Excerpted from Lead: Leadership Lessons from the (Not So) Minor Prophets. Copyright © 2014 by William Attaway. Used by permission of Erial Press.
“How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” This phrasing is very reminiscent of the psalms; in fact, Habakkuk’s words indicate a knowledge of the psalms that is significant.
Why does evil seem to go unpunished? Why does God not respond the way we always want to our prayers?
Palmer Robertson has written that Habakkuk’s phrase “how long” seems to indicate that Habakkuk had spent quite some time in prayer already about these issues. This was not the first time he had brought this to God. He’s been persistent with this, over and over presenting his arguments and his requests to God. And now in verse two, it seems he has come to a point of confusion and doubt, of being utterly puzzled over the silence of God. He simply cannot understand how God can allow the situation to continue any longer.
Habakkuk feels as though God is ignoring him. He is screaming to God for help; he is pointing out injustice to a holy God, and the heavens are silent.
In reading about Habakkuk’s anguish and pain over God’s silence, I’m reminded of a story that John Ortberg tells in his outstanding book Know Doubt about a couple he had known for a long time who had a beautiful daughter. He says, “She was the kind of child who was so beautiful that people would stop them on the street to comment on her beauty. They were the kind of parents you would hope every child might have.
They had a pool in their backyard.
One summer day, it was so nice outside that the mom set up the playpen in the backyard so that her daughter could enjoy the day. The phone rang, and her daughter was in the playpen, so she went in to answer the phone. Her daughter tugged on the wall of that playpen, and the hinge that held the side up gave way. It didn’t have to. God could have stopped it. God could have reached down from heaven and straightened it out and kept that playpen up. He didn’t. The hinge gave way, and the side came down, and the baby crawled out, and heaven was silent.
When that mom came outside, she saw the beautiful little body of her beloved daughter at the bottom of that pool. It was the beginning of a pain that no words could name.”
The heavens were silent as that mom screamed out to God to fix this, to correct the injustice that she saw in what happened. And Habakkuk feels a similar way: that he has been crying out and screaming to a holy and just God to correct the injustice and violence that he sees all around him. And he has heard nothing. So in verse 2, he cries out again – “how long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you “violence!” but you do not save?”
You can see this question posed throughout the Scriptures, from Job to the disciples of Jesus. In Mark 4:35, the disciples were in a boat and a storm was in full swing. They were afraid for their lives, and Jesus was asleep on the boat. They woke him and asked Him, “Don’t you care if we drown?”
Leaders can learn from this: Our questions can reveal our perspective.
Leaders know to ask questions, but asking the right questions is crucial. Our questions can many times reveal what our perspective is.
This is true in Habakkuk’s case. Habakkuk struggles with unanswered prayer. “You do not save” – that is, You don’t deliver Your people from what is oppressing them. He struggles because he’s not sure that God cares. His question reveals his perspective.
What Habakkuk is asking here is in essence – “God, if You are good and holy and just, and if You are all powerful and all knowing and ever present, how can You allow what happens on this planet to happen? How can You allow a child to die, people to starve, wars to happen again and again, and conflict to occur everywhere? Why don’t You just fix it all? Why do You tolerate the sin that is all around us when You can fix it all?” Do you hear the accusation here: “You tolerate.” You can do something about this, God! Why don’t You?
These questions were applicable in Habakkuk’s day. The people of Judah were facing destruction. With every day, their future grew dimmer and dimmer. The Babylonian Empire was on the rise, and the people of Judah knew that their days as an independent power were numbered. They did not have the ability to resist Babylon, and their political freedom, their economic future, and even their lives were all in imminent jeopardy. And so the righteous among the people of God were asking “I thought we were the people of God. Where is He when we need Him?” Everything they stood for and everything their nation was founded on was slowly being eroded. Where was God?
Habakkuk cries out to God. He is surrounded by injustice and violence, the wicked are prospering and the righteous are not, and it seems as though the law is paralyzed. Where is God when they need Him? Habakkuk has begun to doubt; judgment is delayed, so can God truly be just and good? He does not seem to be afraid to bring his doubts, his fears, and his anguish to God. His understanding of God as just and righteous and holy is not lining up with his current experience of God.
Has that ever been your experience as well? Have you ever brought similar complaints to God concerning His apparent silence and absence?
And so ends Habakkuk’s opening prayer. He is in anguish over what he sees around him. He is astounded and dismayed that God has not stepped in and intervened on behalf of His people.
I believe that Habakkuk came to God in this book with five questions:
- God, do You care?
- Do You see what’s happening?
- How long will You continue to allow this?
- Are You good?
- Are You just?
These are not small questions, and to our ears, they might sound a bit arrogant. Habakkuk, are you seriously asking God if He is good – if He is just – if He cares? And yet God does not condemn this honest, searching heart; in fact, God rewards it in His decision to answer Habakkuk’s questions. Habakkuk refuses to ignore his doubts; he wants an answer and he honestly seeks after truth, even when it is painful.
What do we do when God doesn’t make sense? How do we respond when God’s actions don’t seem to line up with who we believe Him to be?
Through the words of Scripture, we can gain perspective. We can gain a better understanding of who God is. We can see His words and actions through a large part of human history, and by reading and studying His Word, we can learn about God and His character and His nature. Our knowledge is incomplete to be sure, but He has given us His Word as a tool to help us grow in our knowledge and understanding of Him and His love for us.