April 5: When God is Silent

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
   and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
   and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
   and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
   I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
   he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
   and makes me tread upon the heights.
Habakkuk 3:17-19

Our Lent challenge has been to work for justice, in place of simply doing the ritual acts of worship. Every morning, I have given you something to do.

But what happens when your efforts to do justice do no good? What happens when all the protesting, marching, calling, petitioning, and voting fails to correct an injustice? What do we do when our best efforts fall far short of accomplishing the goals we have been pursuing?

The words of the prophet Habakkuk seem especially pertinent here. Habakkuk’s prophecy deals precisely with this question. He opens his book with a searching question of God: “How long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? … The law becomes slack, and justice need prevails” (1:2, 4).

Perhaps Habakkuk has been an activist for some time. Maybe he also has protested, marched, called, petitioned, and voted with all his heart, but to no avail. He’s starting to lose heart, and beginning to wonder if there is any moral arc to the universe at all.

He has seen good people suffer, and wicked people prosper. He has watched women and children bear the brunt of oppression, and he has observed the powerful exploiting their position.

Now he is beginning to despair of the hope for justice.

God’s answer to Habakkuk is that justice is surely coming. “For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay” (2:3).

“Wait for it.”

It’s not a very satisfying answer, is it? How can we wait for God to act when we see the children of Syria, frozen in their death masks? How can we wait for hopeful results when we know that millions of Syrian refugees languish in camps, uncertain of their own futures? How can we keep up our own hope when we know that refugees are slowly losing their own?

God gives another clue to Habakkuk. In 2:4, God says, “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right within them, but the righteous live by their faith.” This phrase should remind you of Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11, where Paul quotes this verse. Paul, in fact, makes this assertion, “The righteous shall live by faith,” a core plank in his theology. To him, the life of the disciple is based on walking by faith, not by sight or by logic. To have faith means to put one’s trust wholly and completely in God. 

And yes, this means that one has ultimate confidence that, in the end, justice will be done on this earth. It certainly is a matter of faith; there is nothing that we can see with our eyes or hear with our ears that would assure us that justice will prevail one day. But we can trust that God is faithful.

In the meantime, we work. We put our hands to the difficult, often unrewarding, often dangerous, work of doing justice. 

Even though, as Habakkuk puts it, “the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines,” we trust that one day, the trees and vines will be bursting with the fruit of shalom.

Prayer: God, if I don’t see the results of my work today and if I instead begin to despair that justice is achievable in this world, please remind me that you are faithful and good. Amen.”

Justice Challenge: Yesterday, news broke of a sarin gas attack on a town in Syria which killed over 50 people, including children. What will you do? Today, I leave you to ponder your own response to the ongoing horror in Syria. You could communicate to our own government your displeasure at our inaction; you could make a donation to UNHCR; or you could reach out to a local Syrian community and express your support. The choice is yours.