"Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend"

The third and final movement of my Hopkins set is the poem "Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend". (You can hear the 1st movement here and the 2nd movement here.) The poem deals with the perennial problem of justice in the world. If there is such a thing as God, why is it that terrible things happen to good people and wicked people seem to prosper and thrive? As Hopkins notes in the poem, "Oh, the sots and thralls of lust/Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,/Sir, life upon thy cause." The question is posed regularly throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. Abraham, Job, and Habakkuk are all wrestle with the question. In this case, Hopkins is beginning his thoughts with the first verse of Jeremiah 12. Interestingly, none of these questioners ever receives an answer from God to their question. They do receive a sort of answer, but it isn't an easy answer to their question. The Bible isn't really a place to go for easy answers. In some senses, it means that the "answer" is that we are supposed to go on complaining about injustice, but that complaining takes place in relation to God. I've chosen Rembrant's "Jeremiah" to accompany the recording. Hopkins' text is below the video.


THOU art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend, 5
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again 10
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build—but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.