Saturday, September 3, 2011

Habukkuk, justice and barbarians

When I lament the various injustice involved in a western way of life, there is one response I often bump into. "Well, at least we aren't ruled by the Chinese/Muslims". It is seen as deeply treacherous to criticize our own evil, as it might imply it would be good to be taken over by a different culture.
Now, I don't know whether it would be better or worse, probably worse, who knows?
But it makes me think of the small book of Habakkuk.
The prophet Habbakkuk has a whinge to God about the injustice and violence he sees around him. How can God tolerate such evil? Why doesn't he do something about it?
And God answers, though his answer is bizarre.
God says, sure, I'll do something about it, I will send guilty and violent men who worship their own power who will sweep the land, the Babylonians. A nation that swallows up others, who worships the instrument by which they devours others to gain luxury. Who gets rich off complex financial schemes and debt sharking, who builds cities on bloodshed, who tries to escape ruin by ruining others, who plies other nations with pleasure, but only to pleasure themselves.
Err... what.
How is that an answer? Things are obviously worse under the Babylonians
Habakkuk makes a similar response.
Um, but. um, you are the God who can't tolerate evil. What is the deal?
Well, says God, get ready, say to that bunch of guilty people that I sent, "Now it is your turn, now you will drink from the cup of God's right hand"
God doesn't really elaborate on what he is going to do to Babylon, but needless to say, it doesn't sound good.
"You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one.
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot"
Even when the land is completely stripped, overrun, overcome, Habakkuk rejoices in God, because God is his strength.

Why fear being taken over by the barbarians?
Why not instead fear the judgement of God?
In fact, being attacked by the barbarians might just be what averts the judgement of God onto them.
Or perhaps, just perhaps, we are the barbarians. "For you have shed man's blood, you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them"

*nb. I take Mark Seifrid's claim that Habakkuk isn't really about the Babylonians, but rather about the prophets distress about the inability of the law to produce merit with about as much seriousness as I take Seifrids claim that when Paul quotes Habukkuk 2:4, Paul uses the words 'righteous' 'faithfulness' and 'live' in ways completely different to the MT, LXX, Targum and all Jewish tradition. See pp 609-610 of the 'Commentary on NT use of OT' for all sorts of silliness. Paul, of course, couldn't mean what he said ,since that doesn't fit with Seifrids theological grid. And so I guess, neither could Habakkuk

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