"You who are of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look on wrong; why do you idly look at traitors? and are silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?"
In his prophecy, Habakkuk sees the coming destruction of his nation by the Chaldeans, that is the Babylonian empire. He writes a litany of complaints against the Israelites. Violence, a justice system that is crippled by perverted laws and poor judgments, are several of the complaints listed. For these reasons, the wrath of God will be excercised by raising up the Chaldeans to conquer and pillage the Holy Land. But verse 13 of the opening chapter is a question by Habakkuk for God. The prophet understands that his people have done evil and deserve punishment. But he does not understand how God can use a people, who are by all accounts more evil than the Israelites, to accomplish his purpose. How can God be silent when those who are less righteous attack those who are more righteous?
This question and the knowledge that Jerusalem did indeed fall to Babylon, is quite telling. What are the primary lessons we learn?
1.) God can use anything or anyone to accomplish his purposes. This is not always a negative thing (remember Baalam's Ass? cf: Numbers 22:28-31), but in this case it is. God can use the unjust to correct and chastise his people.
2.) God is of purer eyes than to behold evil. This means that while there are degrees of justice within individuals (i.e. Mother Teresa vs. the unabomber), not even the Good and Righteous are as holy as the LORD. The sin and wrongdoings of the just are also worthy of punishment. These sins are of course forgivable because of God's grace, but that does not exclude divine justice. We believe that Jesus paid the price for our sins, but there are still consequences for what we do wrong. It is not enough to say "I am better than that one." Indeed, was this not the sin of the Pharisee who boasted that he was better than the tax collector? All of us, as Paul reminds, have fallen short of God's glory. This means we all need a Savior and none of us can question God's justice.
3.) Lastly, we must see this as a call to holiness. C.S. Lewis once described the soul's desire for purging in the terms of this verse. In his work "Letters to Malcolm" he writes the following:
"The right view returns magnificently in Newman's DREAM. There if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer with its darkness to affront that light."
Lewis here is specifically stating his belief in Purgatory, but it is applicable even to our present situation. We stand somewhere in time between the foot of the cross and the foot of God's throne. Our souls ought to be begging God to be thoroughly cleansed from every vestige of sin. God cannot look on anything that is impure. Our faith in Jesus makes us, as St. Paul also teaches, "the righteousness of God in Him [Christ]." But it ought also to lead us to purity from the inside out. Our desire should be for holiness, through obedience to God.
Today being the 2nd of February, it is the feast of the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is on this day that we remember the Virgin and Joseph presenting Jesus at the Temple. It was at this time that Mary participated in the ritual of purification from legal uncleanliness. She brought two turtle doves as a sacrifice and in thanksgiving for the blessings God had given her in fulfillment of the Mosaic law. Throughout the life of our Savior, Mary stands to the Church as an example of obedience and purity.
May we today walk in holiness that we may be found acceptable in the eyes of him who cannot behold our misdeeds.