“How long… must I call for help, but you do not listen?” (Habakkuk 1:2)
The prophecy of Habakkuk’s chronologically falls somewhere between the fall of the Assyrian empire and the rise of the Babylonian empire. Babylon arises to oppress the people of Judah, God’s remaining faithful in the Promised land. Judah’s unfaithfulness results in being the subject of God’s discipline via an invading Babylonian empire. Babylon will overrun Judah, and strip it of its culture. God’s people will be the recipients of Babylonian strength.
Habakkuk, one of God’s people at this time, recalls the oppression that results to Judah, amidst Babylon flexing its powerful muscles. Habakkuk’s prophecy is filled with scathing questions about this oppression, and what he expects God to do about it. The content of Habakkuk reveals both the prophets humanity and his awareness of God as Lord, but maybe not in the ways that seem compatible.
Let me explain. Typically, we think of the relationship between our humanity and faith from the standpoint of our feebleness as humans and our total assuredness of who God is. But, this is not the case for Habakkuk. The relationship between Habakkuk’s humanity and faith emerges from the standpoint of human anguish and pain — and turning to God. But, not turning to God in total assuredness. Rather, Habakkuk goes to God in utter frustration.
At first glance, this may seem antithetic to the life of faith. After all, doesn’t faith in God mean that we, as humans, are always sure how God willact. We, are to be like Moses before the children of Israel, pinned against the Red Sea and ready to respond in assuredness, “Watch what the Lord will do!”
But, if we compare this attitude of faith to what we see in Jesus on the cross, where he cries, “FATHER, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME!!!” Jesus’ reply is a far cry from one of assuredness of how his Father will act. Jesus, God in flesh and blood, like Habakkuk — reveals both human anguish andpain — and a turning to God to offer his frustration.
Like, Jesus after him, Habakkuk engages in an emotional dialogue with God. In some ways Habakkuk has a similar feel to the book of Job: where God’s blindness to injustice is questioned by Job, and where God replies to the accusations made against him, yet concludes with Job praising God amidst uncertainty.
In his commentary, Kenneth Barker notes, “Habakkuk’s message is set within a backdrop of real people facing real questions about real human suffering.” To Barker, “the prophet’s questions prompted God’s revelation.” Habakkuk’s questions prompted God to make himself known more clearly. Barker further comments, “Habakkuk adopted the role of the philosopher of religion, seeking to understand the troubling times in light of his theological heritage….” “He refused to have simply a faith of the fathers that he received without reflection… without further investigation. Habakkuk insisted upon confronting his God face to face and asking God the hard questions of life.” … “The prophet’s ‘doubts and questionings are not those of a fault-finding negative critic or a skeptic but the honest searchings of a holy prophet of God.’”
Are you critical of God, or seeking honest answers from God? How has God revealed himself more clearly to you in the midst of your questions to him? My guess is that in those moments, we are far more observant of God’s presence and work in our lives, that we see more of his activity around us, because we are eagerly anticipate seeing him show up in real ways.
It is not how we would draw it up, but we do seem to experience the presence of God most deeply in moments of uncertainty and anguish. God truly is present with us, his people, in our time of need. He sees us. He hears us. And, he welcomes our questions, no matter how raw and honest they are.