Where is the Hope?

 

 

We were all sitting around our curry dishes in an annual birthday celebration, when we noticed that the rain that had been going for days took a turn toward the troubling. The rain fell so thick that seeing even a short distance became impossible, so my friends and I decided to cut our birthday celebration short as we parted ways to the safety of our homes. After I made the treacherous drive through blinding rain and stand still water to home, I turned on the news and was caught by surprise to see the exact intersection where we were eating Thai food only an hour earlier. The water had risen to a level that made the typically busy intersection look like a cross-section of rivers.

The streets of Nashville became floods in the Summer of 2010.

The areal shot panned out to show the magnitude of the water, then panned in; all I could see was rushing water, until I was able to identify the small red speck poking out of the water as the top of a stop sign, that was when I noticed a man clinging to the sign, his legs being tossed by the water in the current until the power of the water took him over.  The days that followed in the summer of 2010 in Nashville were as treacherous as the rain that caused the devastating flood. As with most natural disasters, everyone was affected and we were all left with one looming question: where is the hope?

Four years later, as a chaplain, I sat with a patient talking about her illness. After some fairly flat answers, I asked her questions about her family. She tells me of her wonderful children and brothers and sisters, and how a few years ago, in this very hospital, she lost her husband. Tears well in her eyes, and she was brought to a stop while we sat in silence. Minutes later, she spoke and proceeded to tell me stories of her marriage. Then, with tears in her eyes, she spoke again, this time to tell me of how driving home from her husband’s funeral she saw a large group of deer that seemed to follow along beside the road while they drove away; to her this represented that God was there in that moment. As I was leaving she spoke one last time, “Thank you for letting me tell that story, I needed to be reminded of God’s presence in my life even though I can’t see it right now.”

When things turn toward the troubling, whether personal or communal, we look for that hope of God’s presence. Disasters come in many forms; they can be natural, global, or personal. For Habakkuk, the disaster has come in the form of the tyrant. The Chaldeans are terrorizing the people, and in the first two chapters, the prophet is not speaking on behalf of God as is usually the case, Habakkuk is speaking on behalf of the people to God. The lament of the community rises to God, and God responds not with actual answers, but with a validation of Habakkuk’s cries. So Habakkuk and God go back in forth, in which Habakkuk poses the question we still struggle with today: why, if God is good, does such violence happen to the people? The question that Habakkuk seems to raise is: Where is the hope?

Sometimes, though, before we look for the hope, we look for an escape. Escapes are easy in our society today: we make deprecating remarks about ourselves to shift the focus away from our insecurities, we make Ebola jokes to allow detachment from a global health crisis, and we use #thestruggleisreal or #firstworldproblems to give us a humorous distance from the reality of world poverty. Devices like these may give us a momentary relief from the weight of the brokenness of the world, but in looking for an escape, we reject the fullness of hope.

We see this throughout social media, for sure, but we also see it in our churches. Churches around our country today are trying to lean in to lament, but since we’d rather hold on to our escape devices than fully experience pain, we are left with laments that feel pandering and inadequate at best. In an attempt to feign lament in songs and prayers that hold no real cries of the broken, we cheapen laments like Habakkak’s. Habakkak is not setting us up for the confidence that he expresses in his concluding remarks; it is not some false claim of woe to set God up as the redeemer.

Habakkuk, after his conversation with God in the first two chapters of this book, moves from compliant to petition. The cries of his complaints came to no fruition; God did not respond and immediately move into the situation with the Chaldeans, defending and protecting the people. So, Habakkuk gives voice to the lament of the community, pleading with God to intervene and to redeem this violence. He experiences the full weight of the oppression that his community has been put through to honestly express their frustration with God. By far, it is easier to look for an escape than to sincerely express the pain we feel, but here Habakkuk is not looking for an escape, he is looking for God in the midst of being a terrorized people.

So where is the hope? How can Habakkuk express such a sincere lament in all the lack of apparent hope? How can we express lament as a community when we have set up our society and our churches to avoid lament? And how is it possible for us to grasp any sliver of hope in the face of all the disasters happening in our lives and in our world?

Habakkuk trudges through his prayer, the lament rising to the Lord. This lament is not softened by the expression of trust at the end of the prayer, but is rather motivated by it. The cries of the lament ring of sincerity, desperation, and anger. Throughout the prayer there are illusions to the Exodus, a constant and consistent reminder to the Jewish people of God’s faithfulness. Through these cries of sincerity, desperation, and anger Habakkuk sees the reality of his situation: lamenting this torment does not negate the faithfulness that God has shown in the Exodus. A rare example of protesting the way things are in the midst of trusting in God’s power even, when it’s not apparent.

Just as Habakkuk looks to the Exodus as a sign of God’s faithfulness, we look to the Cross through the cries of our lament for hope. Our laments must resemble Habakkuk’s. We must honestly cry out to God about the brokenness of human relationships. We must be sincere in our cries of the physical, psychological, and emotional turmoil of war. We must voice the desperation we feel about global health issues and world poverty. And we must be willing to trade-in our escape devices and feel the deep pain of what it means to exist in the reality of all that is not right. But we must also remember that we do not exist in this pain alone. It is the person and example of Christ that gives us hope in the midst of our valid laments; it is our constant and consistent reminder that God is redeeming the world. Our prayers cry out in retrospect of all the deep brokenness in our world, but, like Habakkuk, we remember that we have been saved, and so with faith, we wait in the knowledge and the hope of God.

 

 


Sermon on Habakkuk 3, delivered to the Homiletics class at Abilene Christian University’s Graduate School of Theology on November 18, 2014.

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