The prophet’s lamentation to God is a theme well known to all who have ever considered, or felt in the suffering of their own lives, the conflict between the absolute providence of a good and loving God and the unjust anguish of the innocent. All have sinned, to be sure, but not all have sinned in equal measure, and there is plenty of evidence that evil people prosper at the expense of the weak and vulnerable.
The prophet Habakkuk asks, “Why and for how long?” He looks and observes on all sides: violence, wrongdoing, trouble, destruction, strife, and contention (Hab. 1:2-3); and he is bold to say, “I will stand at my watch-post, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what [the Lord] will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint” (Hab. 2:1). The prophet’s watch-post and rampart suggest a place high and lifted up, a place from which to see the approach of the Lord’s answer. And, indeed, the Lord comes with a Word. “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. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous will live by faith” (Hab. 2:2-4). “Faith” in this context is waiting in hope; it is a vigil from a watchtower, a resolute conviction that the justice of God will come and will prevail.
God has come in Christ, and in Christ all things are new, but not yet fully new as we see them. Living amidst persecution and affliction, we must watch too and remain faithful, growing abundantly in faith and in love toward all (2 Thess. 1:3-4). We do not do this on our own. “God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfil by his power every good resolve and work of faith” (2 Thess. 1:11). This also is waiting in hope. Christ has come and is coming moment by moment. We are to await his arrival, to look for him, to watch and to endure. As we wait, we still see violence, wrongdoing, trouble, destruction, strife, and contention, but we learn by long vigils to see this destruction not only without but within. We see ourselves in truth. “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13).
Sin is the deprivation of good, a shrinking. It makes us smaller than we should be. Diminished, we are persons short in stature. We are like Zacchaeus, who, though hearing well, could not see Jesus. What are we to do and how are we to keep watch? Doing his very best, Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree. Others in the course of Christian history followed his example though for different reasons. Simeon the Stylite (390-459) is the most famous of the pillar ascetics, who tried from his high perch to be with God and away from people. Stranger still is the example of Christina the Astonishing (1150-1224), whose life and story, though doubtful, is instructive and immensely entertaining. She is sometimes depicted sitting in a tree, which she did, along with occasional levitations, to avoid the stench of sinners. Should you go up higher? Do you have a watchtower? Where is your rampart? Do you not see the ladder hung between heaven and earth? At the very least, lift up you heart and behold the one coming to the house of a sinner.
Look It Up: 2 Thess. 1:3-4
Think About It: We grow by watching and enduring.