The streets are emptier than usual on my drive between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. When I return home in the evenings I usually find the atmosphere in our flat full of excitement or great disappointment depending on whether my sons’ favorite teams have won or lost in this summer’s World Cup. Similar shouts of elation or frustration are heard from my neighbors’ windows.
This all seems quite detached from another reality that we are living in and one that we see on TV. The breakdown of Middle Eastern states should not be surprising considering the artificial borders imposed on our societies since the British and French began to divide the Middle East in the Sykes-Picot Agreement nearly 100 years ago. And to look beyond our context, one cannot help but see the ruin of society worldwide with the conflict in Ukraine, the collapse of regimes and states, violence, refugees, and heart-breaking pictures of children attempting to flee the mayhem.
Recently, Palestinians prisoners launched a hunger strike in protest to their detainment without trial. Some say this is part of the background to the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers that happened one week ago. Military raids and curfews have been placed in a number of villages throughout the Palestinian Authority. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next in light of the fear, anxiety, chaos, violence, and misery.
Yet, we find a similar situation in 612 BC during the time of the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk lived during a time of oppressive measures and cruel violence, where there was a collapse of the legal system, and wars all around him.
The Middle East at that time was in turmoil. Habakkuk was burdened by what he saw. His heart was broken by what was taking place in his society. He wanted to know why God wasn’t intervening. In Habakkuk 1:1-4 he pleads, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and you will not hear? Even cry out to You, Violence! And you will not save. Why do you show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds.” The prophet was distressed by the wickedness, a lack of justice, and break down of the legal system.
His words are similarly echoed around the world and especially here in the middle of our chaotic and violent Middle East.
In Habakkuk’s mind, God was not involved in his history, the successes of the deeds of evil men were in control, and people were terrified by what was going on around them. He began to wonder what more could these human beings do to other human beings. These overwhelming circumstances lead to anxiety, powerlessness, and much hopelessness. But, we see throughout the book of Habakkuk how God answers his cries.
Our hope, life, faith, and actions shouldn’t be controlled by the surrounding circumstances. It is true that they do affect us and have an impact on us, but we shouldn’t allow the temporal affairs of this world to control our thoughts.
Habakkuk learns not to look at the world as someone lost in the midst of a tornado, but rather to rise above the chaos and see the world from above. God has an interest in history and is constantly working in the people that he has created. Even when we don’t see a way out there is hope and he will bring change. God reveals to us how we are to look, see, act, and behave and he shows us that we are not subject to the evil of human deeds.
Habakkuk 3:17-19 encourages us to trust God even when we feel weak and powerless. When Habakkuk says, “The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and he will make me walk on my high places,” he is embracing God’s perspective on the world. Here he realizes that God is working in history and his justice will prevail.
Like Habakkuk, we too need to look at the chaos around us with the eyes of God and with the eyes of faith. To those proclaiming the goodness of God, continue to do so and don’t become overwhelmed by the chaos and violence that exists.
Salim J. Munayer, Ph.D