How Long, O Lord?

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, / And you will not hear? / Or cry to you “Violence!”/ And you will not save? – Habakkuk 1:2

Last weekend, I was on such a high after attending Essence Festival. Essence Fest rivals Jazz Fest in both size and quality. It’s held in New Orleans every year around July 4th weekend. I’m often out of town for the 4th, so I had never been. A few days before the fest, I found out that Oprah, one of my biggest role models, was going to be at the free speaker event called the Essence Empowerment Expo. I biked down to the convention center by myself and walked through the expo. The vibe was awesome. I witnessed black families, black love, black beauty, black art and culture. I felt welcomed and honored to share in the magnetic joy around me. I heard many speakers including U.S. Secretary of Education John King, the first African American principal ballerina at the American Ballet Assocation Misty Copeland, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and, of course, the matchless Ms. Oprah Winfrey. I was going to write this week’s post about Oprah.

But then Alton Sterling was killed at close range by a police officer after he had been restrained. His execution was caught on camera. The next day Philando Castile was shot by a police officer after being pulled over for having a taillight out. Philando’s fiancée live-streamed the aftermath on Facebook. And so two days after witnessing a celebration of blackness at Essence Fest, I witnessed black bodies being murdered, black love being extinguished, and black families being torn apart.

Then two days later 5 police officers in Dallas were gunned down and killed at a peaceful protest by a black man. No words. Just tears.

Like many of you, by the end of the week I felt physically and emotionally drained. “How long, O Lord?” I keep thinking. How long will the violence continue? How long will black Americans be persecuted? How long will white people pretend there isn’t a problem? How long until one of my friends or my former students is a victim? How long will violence beget violence? How long, O Lord?

I looked up that phrase in my Bible app to figure out where it originated and, to my surprise, many many passages came up. My study Bible says that “How long?” is the common form of the formal complaint to God in the Old Testament. I find some comfort in the fact that so many before me have felt similarly frustrated and angry and helpless.

The passage below from the prophet Habakkuk takes the form of a conversation. 

Habakkuk’s Complaint

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,

And you will not hear?

Or cry to you “Violence!”

And you will not save?

Why do you make me see iniquity,

And why do you idly look at wrong?

Destruction and violence are before me;

Strife and contention arise.

So the law is paralyzed,

And justice never goes forth.

For the wicked surround the righteous;

So justice goes forth perverted.

Habakkuk 1:2-4

Habakkuk is basically saying, God, don’t you see what I see? There’s some messed up stuff going on down here! Why aren’t you doing anything about it? To which God replies something along the lines of, Just because you don’t know what I’m doing doesn’t mean I’m not up to something:

The Lord’s Answer

“Look among the nations, and see;

Wonder and be astounded.

For I am doing a work in your days

That you would not believe if told.”

Habakkuk 1:5

I’m still processing the events of the last week, and I don’t feel like I have any satisfactory answers. Justice has “never gone forth” for black Americans in any consistent way in the history of our nation. But I think I felt a shift. It seemed that the tone of the media coverage of these events was different. Federal investigations began immediately. Leaders spoke out quickly. Peaceful protests sprung up quickly and widely, thanks to grassroots community organizing over many months by the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement. There were more white friends, including me, speaking up on social media. I saw more words of comfort exchanged than words of disagreement.

I have hope that God is up to something. I have hope that our best days are ahead of us. I have hope that Dr. King’s dream will come true. I have hope that God is doing a work in our days that we would not believe if told.

And how does God work in the world except through us?

How are you being called to work for justice? What steps can you take to educate yourself and to connect to others? How can you be more loving? I would love it if you shared your comments below.

Oprah, Y'all