Proper 22 • Habakkuk 1:1–4, 2:1–4 • October 3, 2010
by Travis J. Scholl
The prophet’s cry in the first chapter echoes with the laments of the Psalms and Jeremiah. “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help?” (1:2).
Oil in the Gulf … O Lord, how long?
Handguns on the streets of Chicago … O Lord, how long?
The millions unborn … O Lord, how long?
“So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails” (1:4). The verb translated “slack” connotes “cold,” frozen. The law becomes reified. Isn’t this often the case, certainly in the civil realm? Laws are constructed to represent a certain state of affairs and a week later, they are outmoded, cold, “slack.” Couldn’t we say this is exactly what precipitated the crisis on Wall Street that we are only now crawling out from under, and against which we are only now enacting new laws?
But another law is still at work, this one written on human hearts (Rom 2:14–15). It is this law—living and active—that compels us to cry out “Violence!” It is this law that brings us face to face with the judgment of God, even when that judgment has a harsh word to say about our own actions and inaction.
And so we wait. We cry out and we wait. “I will keep watch to see what he will say to me” (2:1). Will God answer?
“Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie” (2:2–3). We cry out and God answers, because God promises to answer. God’s answer is that the future is in his hands.
“Thus the provisional resolution to the issue of theodicy is eschatology, that is, the future is secure in YHWH’s governance even if the present is unbearably out of con- trol.”1 Which means that God’s answer to human suffering is always hope! “If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay” (2:3).
What is this vision? What is it but what we see with the eyes of faith? Indeed, it is the prophet’s closing line in today’s reading that inspired Paul, and after him, Luther: “[B]ut the righteous live by their faith” (2:4). And from today’s gospel: “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’” (Lk 17:5–6). The apostles too cried out to the Lord, and the Lord answered.
It takes faith to cry out to the Lord in times of distress and it takes faith to trust that the Lord will answer.
It is faith that the Lord gives back to us as a gift when he does answer, faith to hope in a future that is brighter than our best dreams. As a matter of fact, faith was the Lord’s all along, a gift given to us in water and word, nourished by the Spirit.
It is faith to which the preacher speaks on the tablets of human hearts. The Lord’s answer is a word to the preacher too. “Make it plain … so that a runner may read it.” Indeed, make it plain, preacher, so that even faith the size of a mustard seed can understand and believe.
1 Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 241.