Beckett: Sermon – O Lord, How Long?

Date: October 2, 2022
Festival: 17th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10
Sermon Hymn: LSB #587 I Know My Faith Is Founded

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. The portion of God’s Word we shall consider this morning, the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded by Habakkuk for our comfort and for our learning. As we ruminate upon this Word of God, I invite you to open your Bible to Habakkuk and follow along as we glance through this short book.

Habakkuk is arguably the most unique among the Prophets because instead of speaking to God’s people in the oracle given to him, he speaks to God. “O LORD, how long?” he begins. “How long shall I cry for help?” The prophecy thus begins with a sense of exhaustion. “How much longer shall I cry out to You? Will You not hear?” God is silent. God is seemingly doing nothing with all the iniquities and injustices that Habakkuk’s people are committing. “Why do You idly look at wrong?” It seems as if God is just standing idly by, watching us in our chaos. Strife and contentions rise. True justice is paralysed. And when it is executed, it goes forth perverted because the wicked outnumber the righteous. How can the Lord just stand by and let all this happen?

So, it’s easy to relate to Habakkuk. How often we cry out to God and wonder if He truly hears us. How often we cry out to God and wonder why He remains idle.

Mass shootings—O Lord, how long?

Political polarisation—O Lord, how long?

Millions of unborn babies murdered every year—O Lord, how long?

The grooming of children in the classroom—O Lord, how long?

Attacks on the family unit—O Lord, how long?

Wars and rumours of war—O Lord, how long?

Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and earthquakes—O Lord, how long?

Depression and addiction—O Lord, how long?

And the Lord gives Habakkuk an answer. He indeed is about to do something against the iniquities and injustices that the people of Judah are committing. In verses. 5-11 of chapter one, God explains that He is raising up the Chaldeans to sweep through the nation of Judah as the punishment for their iniquities. The Lord is finally going to do something about evil. And what do we do when God finally destroys evil? We complain about it! “O Lord, deliver us from evil,” we pray; and when He does, we cry out, “How can God be so wicked as to use violence to destroy evil?” Habakkuk does much of the same thing in his second complaint. In verses 12-17 he essentially says, “O Lord, how can You use such a wicked nation to punish Judah and still be faithful in Your covenant promises?”

And at the beginning of chapter 2, he metaphorically takes up a watchpost to wait for the Lord’s answer. Once again, the Lord’s answer is not satisfying, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end; it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith” [2:3-4]. Habakkuk probably expected God to give an answer of justice more to his own liking—something that doesn’t require the destruction of Judah. Instead, God responds, “Keep waiting. The time has not yet come. It seems slow, but wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. The prideful Chaldeans may abound, but it is the righteous who shall live by faith.”

There are two things here. First, God does not change His mind; He is still bringing His justice against the Judeans for their iniquities. They have paralysed justice; therefore, God is going to bring it. And second, though judgement is coming, the righteous shall live by faith; they shall wait for their salvation.

This is no answer! At least not one we like. We don’t like to wait. Well, we can wait in line for hours for the latest smartphone or the latest MCU movie, but we can hardly wait at a stoplight for two minutes. We can hardly wait for someone to finish explaining their views before we verbally assault them. How much more difficult it is, then, for us to wait on God. Especially to an answer that essentially says, “Keep waiting for Me,” when we cry out, “O Lord, how long?”

We want a timeframe. For many Christians, the news is end times prophecy. Others will make calculations to predict the Lord’s coming, only to result in disappointment after disappointment. Like Habakkuk, when we ask God, “How much longer shall we suffer,” Jesus responds, “Surely, I am coming soon” [Rev. 22:20]. That’s not the answer we want. We want Him to come now, not “soon.” Two thousand years isn’t soon enough, Jesus! How much longer, O Lord? Yes, Lord, we know it seems slow, but we don’t want to wait for it! “It will surely come”? “It will not delay”? Your justice is delayed! How can I keep on waiting?

To help us with this struggle, we should keep reading Habakkuk. After the Lord’s second reply, Habakkuk responds in chapter 3, “O LORD, I have heard the report of You, and Your work, O LORD, do I fear… [I]n wrath remember mercy” [3:2]. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy… because we recall the almighty power of God with Habakkuk as he continues:

…His splendour covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise. His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from His hand; and there He veiled His power. Before Him went pestilence, and plague followed at His heels. He stood and measured the earth; He looked and shook the nations; then the eternal mountains were scattered; the everlasting hills sank low. His were the everlasting ways… The mountains saw You and writhed; the raging waters swept on; the deep gave forth its voice; it lifted its hand on high. The sun and moon stood still in their place at the light of Your arrows as they sped, at the flash of Your glittering spear. You marched through the earth in fury; You threshed the nations in anger. You went out for the salvation of Your people, for the salvation of Your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.


