This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

O God, where is justice?

How do we live as people of faith in a world that seems so often to be dominated by the wrong?


The prophet Habakkuk gives a brief window into one of Israel’s darkest moments, at the very end of the life of the kingdom of Judah, around 600 B.C.

This is what the prophet sees in Judah: “Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (1:3-4).

Judgment is near and appropriate. But the agent of judgment — the Babylonian empire — is even more unjust than Judah. And God remains silent (1:13).

So Habakkuk cries out and offers a complaint: What in the world is going on? He does have enough faith to wait and listen.

God responds. It’s boiled down to a simple, descriptive sentence: “The just [or righteous] shall live by faith” (2:4). This is what God seems to say: Remain true to what I have told you about faithful living, even in the face of injustice piled upon injustice.

What about when the main option to deal with injustice is coercive power by forces that are themselves profoundly unjust? Such action only adds to the spiral of violence. Habakkuk agrees.

Babylon’s activity is not to be endorsed. It’s unjust all the way down. But the person of faith will remain steadfast, embody the message of Torah (love God and neighbor) and hold on.

The Book of Habakkuk ends with a cryptic vision of hope, reinforcing the call to hold on even in the face of brokenness: “Though the fig tree does not blossom . . . yet I will rejoice in the Lord” (3:17-18). As Wendell Berry wrote in his poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”: “Be joyful, though you have considered well all the facts.”

This theme of steadfastness in the face of brokenness is also central in the Book of Job. The book makes it clear that Job is a righteous person whose suffering is undeserved. His pain is greatly heightened when his friends insist that indeed he does deserve the calamities, because we all know that we get what we deserve in life.

Job resists. He dramatically questions God — and the data of the book support his cries (he is just, yet he suffers because God makes a bet with Satan). “There is no justice” (19:7) is a challenge to God and the world God oversees.

The friends, if they were paying attention, would question God’s righteousness, not Job’s.

But underneath Job’s challenge to his friends (and God) lies a bedrock of faith. God might seem arbitrary and unfair, but the basis for Job’s appeal is that there is nowhere else to go. And that ultimately God will vindicate Job.

Job gains strength in hope that he has an advocate (a “Redeemer,” 19:25) before God. The “redeemer” in ancient Israel was typically the nearest male relative who enters a court case to protect one’s interests. Job’s own family had abandoned him, so his redeemer must be a heavenly figure who will take his side.

Job assumes that ultimately God will be forced to recognize the validity of his claim. Even with all his trauma, Job remains steadfast. He continues to live in light of his commitment to righteousness, trusting in God and living blamelessly.

We are challenged by this story also to think in terms of finding strength. That strength comes not in a certainty that all will be well but in a commitment to a vision of the way things should be.

Ted Grimsrud is professor of theology and peace studies at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

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