“How long, O Lord?”

A quick internet search of “captive in a box” yields disturbing results. Evil men do evil things. Unspeakably evil things. Insanely evil things. Harmful evil things. The same search yields incredible stories of courage, endurance, resourcefulness, and commitment to never give up. Sometimes those victims clung to hope for decades before deliverance arrived. But in every case, the victims had to make a choice while they waited. Would they give up or continue hoping?

Physical boxes of captivity create terror. But physical boxes represent a small portion of those held captive under the tyranny of evil. Evil men do evil things – with words, actions, computers; in homes, work places, neighborhoods, and public places. And those oppressed by evil have a legitimate question, “How long, O LORD?”

This cry resonates through the ages, even among the martyred saints dwelling “under the altar.” The apostle John records, “They cried with a loud voice, ‘O Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?'” (Revelation 6:10) Such a cry anticipates that God will execute judgment on evil men and struggles to grasp the delay. God’s judgment of evil men for the evil they do will come, both in time and eternity. Asaph testifies in Psalm 73:18-19, “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!” And the context of Revelation 6 reveals the beginning of Christ’s judgment on the evil in the world.

But what about the delay? This creates a burr in our saddle.

The word “delay” exposes our humanity. Even though mankind possesses an eternal soul, in this life that soul exists within the limitations of time and space. God exists outside of time. He dwells at the beginning and end of time simultaneously along with all that exists in between. When Scripture declares that He tests the heart (1 Chronicles 29:17; Proverbs 17:3), He sees the heart of every person who ever existed, exists, or will exist all at the same time. He declares the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Combining the truth of God’s perfect justice and authority to judge with the reality of His eternality pulls back the veil of divine mystery for a glimmer of understanding regarding “delay.” God observes the evil and executes the judgement simultaneously.

The cross of Christ stands as the ultimate proof of this reality. God’s judgement on Christ for sin counted for all who believed in God in the past and all who would believe in the future. The death of the eternal Son of God holds eternal value before the eternally just and righteous God of heaven. God simultaneously sees our sin and guilt and the sacrifice that paid for it. He declares those trusting in that finished work “not guilty” (justified).

Yet man still remains in the sphere of time and must wrestle with the seeming lack of justice from a limited point of view. David’s prayer in Psalm 13 represents the heart of someone in the middle of the fire wrestling with questions and working his way toward hope. He demonstrates that to successfully wrestle with questions one must attach his perspective to the eternal God. Here are a few observations.

1. Ask God “how long”

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?” (1-2)

This is a legitimate question. God knows our frame and the we are but dust. He welcomes questions when they genuinely seek for His answers.

2. Ask God for deliverance

“Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.” (3-4)

Asking God for deliverance demonstrates the correct perspective – deliverance comes from God. This request gazes from the confines of time-induced trial and affliction to the sphere of the eternal, all-powerful source of deliverance. “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)

3. Rejoice in God

“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” (5-6)

Note that we do not see an interlude between verses 4 and 5 describing the actual deliverance. There was none. David still exists in the timeframe of trial. On what does he base his rejoicing? The truth of God’s eternity. The eye of faith steadfastly fixed on God rejoices in the ultimate salvation God will bring even while the trial continues.

And a song erupts, recalling God’s bounty and anticipating complete deliverance.

The Word of God never minimizes the effects of evil or the tragedy of trial. God instructs His people to “weep with those who weep.” He insists that we justly function within the realm of governing authorities, which would include aiding and advocating for those victimized by evil men. But, ultimately, those trusting in the Lord fix their hope on the divine justice of God. Because He tests the hearts of all, He will perfectly execute what corresponds to righteousness. In time. In eternity.

“How long, O LORD?”

“Surely I am coming soon.”

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

About the Author
Nathaniel Pringle serves as the pastor of Eastside Community Bible Church, Milford, Ohio. His goal is to fulfill the commission in Titus 2:1, "But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine." (ESV)