"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? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? 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." (Hab. 1:2-4)
It may well be that we are to be content in our circumstances, that life itself is grace, but apparently that does not mean that we cannot complain and cry out honestly to God. The Psalmist repeatedly asks why and how long, and not always with affirmations of love or sovereignty. But it is in Habakkuk, a short Old Testament book, that I find something astonishing: an indictment of God. The prophet is saying something like justice delayed is justice denied, not mincing words but speaking forthrightly to God. And God answers.
I recently read a letter written by a Zimbabwe pastor that updated praying friends on the situation in his country. A once reasonably prosperous country is in the midst of complete disintegration. Their currency is worthless. As many as 90% of the people are unemployed. Teachers are leaving the schools as no one is providing their salary. The infrastructure is decaying. Medical clinics and hospitals are closing. Civilization hangs by a thread that is slowly unraveling. Why? Why doesn't God uproot greedy, corrupt, and self-aggrandizing leaders who have led the country into such a state?
Having been to Uganda, I can appreciate the semblance of civility and infrastructure that exists there compared to a place like Zimbabwe. And yet even there you find greed, corruption, tribalism, and violence. People are murdered over land disputes. Roads are blockaded and money demanded from travelers in exchange for safe passage. If you are able to help some people, others become envious. For every adult there may be 100 children --- orphans living in the bush or together in makeshift huts. Warfare and disease have taken so many of the parents that the children have been left alone. Why?
God's answer to Habakkuk goes like this: "For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and not delay" (Hab. 2:3). In the end, Habakkuk's indictment is withdrawn, muted by the revelation that God is sovereign over all things, that the "Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights" (Hab. 3:19), implying that God will sustain and even grow you (take you higher) as a result of the hardship you endure. As the Zimbabwean pastor says: "God is refining the faith of His people so that they would trust Him, no matter what, when He seemed uncaring, when He seemed silent, when He seemed inactive." Even as he sees fellow believers leaving his country, leaving an already weakened church, he is able to see how God is pointing "around the world at other places of spiritual need," sending those Africans who leave to extend His Kingdom in other needy places.
Last weekend Patrick, one of the Ugandan orphans I met last summer, came here for a heart operation. (Read about it here.) His Aunt Elizabeth, a pastor herself, came with him. I reminded Elizabeth that while they have little in material goods to give us, they have much to give us in their testimony of faith and in their prayers. In the midst of abundance, we have less opportunity to trust God. The Ugandans have to trust Him every day --- for food, water, and clothing, all of which we take for granted. Aid may come, or not; Westerners like us come, and leave. But God is constant. They know the answer to why and how long. It's simply trust, and obey, and wait. God is on the move, but all in His time.