The sun peeked over the horizon as I made my way east to Port Saint Joe. My early Sunday morning trek meant that, once more, I would negotiate the devastation left from Hurricane Michael. My trek also meant I would, once again, be brought to my knees by the awe and grief of it all.
I know my way around our diocese quite well. I don’t really need GPS because I have landmarks that point my way. However, in the east of our diocese, most of those familiar landmarks are gone. Street signs are bent to the ground, trees stripped bare, buildings crumbled. As the sun, once again, ushers forth the promise of new life, even the horizon itself is unrecognizable.
This morning, however, is even worse. The news of the hate crime wreaked upon our Jewish sisters and brothers in Pittsburgh has left me wordless. This story is the third in a weeklong litany of hatred and evil in our country. Vitriolic hatred, divisive anger and unbridled egos have stripped away the very landmarks of virtue that have undergirded our society. In a recent article in the New York Times entitled
It’s Getting Harder to Talk About God
, Jonathan Merritt makes the point that the very language about the virtues Christians call the fruit of the spirit — words like “love,” “patience,” “gentleness” and “faithfulness” — have become much rarer. The use of words that convey humility, like “modesty,” have fallen by 52 percent. Words invoking compassion, like “kindness,” have dropped in usage by 56 percent. Words of gratitude, like “thankfulness,” have declined by 49 percent.
As I drove, I knew I needed to say something, but as I confessed earlier, I felt wordless. As I prayed, a name whispered to me, Habakkuk. I pulled over and pulled up on my phone the book that bears his name. In our three year lectionary we read his prophecy just once. Here is the first part:
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw.
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?
Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous--therefore judgment comes forth perverted. Habakkuk 1:1-4
Habakkuk feels as if the landmarks that undergirded his society have been stripped away. He is at his wits' end. The world is falling apart around him, so much violence and strife. His beloved nation has seen one corrupt king after another; the economy is a mess; the poor are neglected; the rich do not seem to care. Unlike other prophets who rant and urge the people, Habakkuk rants at God.
God answers Habakkuk that He will send vengeance on the corrupt rulers of Judah via the rampaging violence of the Babylonians. In essence, Habakkuk argues back---“Time out, God. How can more corruption be an answer to corruption? It is bad, but not as bad as the Babylonians.” So Habakkuk continues:
I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what God will say to me,
and what God will answer concerning my complaint. Habakkuk 2:1