"Why do you make me see wrong-doing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.” (Habakkuk 1:3)
It seems like every week I hear from someone else about turning off their TV, ditching social media, or ignoring the newspaper. So many feel helpless before what seems like a ceaseless stream of hostility, stupidity, and gloom. This mood even imbues our fiction. Just yesterday I saw a new show being celebrated as “stunningly bleak.” If we trust the view from these figurative “watchposts” of our day, fear, hate, and loneliness are often more ready at hand than faith, hope, and love.
Up against Habakkuk's doubt and despair, God’s response is simple: Wait. The end is coming. Though he is tired of what he sees, Habakkuk resolves to “stand at [his] watch post." In light of this, we must ask what is the meaning of "the end” and how does it teach us "wait” and to “live by faith?"
One of my favorite creators of liturgical music is a duo under the moniker The Brilliance. Two weeks ago they released the first single from their forthcoming album, World Keeps Spinning: An Antidote to Modern Anxiety, and one of them had this to say about it:
"As we are daily bombarded by sensationalist headlines and click bait rhetoric, this song is a protest against statements like 'We’ve never been more divided’ and 'It’s the end of the world.’ It’s about finding a way to let go of the feuds we find ourselves in ...[It] dives into our current despair, and searches for reasons to hope."
This is clear in the the second verse and refrain of the song:
"When fear becomes violence,
I’m drowning in the silence,
sliding back to certainty and indifference.
I want to hear the song of peace.
Would you sing it over me?
Can you help me to speak though I stutter?
We’ve got to live for more than just the end of the world,
because the world keeps spinning round, spring round.”
At first the conclusion may seem a contradiction of Habakkuk’s comforting vision, but as we turn to the Gospel of Luke, we find it faithful. Jesus has just spoken to his disciples about occasions for stumbling and staying united through forgiveness. Surrounded as we are today by divisiveness and despair, it’s not surprising to hear the disciples tell Jesus: “Increase our faith!” But he does soothe them. He simply—though somewhat cryptically—responds: “Get to work.”
Hope is not a sedative, and salvation is not escape. Our wait involves work here and now.
Though the psalmist sings a song similar to Habakkuk—"Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him”—he also urges for present action: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.” (Not to mention "Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.”) Knowing the end of the story does not mean we sit around and do just enough—"only what we ought to have done”—until our time is up. It means we keep our eyes open, listen, and join with a God who is always already working to awaken this very world that keeps spinning.