Habakkuk: God is indeed with us
Habakkuk tired and confused, once again found a solitary place to pour his heart out to God even though all his previous prayers had only been met with silence. As Habakkuk addressed the Almighty, his first three statements were not glorious statements affirming the majesty and glory of God, neither did he repeat the Shema, the oldest fixed daily prayer in Judaism, “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever.”
Instead, Habakkuk began his emotional plea to God with questions – five questions to be exact:
- “How long must I cry out for help?”
- “Why do you not hear my cry?”
- “Will you not save and help?”
- “Why do you make me witness iniquity and injustice?”
- “Why do you just watch evil but remain inactive?”
We do not know much about Habakkuk. Scripture includes no biography of him other than telling us his name and describing him as a Jewish prophet (Habakkuk 1:1). According to those who have studied his story and knew a lot about history, “Habakkuk wrote in a time of international crisis and national corruption. Babylonia had just emerged as a world power.”
If you ever read the book, after its very brief 7-word introduction (I use the ESV), the story of Habakkuk begins with the prophet praying to God. If you come from a church background, there’s a good chance that somewhere in your journey you were taught to pray according to a particular formula such as ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication) or the Lord’s prayer. I am not suggesting that such models are inadequate. However, Habakkuk breaks all the religious rules (for example the often repeated but grossly wrong advice that we should never ask God questions) and forsakes all the models.
Habakkuk pours out his complaint to God. Habakkuk questions the Almighty.
We are not told how long Habakkuk had been praying to God about the current state of affairs Israel found themselves in, but this was not the initial prayer he utters to God for help. We know this by the first two questions Hanukkah addresses to God in a single sentence, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2a).
Habakkuk, the prophet of God, has continually cried out to God to come and intervene and help the nation of Israel; yet, there has been no response from God- not a single sound. Silence. Habakkuk even accuses God of not listening to him.
Every one of us can relate to Habakkuk. All of us can tell our own story of times when we have come before God and repeatedly poured out our souls while crying out to God for help to only experience the silence of God.
How do we respond when God appears to be mute and not responding to our prayers? What do we do when our most desperate and deepest prayers seem to meet the apparent silence of God? Pete Greig states, “Thousands of us carry around the pain of unanswered prayer in our hearts. Occasionally, we wonder why God does not respond to our requests, but generally we just get on with life and try to trust in Him.”
Throughout the Scriptures, multitudes of men and women have struggled with the apparent silence of God. Even Jesus, during his greatest need when his soul became overwhelmed with sorrow even to the point of death (Mark 14:34), poured out his heart to his Father multiple times, asking to be spared from his coming sufferings, if possible. As far as the Scriptures record, the Father did not respond to Jesus in Gethsemane.
Over the last two years, I have journeyed through a very dark and painful season. God has graciously answered many of my request – prayers for my family, provision of daily bread, strength to make it through the day, etc. At the same time, many of my repeated pleas for restoration, vindication, healing, a new future, etc. have been met only by the deafening silence that tested my trust in God and hope for a redeemed future.
Even though I have taught the truths of the Bible for years, I found myself wrestling and questioning two critical issues: if God truly cares about me and if perhaps he had even abandoned me. At times, Jesus felt so close; yet during other seasons, God felt entirely absent.
Although times of silence can grow our faith, they are also deeply disturbing to us. It is not un-Christ-like to lift our head and cry out, “My God, my God. Why have You forsaken me?” I certainly did on multiple occasions.
As I continued to pursue God amid the silence, God eventually spoke to me through Pete Greig’s book God on Mute. I had one of those “divine” moments – those times amid long seasons of unanswered prayers when God simply, but profoundly, says something to us at a particular moment in our journey. When it comes to the silence of God and unanswered prayers, Greig wrote: “silence may be more than absence, silence may be presence muted.”
That is, the silence of God does not mean God has forsaken us; instead, God is merely quiet. God is not both present and absent. God is always present, but he is also sometimes silent.
In a way much greater than reciting a theological truth, we must know that God is indeed always present with us—even in the silence, even in the darkness, even in our pain.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu once recounted the story of a Jewish man in a concentration camp who had been forced to clean the toilets. The man knelt with his hands immersed, swabbing and scrubbing away at the filth, and as he did this, his Nazi guard sought to humiliate him further. “Where is your God now?” he sneered.
Quietly, without removing his hands from the toilet, the prisoner replied, “He is right here with me in the muck.”
Whenever we find ourselves wondering, “Where is God?” the truth is that He is right there with us in the muck.