I love the brutal honesty of Habakkuk in today’s first reading:
How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and clamorous discord.
God’s reply to this lament?
Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.
Wait, hope, trust, be patient, have faith.
In believe…increase my faith, O Lord!
Let me introduce, for the sake of making a point, a bit of an artificial distinction here between “mere belief” and “living faith.”
This how long?/wait! dialectical tension in Habakkuk abides in the heart of every honest Christian, and this painful tension is what differentiates living faith from mere belief — mere belief being an ideological approach to God in a carefully curious manner, and living faith being a full-investment approach to God in a dangerously committed manner. While believers muse with head-scratching angst over the idea of the problem of evil, the faithful cry out from the depths with heaving sobs, “How long, O Lord?”
This tension between outcry and divine reply also reminds me of a scene (click here) in Zeffirelli’s movie Jesus of Nazareth that I found very powerful when I first watched it back in the late 80’s.
The scene is this: Right after Jesus’ joyous Bar Mitzvah, some Roman soldiers ride rough-shod into Nazareth and plunder for food. Then, for a moment, right after one of the Jewish zealots invokes a curse on the departing soldiers and then lets out a gut-wrenching prayer of lament to God, we suddenly see God’s reply. It illustrates the dramatic fulfillment in Jesus of Habakkuk’s cry and God’s pressing answer. It starts around minute marker, 1:12:50