Habakkuk: The Complainer
Zephaniah: The End Is Nigh
Haggai: Where’s My Temple?
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Habakkuk 1:2a (NIV)
We’re nearing the clove of Testaments, and frankly, the “Minor Prophets” are appearing more and more like a forgotten appendix of the Bible rather than anything truly canonical. For the sake of summary, Zephaniah continues in on the “return of God” on Earth, otherwise known as the Apocalypse. Haggai, on the other hand, concerns himself with the lazy Jews who have built themselves lavish homes but have neglected to do the same for God’s temple (#OldTestamentProblems). Habakkuk, on the other hand, digs into some more universal issues.
Most young Bible scholars (read: elementary Sunday school students) know Habakkuk as the least pronounceable/most difficult to spell book of the Bible. Its contents are always good for a difficult Bible trivia question; if you took an honest poll of church-goers, I doubt even 10% would be able to recall anything of value about this or the other two books in question today. They’re short. They have no plot. They are difficult to pronounce and spell. Obviously, Americans are going to be immediately disinterested. But I found the book relatable, most notably for Habakkuk’s honest concerns about the God/human dynamic.
His book consists of two “complaints” followed by God’s responses; surprisingly, his recollections are sparse on any actual prophecy, a relief to this reader. After beginning his complaint with the lament above, Habakkuk asks two fairly simple questions, ones that any person alive has asked him or herself at some point: “Why do you make me look at injustice?/Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?” (1:3a) Why do good people die, why do you allow suffering, modern Habbakuks have asked to Almighty time and time again. This philosophical dilemma comes up often as an argument against any belief in God. If He’s so perfect, why doesn’t He sprinkle some of that perfection down onto us and just put an end to this nonsense?
God’s answer? “I am going to do something in your days/that you would not believe.” (1:5b) He then goes on to explain that He will empower the Babylonians to take down the Israelites and enact His due justice against them – all of which is a not-so-veiled reference to King Nebuchadnezzar’s rise. Gotta say, God, you didn’t really answer the question there, and in fact, only guaranteed more violence and destruction. This reply startles Habakkuk, as it does me, so naturally, there is a follow-up. “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?/Why are you silent while the wicked/swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” He asks (1:13b). The Lord responds with a lengthy diatribe about the nature of His works – that He is God and thus will of course even the scales eventually, just in His own time. Relax and wait, He says, You must know by now that I am perfect.
Habakkuk reveals something that we all have considered, a theme most exhaustively explored in the book of Job: How are we meant to maintain faith in the face of such ferocious uncertainty? This quandary confounds us all, no matter how earnest we may be. We may throw our hands up to the sky and yell, “Life isn’t fair!” But God’s reply is, “Oh yes it is, you just have to wait a long time and see.”
Or maybe God is getting at something else. To generalize, He seems to be saying… That’s life… The endless cycle of unknowing… The core value of His answer is devoid of any dogmatic proclamations. It is universal. To live is to not be certain. And how we go about dealing with that is up to us.