Habakkuk recalls God’s unfathomable and terrifying power, and he remembers the times when God has responded with His justice in salvation for His people and destruction for His enemies. And then he ends by saying, “yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength” [3:18-19].

Just as God’s answer to Habakkuk—and to us—in our suffering and impatience for justice is unsatisfying, so Habakkuk’s final response to God’s reply is equally unsatisfying. When God doesn’t give us what we want, and especially when He doubles down on His will, we don’t respond to Him with fear and praise. No, with childlike impudence we demand our will be done! Like rebel forces, we should defy God’s will that requires we wait and instead bring justice about ourselves! And ironically, when we do this, justice still goes out perverted because of our wicked hearts toward God.

But still the Lord says, “Wait. For still the vision awaits its appointed time.” What vision? The vision of faith, by which the righteous shall live justified from their sins—to wait for, as the beginning of Hebrews 11 puts it, the conviction of what we see by faith but cannot see with our eyes. It is faith that continues waiting on the hope of the Lord even though we are short of hope these days. Thus, like the disciples, we might ask the Lord to increase our faith. “Give me more faith so that I can keep on waiting!”

Yet Jesus’ answer is again unsatisfying, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” [Luke 17:5-6]. The Lord does not increase their faith—or our faith—when we cry out in distress to Him. Rather, He remains content with where our faith is at because it is faith bold enough to call upon His name and say, “O Lord, how long?” Even faith as tiny as a mustard seed is sufficient, because the strength of our faith depends not on our faith itself, but on its object, which is Christ the Lord. Thus, says Habakkuk, “God, the LORD, is my strength.” Even faith as small as a mustard seed has great power as it rejoices in the Lord and takes joy in His salvation because the strength of faith relies not in how small or large it is—if we could even measure it—but in the strength of God’s salvation, just as Habakkuk proclaimed, “You went out for the salvation of Your people, for the salvation of Your anointed. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked” [3:13].

Therefore, like the psalmist in Psalm 13, when we cry out, “How long, O Lord,” we also pray, “But I have trusted in Your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me” [Psalm 13:1, 5-6]. Atheists like to bring up the question of suffering and the problem of evil as if they’re the first ones to ask it, but it’s an ancient question raised first by God’s own prophet, Habakkuk, and God’s answer to the question is also antiquated. It is not a satisfying answer to our human pride and selfishness, but God’s answer remains the same as it was ever since 605 B.C., roughly the time this was written, “For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul [the soul of the wicked] is puffed up, it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” And the Church’s answer has always been, “I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength.” Or as Jesus succinctly put it, “Surely, I am coming soon,” and we respond, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” [Rev. 22:20].

The answer thus remains what the Church has been doing for millennia. We keep asking Him how long, but we also continue to rejoice in Him, the God of our salvation, just as we do today and every Sabbath. We draw strength from Him. That is to say, we draw strength from the cross. Though Christ appeared in weakness on the cross, He displayed His perfect power. As He Himself said, “I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” [John 10:17-18]. His archenemies, sin, death, and the devil, were not powerful enough to take Jesus’ life of their own accord. So, He laid down His life of His own accord. He let them take His life; He took on the wages of your sin, which is death [Rom. 6:23].

But His work was not yet finished. Just when the bad guys thought they had won, in a miraculous show of strength, He defeated death: He rose from the dead. Again, from Habakkuk, “You went out for the salvation of Your people {motion everyone in the pews}, for the salvation of Your anointed {motion crucifix in the church}. You crushed the head of the house of the wicked!” Just as God promised as early as Genesis 3:15, the vision still awaited its appointed time—on the cross, the devil struck Christ’s heel, but Christ struck the head of that wicked serpent, leaving him powerless against those who live by faith in Jesus Christ, who lives for all eternity.

When we ask, “O Lord, how long,” we nevertheless rely on the strength of our God’s salvation, and it is a strength that will raise you from the dead just as Christ is risen. No one else has this power. Only Christ. Therefore, when we wonder how much longer this must go on, we look to the cross. There, we see the power of God’s salvation that just as we bear our crosses amidst the iniquities and injustices that surround us, we bear them with joy, seeing with eyes of faith that when Christ comes with power to judge the living and the dead, He comes also with the power to raise us from the dead to live with Him in eternity.

To Christ be all the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

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