The prophet Habakkuk and I would be good friends.
Both of us look around and see a world filled with hatred, death, confusion, flames, and destruction. Both of us ask God to explain how He could allow all of this to happen.
“Where are you?” we cry.
We both listen to God’s answers and hear divine words filled with promise – but offering no immediate solutions. We both choose to trust anyway, and even rejoice, in the safety of God’s companionship.
The first chapter of Habakkuk’s manuscript is the transcript of an intense conversation between two friends. The prophet is clear about the sinfulness of the people and his bewilderment at God’s inaction. “You ought to move in and set things right. These people have gone totally wicked against you, and your silence makes people think you’re okay with what they’re doing. What are you going to do about it?” Habakkuk demands.
God’s answer is as confounding as His silence. “Later,” He says. “I’ll let the Babylonians take care of it. Trust me.”
Chapter 2 describes the Babylonians. In slimy detail. The coming conquerors will be evil idol-worshippers. They will attack with surprise and eagle screams. They will sweep people up like fish in giant nets. They will build motorways to the tops of city walls and then drive death through the streets. They will kill with wanton vengeance.
“They will be my sword of punishment,” our Divine friend promises.
“Wait a moment,” the prophet shouts. “Things are terrible here but why are you sending us something even worse? That makes no sense!”
“Faith in me will sustain those who are mine,” God smiles. Then He goes silent.
Not the prophet. He listens, roiling with confusion and distress.
Then he praises God. With trumpets.
My tendency is to stop before the praising, frustrated at God’s inaction and quite unwilling to hang around for the Babylonian hordes to finally arrive and pillage the mansions of the wealthy sinners who are pretending to be God’s servants while stomping on His saints.
I’m tempted to take a deep breath, pivot away from the problem, and move on with life. Disillusioned. Bitter. A used-to-be believer.
Some days I want to just say “to hell with it” and join the dishonest judges in debauched revelry.
Other days I shout at God, pointing to the sinners harassing me and demanding that He do something right now! Shouting, shouting, shouting until my throat becomes as raw as my heart.
Once I tweeted my frustration, crafting an emoji that made me feel more righteous than the others, certain that I’d fixed the issue, done something stellar, made a difference.
Finally, I just handed my heart to God. “Okay,” I said. “I do not understand any of this, but then I’m not sure I understand Annas, Caiphas, Pilate, and Herod any more than I understand Covid-19 and leaders who lie while smiling. Maybe the Babylonians are the right choice, though I doubt it.”
Then I praised God, rephrasing Habakkuk.
First, I reminded Him that I know who He really is.
Singer of the great songs.
Then I painted a vision of Him riding that old salvation route.
Skies blazing with splendor.
Forked lightning shafting from His hand.
Plague marching before Him.
Pestilence trailing in His wake.
Mountains collapsing around Him like spent balloons.
I described Him striding the paths He blazed Himself long ago.
Splitting the earth with rivers.
Stopping the sun and moon in their tracks.
Crushing the godless nations.
And beating the stuffing out of King Wicked.
“I know who you are,” I shouted with hopeful piety.
You’re God, out to save your specially-chosen people.
Galloping through the sea on your horses.
Racing on the crest of the waves.
Impaling your enemies with lightning-strike spears.
“You terrify me, and I’m giving up.”
You make my stomach do flips.
You turn my bones to water.
You twist my tongue to speak blather.
“Now I have nothing more to say.”
I’ll be sitting here waiting for doomsday to come upon your enemies.
While waiting, I will trust.
Though sea waters rise to cover the roof of my house.
Though flames devour all things valuable.
Though disease separates me from family and friends.
Though democracy dies beneath the sneers of despots.
Yet, I will praise you, Lord.
I will lift up your name as The One I can trust.
I will raise a choir and orchestra and fill the skies with music.
Though nothing around me makes any sense, I will trust you.
You’ve given me mountain goat feet.
I am able to dance your joy - on even the most frightening cliffs.
And while Hell does a victory dance on my limp body,
I will trust, knowing You and I are the winners.