That’s the question we ask when we are suffering. Or someone we love is suffering. Or the world is suffering. Sometimes it’s just perceived suffering… like a child in Time Out being forced to sit still and think about what s/he had done to merit the punishment. Other times it’s really deep suffering. Violence. Inhumane acts. Pure anguish. Grief. We see and hear stuff we thought were behind us. Like way back in the past. But it shows up in the present. It’s like our head spins around and we think “Where did that come from?” And just when we thought we could believe in a world gradually improving… you know, nations and peoples playing nice, getting along, working together, even accepting each other. But the violence continues. The inhumanity keeps on keeping on. And in our anguish we cry out: “How long?”
From the beginning of time, at least as recorded in the Bible, humans have suffered and cried out. In Genesis 4, when Cain kills his brother Abel out of jealousy, even the ground cried out with the blood of humanity slain. Rob Bell begins one of his books with this tragic story. His point is not so much to make us realize the suffering – we don’t need much help in that department – but to remember who God is with us and for us in our suffering. Bell writes,
The Hebrew word used here for “cry” is sa’aq, and we find it all throughout the Bible. Sa’aq is the expression of pain, the ouch, the sound we utter when we are wounded. But sa’aq is also a question, a question that arises out of the pain of the wound. Where is justice? Did anybody see that? Who will come to my rescue? Did anybody hear that? Or am I alone here? Sa’aq is what Abel’s blood does from the ground after he’s killed by his brother.
The Israelites are oppressed, they’re in misery, they’re suffering – and when they cry out God hears. This is a God who always hears the cry. This is central to who God is: God always hears the cry of the oppressed. But God in this story doesn’t just hear the cry. God does something about it.” [Jesus Wants to Save Christians, 2008]
There’s a big chunk of the Psalms in which there is a lot of crying out. That’s because it is a human experience. Crying out and begging God to hear. Trusting that God will. While I am not thrilled about responding to another death in police custody with rioting, the voices of protest needed to go up. “Where is justice? Did anybody see that? Who will come to our rescue? Did anybody hear that? Are we alone here?” God hears. God sees. And God responds. But God needs partners in kindness, in mercy, in justice, in love! Will we help God shorten the how long?