Considering recent news headlines, I posed two questions:
- 1) Is violence increasing and society getting worse?
- 2) Is there any hope?
Let’s see what the Bible has to say.
In the book of Habakkuk, in the Old Testament, the prophet Habakkuk looks out on his day as we look out on our day and cries out to his God:
O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!
Even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save.
Violence was all around him and as he looked ahead he only saw more violence with the threat of invasion by the vicious Chaldeans. In his day violence was increasing, society was getting worse, and he wondered what hope there was. What Habakkuk couldn’t understand, which many today also question was the seeming distance of God in view of all this evil. As I speak to people on the street, many say to me:
How can there be a God when there is so much evil and suffering?
If a loving God really existed, surely he would come and deal with such things.
First of all, it is not logical to use the presence of evil as evidence that God doesn’t exist. The presence of evil and violence is a result of mankind (Adam specifically, but all of us generally) choosing to turn away from God’s way and go their own way. When we read the early chapters of Genesis we see a very quick progression from a seemingly insignificant act of disobedience (ch3) – what did it matter if they took a bite of some delicious looking fruit? – to an act of violence and cold-blooded murder (ch4). How could things degenerate so quickly? The prophet Jeremiah summarises the problem in each case as a problem of the heart of man:
The heart is deceitful above all things,
And desperately wicked:
Who can know it?
The degeneration of society seen in the early chapters of Genesis has been repeated over and over again throughout human history, interspersed with periods of reformation as individuals and societies turned back to God in some measure.
The reason these serious incidents of abuse and murder keep happening, is because hearts are not being changed. We can put all the laws into place that we want; we can carry out Serious Case Review after Serious Case Review and suggest improvements to working practices and structures, but until hearts are changed, these terrible and tragic events will continue to happen, and I would suggest we haven’t yet seen the worst.
So what hope is there?
Turning back to the book of Habakkuk, we find that when the prophet turned his view away from the violence all around him, getting into the presence of his God and waiting for an answer, the Lord answered in a two-fold way that brought hope to the heart of Habakkuk.
- 1) The future hope that God in his holiness and righteousness will judge sinners.
- 2) The present hope and joy that God is able to change hearts and work in salvation.
In chapter 2 of Habakkuk, the wicked, the violent, the sinner are characterised by selfish pride, and assured of coming judgment. Five different behaviours are exhibited, but the result will be the same, and the warning is the same – “Woe to him”.
There are those who take what is not rightfully theirs. There are those who seek only their own gain and protection, without a care for others. There are those who actively use and abuse others for their own ends. There are those who discard God’s design for them and set their energies, passion and worship on whatever appeals to self creating their own morality of what is right and wrong.
Can I ask a pointed question – which one of these behaviours describe you?
We may not all be as violent as some, but we have all fallen short of God’s standard of righteous living, and therefore God’s judgment is hanging over our own heads. As it says in John3v18 – “We are condemned already”.
Knowing this I am thankful that God hasn’t as yet come in judgment, because in my sins I would fair no better than the violent murderer or child abuser. My sins are just as abhorrent to God, as the actions of the child abuser are abhorrent to me.
But there IS hope!
Habakkuk, in chapter 3, prays to the Lord “In wrath remember mercy” (v2), and then goes on to worship the great and merciful God of salvation. This is not an academic exercise for Habakkuk, but something of personal experience. In v18&19 he says:
I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of MY salvation.
The Lord God is MY strength.
Likewise today, our only hope is found in the God of salvation – Jesus Christ. It is only Christ, who has created us once, that can recreate us again, transforming our hearts, and breaking the power of sin and Satan. The book of Hebrews tells us that this was only possible through the death of Christ (2v14,15). You see, for God to remain righteous and pardon us, judgment still had to fall elsewhere. The price still had to be paid, and the God of Salvation took the punishment himself and paid the price in full. This is what makes the Christian gospel, the message of salvation, unique.
How do we obtain such great salvation?
Habakkuk again tells us the answer. In 2v4 he says: “The just shall live by his faith”. This statement is so fundamental to God’s way of salvation that it is repeated three more times: Romans1v17, Galatians3v11, Hebrews10v38.
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ alone then we are saved, we have everlasting life, we have immediate hope, a fulness of joy and are brought into a relationship with the God of MY salvation. Not only can we trust God for our own personal salvation, but we have a contentment that whatever the circumstances of life, however bad society may become, we know God is in control and has a plan to put all things to rights, and so we can rest securely in his arms.
Is there a greater message of hope in the face of such violence?