“How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” ~Habakkuk 1:3
Asking God questions. Wrestling with God. Struggling with God. Complaining to God. Although one-third of the Psalms are lament psalms that speak openly and honestly about those times when God seems absent and some of the greatest heroes of Scripture spent a lot of their time lamenting to God, we don’t pray like this very often. We certainly don’t do it in our public assemblies.
One of the reasons is that we don’t schedule it. We believe our corporate time together on Sunday mornings must be filled from start to finish with the Joy of the Lord, happiness, smiles, upbeat, uptempo, energy, excitement, and enthusiasm. I don’t know if that line of thinking stems from wanting to attract and sign up visitors or keep our members from leaving. Culture probably has a lot to do with it.
Another one of the reasons is that we think this kind of language—questioning God—is a sign of weakness or unbelief. And I’m not sure where that comes from. Where did that start, that we can’t question God? Definitely not from anything rooted in the sacred writings of Scripture.
The truth is that our God views open and honest wrestling and questioning of him as a sign of great faith. Our God is not displeased with these kinds of prayers. He honors them. Open struggling with God reveals our faith.
Think about it. To demand that God ought to act justly is solely based on the conviction that God is just. If we don’t believe God is just, we won’t go to him when we see injustice. We’ll go somewhere else. What we believe about God, if we really believe it, is exactly what leads to these kinds of prayers of lamentation.
We believe in God’s omnipotence. There is only one God. He does not share his power with any other God. He made the whole world and everything in it. He is the sovereign ruler over all creation. So, every single thing that happens—good and bad, fair and unfair—happens because God allows it. And that leads directly to the prayer: Why? Why, God, do you allow these horrible things to happen? Why, God, don’t you intervene?
We believe in God’s righteousness. God loves the world he created. He is concerned with what happens to his creatures in the world. He’s certainly not wicked in the ways he deals with the world. But there is the reality of terrible suffering and even cruelty all around us. And if God really is omnipotent and righteous, that leads directly to the prayer: How long is this going to last? God, where are you? Why aren’t you doing anything?
Here’s what I like about these kinds of prayers to God and what, I believe, God likes about them, too. When God’s people in Scripture complain about their troubles, when they lament the injustices of life, when they seek answers to their questions about the evil all around them, they don’t write letters to the editor, they don’t hold court in the coffee shop, they don’t call the talk shows, and they don’t join a campaign. God’s people bring their doubt and their fears and their uncertainties and their questions and their complaints straight to God.
And in the case of the Psalms and Habakkuk, they do so as a part of their worship, in the presence of God, in the middle of the congregation.
When Habakkuk answers God in 1:12 he makes it clear that, even though he doesn’t like what God is saying, he doesn’t agree with what God is doing, and none of it makes sense, he will go nowhere else for his answers. He will seek no one else to protect him or save him. He’ll look nowhere else for refuge. Habakkuk declares his total and complete dependence on God. Total faith. A faith that goes beyond any evidence or any proof for even having it.
Go Kansas. With Memphis State’s win Saturday night, Whitney moved into a tie with me for first place in our family basketball pool. If the Tigers take the title tonight, she’s on top as the undisputed winner. If KU can pull it off, Whit and I will finish in the tie. The tie-breaker we established three weeks ago was total points scored in the championship game. Whitney has 130. I have 125. I need Kansas to win a low scoring game. And, either way, I need to limit Whitney’s college basketball watching between January and March next year.
I explained at the beginning of yesterday’s sermon how certain settings demand a certain type of language and how certain types of language anticipate or point to certain settings. I was showing how Scripture’s use of lament psalms and lament language in some of the prophets was given to us to be used in the public assembly of God’s people. To set it up, I read the winning entry in the Washington Post Style Invitational Contest from a few years ago. Jeff Brechlin submitted “The Hokey Pokey” as if it had been written by William Shakespeare. As soon as we were finished, almost a dozen people asked me for copies of the work. A couple of more have emailed me today seeking copies. Here it is:
The Hokey Pokey, by William Shakespeare
O proud left foot that ventures quick within,
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe;
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin,
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Poke,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! Yea, to spin! A wilde release from heaven’s yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely canst go.
The Hoke, the Poke – banish now thy doubt;
Verily, I say, ’tis what it’s all about.