“Why do You make me see iniquity, and why do You idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; and strife and contention arise.” (Habakkuk 1:3)
Habakkuk may have lived in the 7th century B.C. but what he was going through is still relevant to our lives and times today. Can you imagine asking God this question? I’d say it’s a bit of an accusation, and not just a question. “Why do You make me see iniquity? Why do You idly look at wrong?” Life for Habakkuk and the people was filled with destruction and violence and strife and contention. He’s not exaggerating either. Assyria, their oppressor, was great and powerful. But her greatness was looked at from those oppressed as though they “had been bled to build her.” She was a nation of “trampling, stripping, and burning,” dashing little ones against rocks, dragging kings and hanging them in cages from their gates, lining the temples with defeated gods, requiring great tribute, rapaciously insolent, plundering, violent, forceful, crushing. Assyria rained down violent judgement over all they stormed over. The violence was indescribable and all cried under them.
Imagine calling out to God. “Lord, how long must I call and You don’t hear me, and You don’t respond to save?” “How long will You let this terrible violence continue?” “How long must I look at this wrongness?” “How long must I see this depravity grow and continue and infect more and more?” Imagine the law being paralyzed. Imagine no justice. Imagine the wicked having their way and what is right being perverted.
What does it really mean to be perverted? It means to turn from the truth or to turn something from its proper use. It’s distorting something from its true use or end. According to Noah Webster reason can be perverted by misdirecting it; laws can be perverted by misinterpreting and misapplying them. Its turning from the right to the wrong and calling it right. And the sad thing is, what Assyria was guilty of then, the elite in our governments are following suit in today.
Look at our own nation, can you believe it? Our officials are breaking the law, but the law is paralyzed by corruption, and the guilty powerful walk free to extend further corruption. Where is justice? The ordinary citizen reaps the sting of the law, but not those in power. The law is rewritten. What was once truth according to a higher authority is distorted to fit man’s agendas and people’s desires. Our own purpose in this world is distorted as our nation’s laws are misinterpreted, misapplied, and rewritten. Nature itself is perverted and twisted.
But the prophets knew, and Habakkuk knew, that God would have the last say in the matter, and we can know the same thing. We hear God’s thoughts in Psalm 50:16-17, “ But to the wicked God says, ‘What right have you to tell of My statutes and to take My covenant in your mouth? For you hate discipline, and you cast My words behind you.’” Now listen to that. Habakuk is saying that the wicked are surrounding the righteous, and inflicting wrong judgment. Who are these wicked? Are they only people who have never heard of You, God? Are these wicked only the “pagans”? But You broaden that base of the wicked in this Psalm. You define the wicked in an unexpected way. And I think we need to ask, how did things get so wicked? What led up to this? Who created the wicked? What is wicked?
Maybe the wicked us not what we expected. The wicked, or rasha, in the Psalm are those who say they honor God’s statutes. But that’s part of the problem and the development of what is to come. There are those who proclaim to know God’s will, but rewrite it to suit their own. In all their outward claims, they profess to be believers, but they won’t accept Your mandates, Your delights, Your abominations. These people profess You as Lord, and know Your commands and Your words, and can even speak them, and even speak of Your love, but instead of calling them Your beloved, You call them rasha, wicked. Why?
Because in reality they hate any kind of discipline. They won’t let You correct them. They wanted Your love their way, not Your way, and so they rewrite it. As a matter of fact, they hate (sane) the thought of it. They are hostile to it, loathe it, and despise it. The words of the Lord become something to be rejected, repugnant, and even the thought of anyone else honoring them is despicable. And it’s not just that the discipline was unacceptable to them. It’s that Your instruction is repugnant.
Remember Cain and Abel? You offered Cain a way of life and Abel a way of life. Both Cain and Abel knew You. But for some reason, what was beautiful and inviting to Abel was abhorrent to Cain. Fulfilling Your purposes was wonderful to Abel. But not so for Cain. Cain did not want to fulfill Your purpose for him. He chose to fulfill his own. Instead of choosing the path of wisdom and life, he chose the path of self-knowledge and death. He knew the truth but denied the verity of it in his life. He cast it behind him as trash. And look at the effect it had on the world around him.
Habakkuk’s world and our world are reeling from the effects of this repugnance to God. And the repugnance, just like with Cain, is directed not only at God’s word and God’s ways, but at anyone who attempts to honor You, Lord. God’s plan for life and way of living it is abjectly being rejected as well as anything that reminds of it. It’s sad, but the attitude of Cain is rampant in the world today. And maybe more people than we think really do know the truth and that’s why they are so adamantly against it. It’s the same problem faced by Adam and Eve in the garden when staring at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or when Cain kept contemplating how his brother’s goodness made him look. They threw “away the wisdom of God and substitute[d] the ‘freedom’ of deciding on their own.” (Skip Moen)
Imagine how hard our nation is working at putting God’s words behind them. In the schools, in the law, in our lives, God’s word is being dismissed, and removed from sight so it can no longer act as our guide. But the truth is that it can only temporarily be held back or delayed because no matter how much any man or all men would try to be gods, they aren’t and never will be. There is only one God who shall always be God. You can worship any god you want, but it doesn’t make him more than a god. It just teaches you to worship emptiness.
But the hope in this chapter of Habakkuk lies in the fact that what appears to be undefeatable evil, who has been raining terrible judgment upon people, is getting ready to come under judgment herself by the Chaldeans, a terrible nation itself. That’s good news? One oppressive nation oppressing another? Actually the good news is that You are from everlasting. You know the plans You have and will see them completed and You will do what it takes to mold Your people. The potter doesn’t keep all his vessels. He only keeps those that yield to the shaping of his hands. You are the Holy One, shaping the nations into Your holiness. Those who will not yield, shall be defeated one day. Those that yield, shall be His beloved. They are the ones that “are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)
So maybe that’s the problem with the wicked, whether they profess to know You or not. Maybe the problem is not seeing Your word and You for who You are. So those who see You for who You are now, even in our imperfect vision, we live after You and Your ways because we want You to purify us so that we can be like You. We receive and submit to Your molding hands, Your correction, and Your instruction. We learn to submit when it’s difficult and we learn to submit when it’s pleasant because we’ve found a Law that cares and loves and protects and imparts true life. I mean, after all, what is lawlessness? Isn’t it Godlessness? If Jesus came to fulfill the law, and appeared in order to take away sin (lawlessness), and in Him there is no sin (lawlessness), then maybe what we all need is to step into Jesus, who is the law of God manifest on this earth for us. Maybe, just maybe, what the world needs is to surrender to the law of God in Christ Jesus, and choose life and love and liberty in Him.
I can’t help but think if Cain had known God more deeply than his jealousy, how would the world be a different place? If Adam and Even had known God more deeply than they wanted to know things for themselves and be their own gods, how would the world be a different place? What about John Doe? Or Jane Doe? Or me? Or you? There are lots of angry people in our world today, and maybe if instead of choosing to be angry, they stopped to get to know You, Lord, maybe people would really learn what it is to love one another as You commanded. And maybe people wouldn’t feel alone and like they were falling through the cracks because they would have You abiding in them and they would be adding in You and Your Spirit would abound in love and praise in the midst of us all. Yeah, there are bad things going on and I suppose they will get worse. It seems to be a historical trend. But the good news is that God is not finished. You are still at work in us. And I can bank on the promise that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)