How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord . . . Then the LORD answered me and said: Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash man has no integrity; but the just man, because of his faith, shall live. (Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4, NAB)
Everyone has something to complain about, from time to time. People complain for a reason. Why people complain differs from person to person, and from group to group, depending on prevailing circumstance. Complaints can be almost about anything: sickness, poverty, oppression, injustice, failure, pain, death, betrayal. Regardless of the source, all complaints have one thing in common: the complainant has unmet expectations.
In one’s relationship with God, there may be times when it becomes inevitable to complain about something. Complaining among the people of God is an old phenomenon. One only need recall the infamous complaint of the Israelites during their forty year journey on the desert. God is quite familiar with dealing with his people’s complaints. Moses himself had a reason to complain; the prophets complained; the kings were no exception. In the New Testament, the disciples of Christ too, complained. Christians of today are no different.
Habakkuk was one of the prophets who also had something to complain to God about. His complaint, as we find in the selected reading, is primarily about injustice and violence: “How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord” (Hab 1:2-3). From the very first question (“How long, O Lord?”), one gets a sense of the prophet’s frustration. He has waited far too long for the Lord to intervene in the situation of violence, misery, and destruction. Nothing seems to change. The situation is getting worse. God does not respond. Habakkuk’s patience wears out fast. In his frustration, he bursts out his complaint to God, and wonders why the Lord is silent, and perhaps even indifferent, in the face of suffering, violence, and evil. In case the Lord has changed, Habakkuk reminds him: “Too pure are your eyes to look upon evil, and the sight of misery you cannot endure. Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence while the wicked man devours one more just than himself?” (Hab 1:13).
Like Habakkuk, every Christian must struggle with this same tension: waiting for an answer that never seems to come. One can name a number of things people complain about expecting an intervention of God: employment, marriage problems, bareness, immigration issues, academic challenges, suffering and disappointment, disability, failure, legal problems, depression and oppression, injustice, and habitual sin. It may be a personal expectation or that of a dear one, a group, a nation, and so forth. Faith is painfully tested when one must wait indefinitely for a breakthrough. Yet, faith that cannot wait can hardly sustain the Christian life for long. Faith is strong when it can wait for as long as the wisdom of God determines. Without this “faith-to-wait” frustration can set in and even lead to a loss of faith.
Here is the Lord’s response to Habakkuk’s complaint: “Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash man has no integrity; but the just man, because of his faith, shall live” (Hab 2:2-4). The Lord knows our expectations and frustrations. He understands our impatience. To each Christian, the Lord has a word of comfort and exhortation: “The vision has its time, it presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. Wait for it, for the just man shall live by faith.” Faith waits. If we wait-in-faith, we shall live also by faith.
Dear friend, like Habakkuk, you may have your own complaints too. Perhaps you have waited too long for a request you have put before the Lord. You are, perhaps, at a point where your patience is wearing out and you do not know how much longer you can wait for the Lord. You wonder whether the Lord sees what you see, and whether he cares. Take courage, and know that you are not alone. The Lord knows you and he sees the problems. He has heard you, but the vision has its time. Wait in faith. Rejoice in your hope. No matter how long it takes, the Lord does not disappoint. I want to leave you with the following words of St. Paul: “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:3-5). Wait in faith that you may live by faith. Live by faith that you may wait in faith.
Invitation to pray:
Dear Father, I bless and thank you for you are good all the time. Have mercy on me a sinner. Forgive my impatience and weakness of faith. I ask you to increase my faith. Pour your Holy Spirit into my heart that I may wait in faith and live by faith. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.