Throughout Lent, I will be posting short meditations on the Daily Office readings every day. Please journey and pray with me through these readings.
Thursday, February 23
In Habakkuk, the prophet paints a terrifyingly vivid image of the anger of God. In our world, we too often want to imagine a God whose puppy love warms us when we are cold and massages our tired limbs after a long day. Ours is a day-spa God sent to comfort and pamper us with fuzzy love and feel-good emotions. The idea of a God who seethes in anger strikes us as rather archaic, so very much like the Old Testament God.
I wonder, though, if someone who lives under the tyrannical rule of extreme poverty, exploitative oppression or cruel dictators would read these passages of God’s anger the same way. I wonder if they would understand God’s anger at the wicked and unjust as an expression of God’s love for them and God’s solidarity with their plight. Because, in the book of Habakkuk, God’s anger doesn’t seethe for personal immorality, for whether folks swear, drink or believe certain key points about the nature of God. Rather, God’s anger is stirred at the sins of the people – of lavish, wealthy nations who ignore the needs of others, who shower violence on them and scar the earth with their lust for more, always more.
“Wealth is treacherous,” the Lord reminds Habakkuk. “The arrogant do not endure. They open their throats wide as Sheol; like Death they never have enough. They gather all nations for themselves and collect all people as their own.”
The poetry is chilling. Like Death they never have enough. I am become death, the destroyer of worlds. When Robert Oppenheimer said these words, quoting the Bhagavad Gita, he was envisioning a nuclear age in which his discoveries would unhinge the world and release a pestilence of destruction. Somehow, against all odds, the human family has managed to corral the locust cloud plague of a nuclear winter, if only just barely.
Yet, we have become death, opening our mouths wider than the Sheol, the place of the dead, consuming all nations, claiming them as our own, and we are always hungry for more.
We are a society based upon an insatiable appetite, on endless consumption. We are a society based on death.
And the book of Habakkuk calls out to us from centuries ago, “How long will you load yourselves with goods taken in pledge? Will not your creditors suddenly rise, and those who make you tremble wake up? Then you will be booty for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all that survive of the peoples shall plunder you – because of human bloodshed and violence to the earth, to cities and all who live in them.”
And we have plundered the nations. We have spilled the blood for profit and for product. And, God help us, we have done violence to the earth. And for what have we ransomed our humanity, swiped away our spirits with little plastic cards: New cars and designer clothes? Cheap energy and flat-screen TVs? Granite countertops and an iPad?
O God of the lilies and the locusts, we have not the strength to stop, to snap our unhinged jaws shut, to clasp shut our consumptive death. Our appetites are beyond our control, and, at times our only salve. Help us to find the path to repentance, the path to life.