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“How Long O Lord?”

How long O Lord must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘violence’, but you do not save” (Habakkuk 1:2).

If ever a verse captured the spirit of believers at the moment, then I suspect this might be it. Habakkuk’s plea to God in the light of the impending Babylonian invasion of Judah might seem an extreme comparison to current events, but our feelings might well be similar to the prophet’s. Each day and week, it seems, brings fresh violence, atrocity and terror to our ears and eyes. But now it feels different – these events are not in distant lands but much closer to home – an elderly priest cut down in cold blood in northern France, a knife attack on a train in Germany, an horrific attack on families enjoying fireworks in Nice. Added to these events are countless stories untold in the news headlines, and our own personal struggles and griefs – how long O Lord, we cry!

Christians have always wrestled with the injustice and sadness of a broken world – if God is good, why would he allow these things to happen? If God is powerful, would he not stop them? And whilst there is no simple answer to these very profound struggles, the Biblical writers have found great solace in God’s character and promises. Two things in particular about the Christian faith give us specific hope in the darkness.

The first is to look back to the cross of Christ. For it was there that Jesus took all the sin of the world on himself. The sin that causes such brokenness and ugliness in our lives and in our world, and the sin that cuts us off from God, Jesus personally paid for. This is a remarkable truth, because the ultimate way God deals with the problem of suffering is by suffering himself. He dies our death in the person of his Son so that we might experience forgiveness and freedom. Through the cross, the beginnings of an answer to injustice and pain are seen. And in suffering as he did, Jesus experiences pain and injustice himself. He knows what it is to feel deep sorrow in a way we will never have to if we trust in him. Praise God for the cross!

But the second thing to do is to look forward – that is look forward to God’s promised new world. A renewed sin-free, suffering-free, tear-free world where God’s people will live with Him forever in delight and security and joy (Revelation 21: 3-4). It’s the past event of the cross that secures the future hope of the believer. And it’s not pie in the sky when we die, but a glorious physical reality yet to come, guaranteed through the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The New Testament is crammed full of this hope. And the first believers were given great strength as they focussed on it, and lived in the light of it, even in the face of cruel injustice and evil.

Ultimately, there is no complete answer to the problem of pain this side of heaven. But the past event of the cross, and the future hope of heaven point the way and give us courage in all we face. And so it’s no surprise that Habakkuk ended his prophecy, having reflected on God’s character, with these words: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights (Habakkuk 3:18-19).” We will still cry out “how long O Lord” this side of heaven, but it’s a cry that is answered by Jesus: “I am coming soon”. Come Lord Jesus!

Nathan Buttery