Last week our churches hosted the 2012 World Day of Prayer. This year's theme was "Let Justice Prevail."
Biblical texts and themes were taken from Luke 18 and from Psalms 33 and 82.
But what most grabbed me were the excerpts from the prophet Habakkuk. They grabbed me because Habakkuk is such a shocking and powerful story, and they seemed to embrace his theme of justice while skirting the shocking nature of that justice in this tiny little Old Testament book.
We started with Hab 1:2-4, the prophet's complaint to Almighty God that his fellow citizens were ignoring the law of God and creating violence, oppression and injustice to others in their society. "Do something about it!" he implores of God.
Then we read Hab 1:5, the beginning of God's answer: "I'm about to do something shocking, just watch" (my paraphrase).
Our service then continued with Habakkuk's reply as found in Hab 3:2, 17-19. The prophet celebrates God's timing, God's awesomeness, God's mercy and strength and salvation.
That's all great! The prophet complains about injustice and oppression; God answers that something is about to be done; the prophet praises God. Yet this misses the full power of the punch Habakkuk packs.
See, what God is about to do horrifies, shocks, even scandalizes the prophet. In Hab 1:6 God says, "I'm letting the Babylonians come and knock your country down. You will be invaded, conquered."
This prompts a second complaint from Habakkuk. From Hab 1:17 to Hab 2:1 the prophet says, "WHAT??? Excuse me?! They're far worse! Are you crazy? How can that possibly bring justice?" (my paraphrase).
God's answer to the second complaint shows that God has a longer-term plan to topple the oppressive Babylonian empire, to restore mercy and justice, to be with the faithful through it all, and to show that, in the end, not only are God's great purposes NOT thwarted by evil forces like the invading empire, but that God actually brings about those purposes through the very efforts of the enemy to destroy and thwart them. Amazing!
No wonder Habakkuk answers as he does in 3:2 "I stand in awe of your deeds ... in wrath remember mercy." Or in 3:17-18 the prophet pledges that, even in the hard times that are to come (failed crops and economic disaster from the invasion by Babylon) "yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my saviour."
The World Day of Prayer program was right to draw on Habakkuk, his cries for justice and his praise of our God who acts in history. But I think the full story of Habakkuk has so much more depth and power than the excerpts by themselves.