Journeying into Uncertainty

Published by Trevor Bechtel on

John Powell

How long, YHWH, am I to cry for help while you do not listen?
How long will I cry ‘oppression’ in your ear and you do not save?
Why do you make me look upon injustice?
Why do you countenance tyranny?
Outrage and violence . . . this is all I see!

Habakkuk 1:2-3 (The First Egalitarian Translation)

Our world has become topsy-turvy in just a few weeks. Our livelihood is threatened, the ways we have related have drastically changed. It’s almost as if we exist on our tiny island without lifeboats to lead us to safe land. It feels like we are held captive . . . scared to our core.

Individually and collectively, we are journeying into uncertain territory. Even though we are journeying together, each of us are dealing with that uncertainty in our own way. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic and violence, many have asked, “Where is God in the midst of this pandemic?”

Throughout history, individual’s faith and hope in God were often challenged. Our spiritual relatives, both ancient and contemporary, experienced a questioning faith journey . . . John the Baptist, Peter, Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, just to name a few. There are many more. There’s a lesser known person very seldom talked about . . . Habakkuk.

We don’t know much about Habakkuk. We know that he’s a priest of the people. He’s deeply concerned about what he’s witnessing.

Watching his nation struggling with devastation, poverty, hunger and corrupt leadership, this preacher confronted God seeking answers. He was deeply disturbed by what was happening and, in a number of ways, his faith about how God was engaging confronting issues was perplexing. He was not so much concerned about delivering a message rather, he was more concerned about finding answers.

He lived in a society that was experiencing tremendous suffering. People depended on agricultural production; however, produce was scarce. He cites many horrors . . . fig trees not blooming, crops not yielding, fruit vines not producing. His community was struggling with extreme poverty.

These were frightening times. Good people are suffering. It’s not good and it’s not fair. He questions God and asked, “When God? How long this suffering? When are you going to act? I’m waiting!

God answers him saying that the Chaldeans are being sent. This is really perplexing to Habakkuk since the Chaldeans are more vicious than the regime they are currently under.  Habakkuk keeps on pushing. He won’t stop until he gets an answer.

Do you identify with this preacher?  If you do, you are not the only one. We wake up, sometimes feeling alone, experiencing calamity around us . . . high unemployment, people looking for food and survival supplies, rampant violence and the continual assault on people of color and marginalized communities. Unlike the society Habakkuk lived in, our’s is a land of plenty; yet, the resources are being gobbled up by those who have plenty. It’s somewhat like what the community of Habakkuk experienced.

We become weary and sometimes we feel detached from life while struggling to gain a sense of purpose. We are alone, yet together. Together yet alone. The devastation around us produces devastation inside of us. It is in these moments that we reach upward, outward and inward toward God. We say, “I can’t do this, God, What’s happening around us is blasphemy against all you stand for!”

Our experience often causes us not to want to get out of bed. We need answers. Answers that will satisfy our need for calmness in the midst of our anxiety. 

At one time or another, all of us who profess our faith in God, have doubts about God.  I, among many, like to be in control; but, some things are beyond our control. There are many things we can do . . . we can keep ourselves and other safe. However, there’s little we can do to stop some things, like coronavirus, in its tracks.

In uncertain times, doubt creeps in, affecting how we see ourselves, our relationship with our surrounding and God. It happens when we search for answers and the answer put forth just don’t quite meet our needs or measure up to our beliefs. Doubt, particularly about God, gives us an uncomfortable feeling. Since we are believers, it’s hard to admit, even, to ourselves, that we have doubt about God’s activity, even though most of us believe that God is somewhere in the mix.

Our spirituality is challenged and we want to believe that God will help us find answers . . . but how and when is questionable. We want to believe but God, at least our understanding of God, hasn’t given us enough evidence to believe that things will work out for the common good.

We continue to ask, “Where is God when God is needed most?” Maybe a better question is, “How are we letting God attend to our spiritual lives when disaster strikes?”

Are there answers to this madness?

I say, YES, YES, YES!!!!

I want to propose that our spiritual lives are governed by two sides of the same coin . . . unfailing belief and doubting faith. Doubting faith draws us close to experiencing God. It relies on that which is not known but experienced. Our unfailing belief seldom leave room for doubt. Our beliefs are born out of our human experiences. In times of trouble, we want to reach out for hope. Doubt creeps in and when it does, anxiety happens, setting up obstacles to overcoming. If left alone, we become prone to cast aside the shallow faith that’s alive.

Faith notices the pain and the void.  Faith is there providing the spiritual settling until the weight has lifted.  That’s God’s moment.

God manifests God’s self inwardly and outwardly. When I was growing up, I learned that God was out there … up there. We would sing, “I’m Going Up Yonder”. As I begin to experience God, I came to realize that God resided inwardly. Like a parent, God never promised me that I would not experience pain. Like a parent, God was there.  God promised to never leave me alone.

