The title question is a broad one, but maybe one you’ve read somewhere before, one you’ve heard before, or maybe even one you have asked before. It may even be a question you are asking now. If so, then you may be thinking an answer to the question would be good, but understand that some of those questions cannot be answered, and the answers to others may not be the answer you expected or even wanted. Be careful when asking!
Let’s consider just a few situations where the question was asked, or as it may apply in certain situations we may face today. Let us consider the Bible answer to those questions, though; we are not interested in speculation, popular opinion, or any individual’s opinion. What does God say about it? And — here’s the important question we must ask ourselves — will we accept God’s answer [when one is given]? Consider:
How Long Will We Put Off Choosing? When Ahab ruled over Israel [the northern kingdom] the nation practiced idolatry and worshiped the Baal because of the example and Ahab and his failure of leadership (1 Kings 16:29-33). Eventually Elijah was sent to Ahab, and it was soon after that he challenged Ahab to bring all Israel before him at Mount Carmel, along with the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Kings 18:19). When they all gathered there, Elijah stood before them all and challenged them, asking, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). The problem was, the people were trying to serve the true and living God and the false gods; they had decided not to decide which, of course, was their decision. It did not please God in the least bit.
Unfortunately, this is a common practice of mankind today; we try to choose God and choose worldliness, too. We think that we can tell ourselves we can love God and pursue the fleshly and material desires and things, and God will be happy with us. Such could not be further from the truth and, we too, are ‘faltering between two opinions,’ as did the Israelites; God is not pleased when we do that today, either. Jesus Himself said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). If you still need help choosing, just remember that material things will perish, but God is eternal. Remember that no amount of money can save you from your sins and cannot buy your soul (Matt. 16:26). Remember the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10), but love of God is the greatest thing you could ever do (Matt. 22:37). So, how long will you keep putting off making one of them your master? How long will we keep putting off choosing?
How Long Must One Suffer? This is a question asked often even today, for the sufferings of this earthly life did not end at the cross. The devil is still going about causing the suffering, and it is certain he will not cease his work until prevented by God Himself. That day will come, but what about now? What about our personal suffering? How long must one suffer?
This is not just a question of the modern age, though we seem to be asking it more often. This may be due to the fact we, in this part of the world, have become accustomed to so much luxury and convenience that we consider it suffering to have to wait a few minutes for a meal to be prepared, a lack of or just difficulty in obtaining instant and cheap [or free] access to Internet or phone service, or just be without personal transportation for a few days or hours. True suffering? Most of us have never experienced it, and can’t even begin to truly understand what it is.
Ask Job, though; he knew true suffering. It was he who, in a relatively short period of time, lost almost every material possession he had, and much his family (Job 1:13-19). In the midst of his suffering, he cried out to God in what must sound familiar to some of you who may be reading this: “How long? Will You not look away from me, and let me alone till I swallow my saliva?” (Job 7:19). In the midst of suffering he sincerely believed had no reasonable explanation, Job wondered how long he would have to suffer and God not hear and relieve him. Though Job believed he somehow deserved an answer, God never gave one. Yes, God eventually restored Job’s possessions and family and eased his personal and physical suffering, but He never gave Job a timeline of when that would happen. Sometimes, dear reader, we will just not get an answer.
That, to many, is unacceptable! We want answers, and we want them now! Yes, we want answers, but even the strongest desire for an answer does not mean we will get one. Sometimes, our suffering is a matter of the devil’s work, as was the case with Job and with others (Luke 13:10-16); but sometimes it is the consequence of a sin-filled world or just a matter of chance and circumstance. Sometimes there isn’t a reason for suffering or an answer as to how long it must be endured. In all cases, the power and strength to endure will come when we have faith in God, as did Job, who said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15); Job didn’t know why he was suffering, or how long he would suffer, but he knew God, and that knowledge of who God was and is got him through it all.
How Long Will Evil Go Unpunished? There is so much evil and injustice in this world, we all might have asked this question! But, this, too, is not a new question. The psalmist would plead with the Lord to bring His vengeance on the wicked, asking, “Lord, how long will the wicked, how long will the wicked triumph?” (Psa. 94:1-7); he would even give examples of their insolence, as ones who would practice their evil and then say, “The Lord does not see, nor does the God of Jacob understand” (Psa. 94:7). He anguished at the continued ‘success’ of the wicked in accomplishing their evil deeds, and believed the Lord should act.
This same thinking is seen in the words of Habakkuk, who lived during the latter period of the kingdom of Judah, when he had to witness the various and numerous evils practiced by his own countrymen, and he pleaded with God, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?” (Hab. 1:2); he was weary of the continued violence and injustice of his own brethren, and he wanted relief.
Well, the Lord answered Habakkuk — but it wasn’t quite the answer he wanted. God told him he was going to put an end to the violence and injustice by the invading Chaldeans [Babylonians], who would also take many away into captivity (Hab. 1:5-11). This was not what Habakkuk expected, and he even questioned God’s decision to punish the ungodly ones with ones who were even more ungodly (Hab. 1:12-2:1).
What we must learn from this is that we ask the same question today, the answer, too, may not be in the way we expect or even want. It may be that we look around at the sin-filled, violent, and unjust world in which we now live and also ask, “How long?” It may be that the Lord’s answer is the final destruction of this material world (2 Pet. 3:1-12) and the end of all things (1 Thess. 4:13-17; 1 Cor. 15:20-28). It may be the case, and it also may not be the answer we expected.
So: How long? There may be an answer, or God may not give us an answer; or, it may not be the answer we expect. — Steven Harper