Scrolling down the news last night, it felt easy to despair. Pandemic aside, the headlines spoke of shootings in Vienna, Ethiopia, Kabul, beheadings in Mozambique. All in the last couple of days. Coupled with the frustration that any news outside the West seems to be deemed less important to Western ears, I was astonished at the sheer number of lives that have been taken so brutally in the past 24 hours alone. At least 32 in Ethiopia, 22 in Kabul, 9 in Mozambique. More headlines speak of the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, during which at least 69 individuals have been killed. Each number a person, with a story, a history, with dreams, opportunities, futures, ripped away in an instant. With family, friends, loved ones, whose lives have been completely torn apart.
Two words came to mind, a prayer: ‘How long?’
I first found comfort in these words when we were going through the book of Habakkuk, an Old Testament prophet, at church a few years ago. In Habakkuk’s time, Josiah, a king of Israel who loved God and sought to do his will was succeeded by another king, who exploited people for his own benefit, who promoted violence and injustice. As Habakkuk calls out to God we see his deep pain at the conflict and anarchy that his nation has descended into:
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.Habakkuk 1:2-3
Like Habakkuk, we may wonder why God is not acting, why he has allowed all these tragedies to unfold. Like Habakkuk we are bewildered – what is happening to our world? As a Christian, I trust that God is in control, but that doesn’t mean that I can understand what he is doing. Yet when perplexed and overwhelmed we don’t have to hold the fears, the doubts, the confusion within us. Habakkuk equips us with these words, a way to call out to God in our pain.
In the midst of this darkness, with the pandemic pressing in at every side, with injustice, violence and destruction dominating the news, we can call out to the God who sees, who abhors injustice, who longs to deliver his children and who will one day bring deliverance to all who trust in him. We can call out to the God who sent his Son into the the world, to die in our place, to defeat sin and evil and injustice and to rise victorious from death so that we can receive eternal life with him.
And he doesn’t call us into a superficial relationship with himself, but into a relationship where we can be real, where we can ask the questions that are hard and where we can take the despair that we feel and turn it into prayer, calling out to our Father: ‘How long?’
One of my favourite worship songs is rooted in the words of Habakkuk:
Lord, we know Your heart is broken‘How Long?’ – Stuart Townend
By the evil that You see
And You’ve stayed Your hand of judgment
For You plan to set men free
But the land is still in darkness
And we’ve fled from what is right
We have failed the silent children
Who will have never see the light
How long before You drench the barren land?
How long before we see Your righteous hand?
How long before Your name is lifted high?
How long before the weeping turns to songs of joy?
In our pain, we can call out to God, trusting that one day these questions will be no more, that one day he will deliver us.
How long before no more lives are taken by this wretched virus?
How long before justice is given to those whose lives were taken in brutality and violence?
How long before the shootings reach their end?
How long before death and pain and tears and grief will be no more?