1The oracle that Habakkuk the prophet saw. 2O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.
What a raw complaint and a desperate petition for help. Believers suffer under the oppression of the wicked. It seems to have gone on for such a long time and is only getting worse. Why has God not put a stop to it? Is this not something the Holy One of Israel should be doing?
You and I know the feeling well. And those who follow in our footsteps are likely to feel the biting truth of it even more. The world has no love left for Christ or His Church. Our culture has no patience for traditional values. Our public square has no room for Christian thought or morals. The old rules no longer apply.
Habakkuk saw it himself in his own day: “So the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth”. The law grows “Cold,” frozen. The law becomes devoid of its original warmth or spirit. Isn’t this often the case, certainly in our world? Laws are constructed to represent a certain state of affairs and a week later, they are outmoded, cold, “paralyzed.” And so they are dropped, or ignored or their very definitions are rewritten to mean something completely different from the original intent.
But we know that another law is still at work – always at work – this one written on human hearts (Rom 2:14–15). It is this law—living and active—that compels us (with the prophet) to cry out “Violence!” It is this law that brings us face to face with the judgment of God … even when that judgment has a harsh word to say about our own actions and inaction.
For this Law shows us that the problem is not just out there (world) but right in here (our own hearts). God’s own people have fallen away from their divine calling and have degenerated into the very opposite of what they ought to be (the watchmen of the world – the light to the nations – a people that point to the glory of God). God sees it happening in the church that bears His name and still He has not come down to stop it. Why not?
Habakkuk not only details the wrongs he sees but even goes so far as to accuse God of not coming to the rescue. And no doubt, there have been times you have too. Fully expecting a rebuke for his complaint and accusation, the prophet in the second part, however, is surprised with God’s Gospel response. And maybe you are too.
2:1I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. 2And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. 3For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. 4“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.”
Habakkuk removed himself from the bustle and noise of men, eyes lifted heavenward, mind toward God, he awaits a revelation from the Lord. And the Lord answered! We cry out and God answers, because God promises to answer. When we remove ourselves from the cacophony of this broken world, when we focus our hearts and our ears to God’s Word (and not the world’s) God gives us His answer – the future is in his hands.
Salvation, though it may be delayed, will surely come. And that salvation lies not in any improvement we make in ourselves or in our life, or world, or situation but rather in God’s justification of the sinner by grace through faith. “The just shall live by his faith”. They were the very words that led both Paul and Luther to the great comfort of salvation apart from works of the flesh. They are the words at the heart of the cry of the disciples in our Gospel reading: Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’”. The apostles too cried out to the Lord, and the Lord answered.
It takes faith to cry out to the Lord in times of distress and it takes faith to trust that the Lord will answer. Yet it is faith that the Lord gives back to us as a precious gift when He does answer – faith to hope in a future that greater than our darkest today’s and brighter than our best dreams. Faith that is rooted not in what we see in this world, but what we hear in His Word.
The righteous shall live by faith! Faith has been the Lord’s gift to us all along. A gift given to us in Water and Word, sustained in the body and the blood, and nourished by the Spirit. It is a faith that allows us to stand firm once again, apart from the world and in the presence of the Lord. A faith that reminds us the future is secure in God’s governance even if the present is unbearably out of control. Even as the law of this world grows cold and paralyzed the faith we have in Christ is a living, active, life-changing fire. Faith is God’s gift to you in this world gone mad … now go out and live by it and in it, trusting that your salvation will surely come and will not delay!