This is part one of our study series on Habakkuk. What does the Bible tell us about this prophet and his relationship with the Lord and what that might tell us about ours? Each study includes a short reflection for personal or use with others.
“How long, LORD, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralysed,
and justice never prevails.”
Habakkuk’s prophecy is unusual. The job of a prophet was to speak to the people on behalf of God, with a message from God. But Habakkuk addresses God first. The third and final chapter of the book is a psalm of deep faith and trust in the Lord God. But chapters one and two show us how Habakkuk came to write it only through an honest dialogue with God, asking the questions to which he wanted answers – a dialogue with God which then leads to true and trusting worship.
His psalm, his prayer, came from an active ongoing debate in which he tried to come to terms with what he knew of God’s character and sovereignty – and the state of the world around him. He faced the enormity of disintegrating societies caused, perhaps in part, by natural calamities, drought, famine, hurricane and earthquake, but also made worse by human failure and wickedness, inefficiency and apathy. Habakkuk echoed the personal despair felt by some of the psalmists – ‘Will you forget me for ever?’ (Psalm 13:1) – and the outrage of the prophets at the injustice and discrimination meted out to the poor by the rich and powerful within the covenant people of God.
Some of us can be tempted to retreat into a spiritual comfort zone and turn our backs on unpleasant realities, in the hope that ‘the things of earth will grow strangely dim’. When questioned, we are sometimes driven to produce glib responses about God’s timing, God’s love and God’s judgment, instead of facing up to what can happen to faith and trust in the midst of suffering and gross injustice. It’s a false piety that pretends everything is fine when it’s not.
But Habakkuk shows us that a passionate debate – a cry of protest and complaint – is a legitimate part of a life of prayer. We need not be ‘otherworldly’ when we pray. We are deeply embedded in this world and can carry the indignation and confusion of that involvement to the Lord. How could it be otherwise? Even Jesus, in the midst of bloody and noisy injustice, cried out to God – in the words of another psalm (22:1) – ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
For Further Reflection
- What issues contribute to or heighten a sense of uncertainty amongst those you know – at work, home, or church?
- Read again Habakkuk’s lament in 1:2-4. If you were to write a complaint to God about today’s world, what would you say?