Live by Faith
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
20th Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 22C)
October 6, 2013
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
O Lord, how long shall we cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you violence, and you will not save. How long, O Lord? Why do you look at us and do nothing? Why do you make us sit here while destruction and violence are before us? Destruction of life surrounds us, O Lord. How long will you sit by and watch the unborn be sacrificed upon the altar of so-called choice? How long will you sit by and watch the elderly be sacrificed on the altar of comfort? How long, O Lord? Violence has permeated our world, O Lord. How long will you sit by and watch as death and bloodshed are used for entertainment? How long will you sit by and watch gang wars and drive-by shootings that leave children dead in the crossfire? How long, O Lord? Will you ever act?
The Prophet Habakkuk had some serious questions for God. He had some real concerns that he laid at the feet of the almighty, and he expected God to answer. All around him were injustice and iniquity, violence and oppression. He saw in the world around him countless behaviors that were an insult to God and his Word, a myriad of ways that sinful man was blatantly and boldly living in violation of God’s design for this creation. He saw evil. He saw oppression. He saw suffering. He saw bloodshed. He saw injustice. He saw sin, and he wanted to know what God was going to do about it. How could God sit by and let the world continue down the path it was on.
It is a complaint and question that you and I can identify with. I can’t imagine that anyone who has spent a significant amount of time on this earth trying to live as our Lord would have us live has not at one point or another felt the frustration that the prophet voices. Lord, how can you just sit by and watch as people get rich selling drugs that they know will wreck another person’s life. Lord, how can you sit by and watch people get rich by making and staring in movies that glorify violence, greed, and sexual impurity? How can they have millions of dollars to produce music that glorifies open and brazen debauchery, while we struggle to make our annual budget as a congregation.
How long, O Lord, will you sit by and do nothing? When will you act?
The questions are real. But as Habakkuk shows us, we better be careful what we ask for. God’s answer is not always the one we want. God’s answer is not always one we like. God’s answer to Habakkuk was shocking. Habakkuk complained at the violence and injustice in Judah and asked when God would put an end to such violence. God’s answer? “Don’t worry, Habakkuk, for I am sending the Babylonians, who are far more violent and wicked than the people you are upset about. The Babylonians will punish the violence of my people. The Babylonians will wipe away the injustice.”
Habakkuk must have been confused. In fact, we know he was because he questions God again. He questioned how God could use such a violent and wicked people to bring justice. He could not understand how God could use such sinful people in his plan for salvation. Habakkuk wants to know how a righteous and pure God could not only tolerate, but even use the evils of the Babylonians. And so he again questions God: Was it not true, he asked, that God was being dishonored by the people he had chosen to use? Would God continue to use wickedness to punish wickedness? Would this vicious cycle ever stop? Was justice gone forever?
Also good questions. Fair questions. Questions that we might want to ask too. But while the questions are certainly appropriate, even more appropriate is what the prophet does after asking them. Hear again the words of Habakkuk:
I 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.
The Prophet waits. He believes that God will answer him. He believes that his complaint will not be ignored, so he takes a position of waiting. He waits in faith. And he is not disappointed, for the Lord responds by telling the prophet to write what he sees on tablets so that others may read them. He tells the prophet that he will indeed judge the Babylonians too, even though that judgment will seem like it takes a long time to arrive. The arrogant will puff up his own within his chest and assume that God will not act, but the righteous shall live by faith.
The righteous shall live by faith.
That’s ultimately God’s answer to us too. How long, we ask, will God continue to sit by and watch as people callously take the life of the unborn? How long will we have to gather together and form life chains to protest such an assault on those who are too weak? How long will this last? Behold, the day is coming, declares the Lord. Trust me, he says. Live by faith, waiting for that day. How long, we ask, will we have to endure the unbelief in this world? How long will we have to form missionary leagues to spread the words of the gospel to an unbelieving world? Behold, the day is coming, declares the Lord. Trust me, he says. Live by faith, waiting for that day.
But sometimes, you might even say often times, we are not very good at living by faith. We live by sight. We live by what we can see and measure and understand in the world around us. We see death and ask our Lord, where is your hand in this? But the righteous live by faith in God’s word, like the faith of Job. Job who cried out in the face of violence but was not answered. Job, who felt like the Lord had built a wall across his life to keep him from anything good. In the face of such hardship Job cried out:
“Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
24 Oh that with an iron pen and lead
they were engraved in the rock forever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.[b]
26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in[c] my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see for myself,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another. [Job 19:23-27]
It is the hope of the resurrection that gives Job perspective on his suffering. It is the hope of thte resurrection that comforts Job when the things of the world don’t make sense. The hope of the resurrection is the ultimate hope that any of us have. If we have hope in this life only, Paul says, then we are of all people the most pitiful. For we cannot know or understand the ways God works in this life. Why would God use the Babylonians to purge the promised land? That’s not for us to know? Why would God allow something as terrible as the Holocaust or 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina to happen? That’s not for us to know? Why doesn’t God step in and stop all the injustice and oppression and bloodshed in our world today? What is taking so long? “Do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” [2 Peter3:8-10] No one knows when that day will come. And because it hasn’t come yet, the righteous continue to live by faith.
There are a lot of things about this world that we will never understand. There are a lot of events that might cause us to question the motives of God, to question whether he is as merciful as he claims to be, whether he truly is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We can feel like we are encumbered by branches of doubt, ensnared by the mess in our lives. But don’t miss the forest for the trees. There may be a million things we don’t know about God, but there is one very important thing we do know: what he did when he became one of us, what he did not redeem us, what he did to save us.
It can be a dangerous thing to dive head first into the hidden mysteries of God, to attempt to ascend to heaven to discover the unknown. Thanks be to God that we don’t have to ascend to heaven, for our Lord Jesus brought heaven to us. His life, death, and resurrection in our place give us the faith to look at the world around us and confess that whatever God is doing, he is doing it for our eternal good. For we know that in all things God works for the salvation of those whom he has claimed through the waters of baptism.
So come to the altar. Taste the certainty of your salvation. Feast on the gifts of the Savior. For through these gifts he strengthens you in the true faith unto life everlasting.
Life in this world does not make sense. But that’s the nature of sin. It confuses. It corrupts. It terrifies. Instead of focusing on what remains unknown, hidden behind the scenes of history, accessible only to the mind of God himself, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now seated at the right hand of God. We too shall be seated in the heavenly places. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. We may have many days yet ahead of us in on this earth. But we will spend those days trusting in the deliverance we have been given in Jesus. For we are righteous by his blood, and the righteous shall live by faith.