Isaiah 6:11a — Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
By Randy Alcorn, in 90 Days of God’s Goodness.
For many, the most difficult problem with evil is its persistence. God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice” (Acts 17:31). But why a future day of judgment?
Barbara Brown Taylor phrased it, “What kind of God allows the innocent to suffer while the wicked pop their champagne corks and sing loud songs?”
We may say, “Yes, Lord, we accept your wisdom in permitting evil and suffering for a season— but enough is enough. Why do you let it continue?”
The Bible echoes the same sentiment. Jeremiah said, “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (12:1).
Why doesn’t God simply reward each good and punish each evil as it happens? Because God’s justice is not a vending machine in which a coin of righteousness immediately produces reward or a coin of evil yields swift retribution. Scripture assures us justice is coming. Everything in God’s plan has a proper time; the gap between the present and that proper time tests and incubates our faith. When reward and punishment are immediate, no faith in God is required or cultivated.
The wheels of justice may seem to turn slowly, but they turn surely. Some rewards of goodness and punishments of evil come in this life. And though ultimate rewards and punishments await the final judgment, considerable justice— both reward and retribution— is dispensed upon death, when God’s children immediately experience the joy of his presence, and the unrepentant suffer the first justice of Hell (see Luke 16:19–31). This means that the maximum duration of injustice experienced by any person cannot exceed his life span.
Don’t we give thanks for God’s patience with Saul, the self-righteous killer who became Paul? Or John Newton, the evil slave trader who accepted God’s amazing grace and wrote the song that countless millions have sung?
God drew me to Himself in 1969. But what if Christ had answered the prayers of many in those days and had returned and brought final judgment in 1968? Or in 1953, the year before I was born? Where would I be for eternity? Where would you be?
I’m grateful God was patient enough with fallen humanity to allow the world to continue until I was created, and then continue further until I became part of his family.
Aren’t you grateful for the same? If God answered our prayers to return today, who might be lost that he plans to save tomorrow?
Jeremiah 12:1 — You are always righteous, Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?
Psalm 90:13 — Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.
Habakkuk 1:2-4 — How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.
Revelation 6:9-11 — When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.
II Peter 3:8-9 — But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
PSALM 13:1-3, 5-6:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death…
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
Lord, you are the potter; we are the clay. You have the right to do what you choose. But if we look carefully at what you choose, we may see wisdom and purpose and mercy even in what we don’t fully understand. Thanks for not answering the prayers for Christ’s immediate return offered by the generations that preceded me and my family. I’d hate to think of us not existing, of not being able to love you and serve you and glorify you forever. Amen.