How Long to Sing This Song?

Do you recognize the phrase, “How Long to Sing This Song?”?  It’s from U2’s song “40,” loosely based on Psalm 40.  I can’t say I understand the full meaning of the lyrics, but seeing as it was written during the time of conflict in Northern Ireland, that’s a big clue.

But I’m thinking, of course, about the bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday.  It doesn’t matter whether the attack originated from halfway around the world or from some Boston native who was simply tired of one more marathon through his city—when an event elicits extreme fear and inflicts harm, it is in fact a terrorist attack.  And such attacks are on the rise.

How long, how long to sing this song?  Habakkuk, my favorite Old Testament prophet, asked the same question; but instead of tossing his question to the wind – as we are prone to do – he directed his query to the One who holds the answer:  “How long will the wicked prosper?  How long will You tolerate wrongdoing?  Why are You silent while we suffer at the hands of terrorists near and far? (chapter 1, my paraphrase).”

Then, after asking his bold questions, Habakkuk stood back and said, “I will stand at my guard post and station myself on the lookout tower.  I will watch to see what He will say to me” (2:1).  When we ask the tough questions, we should be prepared to wait on God and listen for the answer.  Listening in the silence is an intimate act of faith.  It implies that we trust the one of whom we are asking our questions.  Listen long enough, intently enough, sincerely enough, and we will hear God’s reply (my paraphrase):

  • I am sovereign.  I have the final say.  Nothing escapes My awareness.
  • I see the whole picture, you do not.  I allow suffering only for a season.
  • In My time, I will deal with all of the injustice in the world.
  • Trust Me, inexplicably and fully.

Like Psalm 40, U2’s song continues:

He set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm
Many will see
Many will see and hear

Habakkuk arrived at the same conclusion when he said, “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (3:19).

What can we make of this?  Is it possible to tread on high ground in the midst of turmoil and chaos?  Or is it disrespectful to those who are still suffering such terrible personal losses?  I don’t think Habakkuk meant let’s throw a party and celebrate while the world wallows in misery.  His resolution is one of hope, not of callous ignorance or indifference.

Another Old Testament writer, well acquainted with suffering and grief, came to his own “high place” after God finally answered his questions (after a long period of silence).  Job’s epiphany is still timely today.  As we turn on our TVs and listen to the latest casualty update from the Boston bombing, let’s allow Job’s words to sink into our hearts and minds:

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!

“I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!”


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