trying to hide from it. He isn’t seeking a false sense of security from the storm, pretending like it isn’t coming.
He’s on the roof. Watching the storm come his way, and actively looking for God.
As I watch evil sweep across the world and wonder where God is and how this can possibly happen if God is good, I’m reminded of Habakkuk. Standing on the wall. Seeking God. Seeking justice.
I can sit in my house on my comfy couch and watch the internet roll out another update on the latest crisis. I can invest my time and energy into building up a false sense of security, pretending like I am invincible and tragedy will not strike me so long as I am powerful, wealthy and informed. I can forget about the latest events as soon as Facebook quits feeding me the stories. Or, I can climb up on the wall. Seeking God. Seeking justice.
I can stand face to face with the injustice, pursuing the good of others above and beyond the preservation of my self. I can align myself with good; with justice.
It’s no coincidence that Habakkuk means “hug or embrace”. God is here. When things are unfair, when our world seems to be turning in on itself, when the pain is too much to bear, God is here. When the burdens are too much to carry, when the loss is unspeakable, when the crisis of our world are crushing, we stand in solidarity with Habakkuk as we cry out to God. God is listening. God is here. God is with us in our suffering and calling us to work as his agents of redemption in the world.