We like to drag some things out as long as possible. That includes our birthdays, time with family before deployment, vacation and a fine meal with great friends. We would hope to end other things as quickly as possible. That includes a laborious workday, dental appointments, the wait for the biopsy report, and the wait required to discover whether the job is ours or not. Time feels different in each situation though it is not as flexible as it feels.
One thing that all can agree upon is that if we are on the losing side of a proposition, or have been taken advantage of or abused by someone else, we yearn for a good and quick resolution that brings an end to our suffering. I think anyone negatively impacted by the injustice of others wants the end of their suffering to come sooner than later. The ones responsible for causing suffering generally do not want their tyranny to end. Those of us who have been hurt by others would love to hasten resolution, be saved from abuse or harm, and make sure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.
There is a term that pops up in the Bible that describes that very hope. It is “the day of the Lord.” That term emerges throughout the Bible and generally carries several terms that are harsh for those who need their comeuppance. Terms like wrath, terrible, cloud, anger and fearful are often used with “the day of the Lord.” You can find these terms in Isaiah 13, Ezekiel 30 and other places that describe a day when accounts are settled. The term was used in different accounts and settings to describe what it will be like when God imposes justice in human history.
Many people find the term intimidating and sometimes frightening because of the serious and stern judgment associated with the day of the Lord. I would have included myself in that crowd many years ago. Some people have even struggled with seeing how a loving God could activate a day or days of finality. But we really shouldn’t rue that day — the day of the Lord — if for no other reason than it is ultimately the hope of all righteous people. People cry out for God to do something to fix that which is broken. We want tyranny to cease, oppressive governments to fall, abusers to get what is coming to them, and evil people to be stopped. The “day of the Lord” is really among the best news items and best answers to prayer imaginable.
The people who should fear the day of the Lord are those who have disregarded the Lord in life and terrorized others around them. Evil people and those who have shut God out of their world are the ones who should harken the day of the Lord with sobriety and hopefully prepare with corrective action. For them, it is a day of reckoning.
For those who have lived by faith but suffered miserably at the hands of evil people, it is the back side of the good news they have sought throughout their lives. If good news exists, there must be the destruction of seemingly endless bad news. For the abused, the reckoning of the abusers is welcomed news. For the person whose endless trials and pain have been caused by others, their release from oppression is certainly something for which they hope.
One additional note should accompany the conversation about the day of the Lord. It should give us pause because nothing is untouched by it — good or bad, righteous or unrighteous. In the Old Testament, the day of the Lord sought by the likes of Jeremiah and Habakkuk was accompanied by devastation that impacted the whole nation — righteous and unrighteous. Their own friends and family would be on both sides of the ledger. That gives us all pause. Every righteous person who has someone in their own family who has caused harm to others will naturally have some feelings of pain as they think about liberation from injustice. After all, their loved one might just be that person who reaps the full weight of corrective justice so that others might be liberated. Evil people have mothers too. Abusers have friends and family who carry unimaginable heartache already.
Habakkuk cried out to God seeking justice (1:1–4) in his own country where evil was reigning without restraint. God’s choice of means to bring corrective action (1:5–11) in answer to his prayer did not meet with Habakkuk’s expectation (1:12–17). It seemed to go beyond that for which Habakkuk prayed. Nevertheless, Habakkuk knew that God’s ways are right and He can be trusted (2:1). So his third round of prayer changed a bit to acknowledge God’s right to correct in the way He sees fit. He modified his initial prayer to ask for God’s mercy in the midst of conducting judgment (3:1–2). He was able to reiterate his trust in God and affirm God’s character and track record in bringing judgment rightly (3:3–15). At the end of the day, he knew he could hold on and believe God to do the right thing (3:16–19). Habakkuk saw judgment as painful but necessary. We would do well to regard it similarly.
Every person who has cried out for help — for God to do something — should know that God will help. He will do something. Every person who has marched, appealed, protested or resisted evil should know that God has heard their prayer and will answer. Every person who walks by faith in God, believing God to be a God of love, should know that the good news of His love is accompanied by expelling everything contrary to His love. They should know the word that most often accompanies “the day of the Lord.” That word is “near.”
Those who pray that God will right the wrongs should be encouraged to know that God has carried out days in the past where justice was executed, and we are better for it now. They should also know that a day is coming that will confirm His sovereignty and commitment to settle every account that needs settling. He has done it before. He will do it again. It is the part of the good news that should bring us pause and stir our praise at the same time.
Matthew Thomas is the author of “Completing Project Me” (fmchr.ch/bmtcpm) and “Living and Telling the Good News” (fmchr.ch/bmtgoodnews). He retires Oct. 1 from his role as the lead bishop of the Free Methodist Church – USA of which he has been an active part since 1979. His ministry roles have included serving as a pastor, church planter, missionary and superintendent.