Through encounters with self and others, God continues to reveal God’s self.

In distress we might ask will our relationship with God persist in the midst of questioning.

It’s understandable. I think that God is OK with it. But, God will confront you as well. God will continue to inquire about why you doubt.  Sometimes God is very blunt with the inquiries. What do I need to do to prove my presence? At times it may feel like we’ve been hit with a 2 X 4.  

Stop questioning God doesn’t come quickly . . . after all, what we know is that our lives are in turmoil and we want and need answers now. So what do we do?

Let me share a story with you.

Several months before the pandemic, a man was settling into a relaxed routine. He had begun to discover his identity outside of work.  Focusing on his spiritual center, he began to find peace with his life. Ministering was his calling and he was satisfied.

As the infection and death rated mounted, he began to question his identity . . . who was he as he ministered among people. He thought about friends who were battling life threatening conditions. . . . and some of other friends and relatives have preexisting conditions that exposes them to the serious impact of the virus.

Witnessing the catastrophic toll around him, he was unable to get a good night’s rest. He began to have doubt about God and his relationship with God. His routine and relationships had been interrupted. In fact, his presumed relationship with God was changing. His prayers were confrontational and argumentative. Why would a powerful God let this happen?  How could he minister to a people who were searching for answers from God if he too had many unanswered questions?

A week later, his son, not a religious but very spiritual, sent him a simple text that only said, Psalms 91. Reading the text, he abruptly stopped at ““YHWH, my refuge and my mountain fortress, my God in whom I trust!”  For YHWH says: “I will rescue you from the snare. . .”

His son was very philosophical. When things were rough, they sought each other out.

That night, with much worrying him, including his and his wife’s health, he finally began to drift into sleep. As he drifted, he perceived words that said . . .’ Be still and know that I am God.’ He went to sleep and when he awakened, the issues hadn’t changed, but he was strangely calm.

This was a God moment that began with the relationship with his son.

We are a different places in our faith journey. …and, we are a community that practices sharing. It’s a core belief of our lives together. We need each other to help us sort out the places where we are lacking faith and trust . . . helping us to transform our doubts to trusting the God within.  We need to be vulnerable with each other about our hopes, fears and doubts.

Habakkuk was waiting for a God Moment . . . a time when God would suddenly swoop down and make everything right. He wanted a change of circumstances. But God’s timing doesn’t follow the timing of Habakkuk. Eventually, things did change. Again only to become problematic again later.

We don’t have a description of the activities that led him to his encounter with God. I would suspect his observation and personal encounter with the issues was more than he could handle. 

In our state of spiritual ambivalence, we await for that God moment.  It is here, among, people who love and care that we can discover and experience the God moment. And when it happens, our faith, hope and trust in God becomes alive again.

When I was growing up, my elders would remind us that God works in mysterious ways. That mysterious way comes when we are able to share our doubts and spiritual misgivings with each other.

It will take time, continual questioning, sharing and reflection. The external and internal God will give you what you need to fortify your soul. Our spiritual center is rekindled when we get the answer from God, from whatever source that assures us that we are loved and cared for.

As rational beings we hear the words of God, but sometimes we miss experiencing the words of God.  Then, at least for me, comes those soothing words . . . Be Still!!! And Know.

I want you to do something with me. Let these words linger in your thoughts momentarily.

  • Be still and Know that I am God
  • Be still and Know that I am
  • Be still and Know
  • Be still
  • BE!!!

We know that God has again ignited our spiritual center when those words stick around to be examined and tested by you, friends and the enemy. The presence of the Devine pierces through all barriers and we feel, and . . . yes, know, that which is true. That is, we are not alone. God has provided sustenance for us to know and experience God’s presence.  The words will come often enough not to be ignored; but rather, to embrace and be embraced and to hold on with dear life.

Faith is not about having unshakable beliefs. It is about acknowledging your doubts and seeking to find an answer that leads you to who God really is. It just might cause us to examine our skewed understanding of the essence and attributes of God. Noted theologian Os Guinness once said that if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. That’s good for the soul!

Facing our spiritual doubts and faith, we can live with our focus on who and what God has placed in our lives, not on the difficulties.

You have a God given choice when doubt and anger get to you. You can reject it or you can adopt it. Rejecting frees you to communicate with God in ways that builds relationship with yourself and God. You do have a relationship with self.

Let’s end where we started with Habakkuk. In the end, even when he feared the future, rested his hope and trust in God, saying, “I will take joy in the God of my salvation. . . . God is my strength  . . .”

May you live in celebration and worship that God will make a way. It will be well with your soul.

Categories: Sermons

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