Habakkuk 2:4 “The righteous will live by his faith.”
The book of Habakkuk gives us a conversation, a dialogue, between the prophet and the Lord. In his part of the conversation, Habakkuk had some complaints about the adversity he sees in his life and among his people. “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.” Habakkuk saw that it was hard for people to get justice. In fact, unjust things were happening all around. There was violent crime, but nothing was done about it. There were strife and conflict in the courts, but no guarantee that justice would prevail.
As concerned as he was about what was happening, his complaint was even more about what was not happening. When he cried out to the Lord about the violence, it seemed as if the Lord did not save. He had to ask the Lord, “Why do you tolerate wrong?” Habakkuk prayed, but he got no answer.
When he finally did get an answer, it was the wrong one. The Lord’s first answer to Habakkuk just didn’t make any sense. God told him he was going to send the Babylonians to take care of the violence and injustice in Judah. Habakkuk could only respond, “O Lord, you have appointed THEM to execute judgement!?” The Babylonians were more immoral, more violent, more ungodly than the Jewish people ever were even at their worst. What God was proposing just didn’t make sense.
For Habakkuk to live with the injustice, and to live with what the Lord had told him, he needed to live by faith. The same is true of us. Like Habakkuk, we see violence going on around us all the time. So often we feel like real justice is never done. We feel helpless to stop it.
What concerns us about this state of affairs even more is this: It is no longer a matter of people doing what is wrong. We are concerned because, in so many areas of life, what God has clearly labelled as wrong is now called right, and what God has clearly labelled as right is now called wrong. The whole thing has been turned upside down. People are told they should feel ashamed for simply defending what God has always considered good and moral. We may worry that our children or grandchildren will be taken in, that they will believe the lie. Like Habakkuk, we may have a hard time understanding why God seemingly tolerates all this.
For Habakkuk, living by faith meant this: God knew what the Babylonians were like. But he promised that after he had used the Babylonians to carry out justice in Israel, he would also see to it that justice was done to the Babylonians. In the meantime, God said, “the righteous will live by his faith.”
God has made a promise to us that “the righteous will live by faith” that far outshines the promises he made to Habakkuk. In the books of Romans (1:17) and Galatians (3:11) Paul quotes Habakkuk’s phrase to show how God gives us real life–eternal life. We live, we have eternal life as our possession right now, because God has made us righteous by faith. God’s promise to us centers in all that Jesus has done for us. God promises Jesus Christ lived a righteous life for us. God promises Jesus died on a cross to take away our sins. God promises that Jesus can now present us to God as perfectly righteous, pure, and sinless creatures. You and I can’t go back and prove any of this. The cross and the empty tomb are past history. The resurrection and life in heaven are waiting in the future. All that we have now are God’s promises–clear and certain promises that make us righteous, give us faith, and give us life.
That same confidence that God has made us righteous and gives us eternal life allows us to step out in faith and live right now. Maybe we can’t understand why God deals with our world the way he does. Maybe we don’t have the answer to all the questions we would like to ask. But we do know how much he loves us. We know what he has prepared for our future. God has brought us to real life by faith. By that same faith we can daily put our lives in his hands and watch what he can do.