The prophet Habakkuk asks God hard questions. People today are asking the same kind of questions. Why is there injustice in the world? Why does a woman develop incurable cancer? Why do adults hurt children? Why is there violence? Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? Why would a person murder someone they once loved? Will school shootings ever stop? Why is there abuse of power? Why is there prejudice and oppression? Who will right the many wrongs in Ferguson, Missouri?
For all the joy, delight, beauty, compassion and wonder of this world – of our lives – the reality is that the world is filled with harshness, inhumanity, suffering, indignity and unjust death. Even if our lives are in a restful, successful place we look and “see” as Habakkuk says, that “wrongdoing and look at trouble.” Just as in Habakkuk’s time, “destruction and violence” are before us.
In a world filled with bad news, the good news that is offered by Habakkuk is that God hears our cries.
Read our scripture passage from the book of the Prophet Habakkuk here: http://bible.oremus.org/
Habakkuk encourages the people to express their laments to God. To tell of their suffering. To call out the oppression they experience. To speak their truth to God. Even when he asks the question: “How long, how long, o Lord, will we cry out but you will not listen?”, the very question presumes that God is listening. Habakkuk helps the people of Israel give voice to their pain and their laments are joined with the laments of people through all time, even until today.
What’s so good about a listening God? A God who hears the cries of the people? Who is attuned to the suffering of the world?
A God who hears our cries is a God who is present to us. God is aware of our suffering. We don’t have to pretend that everything is ok when it is not. God does not ignore our suffering, and we are not left alone without divine care. God does not shame us for the situations of injustice in which we find ourselves – even when they are of our own making. We are not expected to accept that this is “just the way things are.”
God hears our cries – the cries of all people – because God is truly present to us, seeking to make a connection with us.
Have you ever tried to listen to someone who is suffering? Just to listen? It can be very difficult to listen to someone else’s pain. Most of us have been that person at some point in our lives. We have been filled with distress, trauma or tragedy. And we needed to tell our story. To speak our truth. It can be hard to find someone who will listen as long as we need to talk.
Brene Brown, author and professor of social work, gave a TedTalk in which she reflected on the difference between empathy and sympathy and highlighted the power of listening to someone’s suffering.
God is connecting with us. God steps into our reality and does not deny it. God doesn’t claim a silver lining where there is none. God hears us. And the very act of being heard changes what is.
The psychologist Mark Goulston tells of treating a deeply depressed woman, who had tried to commit suicide twice after brutally assaulted. He says, “She sat across from me for six months, saying very little and never making eye contact. Then one day as she talked about the many terribly things she had suffered in her life…I suddenly felt the full weight of her lifetime of despair. Without even thinking I blurted out, “I never knew it was so bad.” He told her that he didn’t think she shouldn’t kill herself, but that if she did he would understand why she needed to. Then he was horrified by what he had said. His words hung between then. Then she turned and made full eye contact with him for the first time. She smiled and said, “If you can really understand why I might need to kill myself, maybe I won’t have to.” Mark Goulston writes, “She didn’t have to. In fact, she married, had children and became a psychologist.”1
Habakkuk tells of a relationship forged between God and God’s people out of the honesty of speaking of suffering and being heard. Being heard changes what is.
Habakkuk receives the promise that – though it will not happen quickly – God is faithful. Vision, hope and new life will emerge, when the time is right. There is no blossom on the fig tree now, Habakkuk says, I know there is no fruit on the vine, but the Lord is here. I exalt in God who is connected to us and will be faithful, says Habakkuk.
This steadfast belief that God will be present to people in the midst of suffering and injustice and will bring them to deliverance is powerful and threatening. The idea that God will abide with those who suffer and bring them to salvation is so powerful that the powers and principalities of this world are afraid. Being heard and in relationship with a God who promises salvation changes everything.
In Advent, we remember the good news that God hears our cries. We remember that God came to us in Jesus Christ.
We remember that Jesus cried out in suffering to his God, cried out for the pain of the people and cried out in his own agony. God heard the cries of Jesus. God did not deny his pain, but entered into it. And their relationship changed everything.
Jan Richardson is a visual and written word artist who collaborated with her husband until he died suddenly in the middle of Advent last year. At the beginning of this Advent she wrote of the blessing that God offers when the world is ending.
Look, the world
is always ending
it has gone
it has ended
with the gun
it has ended
with the slammed door
the shattered hope.
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone
the hospital room.
… has not come
to cause despair.
It is simply here
because there is nothing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.
will not fix you
will not mend you
will not give you
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.
It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
as the world begins
1.Mark Goulston, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone, pg. 181-183, 2010, AMACOM
2. Jan Richardson, Blessing When the World is Ending, www.adventdoor.com, “©Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.”