The just shall live by faith…
In “Reformed” circles, this phrase is thrown around so often I think no one knows what it means. I used to think that it simply advocated salvation by faith alone, as Martin Luther promoted it. But in its original context of Habakkuk 2, it takes on a semi-different level of meaning.
In context, chapter 1 is a Q & A session between the prophet and God. First, Habakkuk wonders why there’s so much violence and injustice in Judah and what God planned to do about it. God responds that the injustice issue was about to be resolved when Babylon would move through the area and practically devastate it. To this Habakkuk also cries foul for how could a just and holy God use such a corrupt and proud people to enact justice? The prophet finishes his tyrade and settles down to let God speak.
And He speaks in chapter 2. The thrust of His reply is that there are two types of people: the proud man with a crooked soul, and the just man who lives by faith (v. 4). The rest of the chapter highlights how the proud man (Babylon) lives, thus contrasting him with the man of faith. In the end this answers the prophet’s complaints because although God is using Babylon to accomplish His will, He certainly doesn’t approve of the nation’s sin. There will be a day when God will sit in judgment over the nations and right all wrongs, but that day will come in its own time (see v. 20, 14, and 3). Until then, Habakkuk, be a just man and live by faith.
The point? I began studying this little book last week, which is very ironic. It’s ironic because I began studying the prophet’s questions the same week my dad dies of cancer. I, like Habakkuk, could question God. If I believe God to be sovereign and totally in control, as well as being wholly just, why would he use cancer/my dad’s death to advance the kingdom of heaven and His will? Doesn’t that seem contradictory?
But the same answer that was given centuries ago can be applied today to me. God certainly doesn’t approve of cancer and death, but there will come a day when He will right all wrongs, when His very presence will fill the earth like never before. Yet until that sweet day comes, no matter how many long hours of pain must come between, the just shall live by faith. I may not understand His will or His ways, but I can live by faith.
Is that unrealistic? I think not. A proud person cuts his own roads, makes his own shortcuts, relies on his own means. But a just person lives by faith, rests in God’s timing, walks on God’s road. I’d rather have that, and its subsequent comfort, than to be a proud man,living on the edge of a knife, questioning every single thing that God allows to happen to me in this life.