Last week, we read from Jeremiah, who brought a message for those of us who have some power—to care for the immigrant, and the widow, and the orphan. Well, this week, we turn to Habakkuk, who is bringing a message of hope for those same folks who are oppressed. But… it might take some time.
I often think about what it would be like to live in the times of the prophets. Let’s say you hear this message from Habakkuk. You’re an Israelite living in the Promised Land six-hundred or so years before Jesus. The Babylonians are beginning their march toward the place where you live. Things moved slow in those days—it might be years until they got there—but you know when they arrive it’s going to be bad. So, you’re a Jew living in the land promised to you by God, knowing that within your lifetime outside invaders are coming to take it away, and everything you have—your property, your work, your place of worship—is going to be taken from you. And into this anxiety comes a prophet, in Habakkuk, preaching a message that says, “There is hope, but it may take a while.”
Now, imagine you can see the future and know that that hope is coming in six hundred years. Not only will you not see it—neither will any of your children, or grandchildren, or anybody else in living memory. By the time that hope arrives, you will be forgotten. This is the context of Habakkuk. It’s all going away, and it won’t be made right for a long, long time.
Frankly, this is why I get so agitated when people read from Jeremiah and pull out that one verse (Jeremiah 29:11) and talk about God knowing the plans he has for us and giving us a future with hope, because the prophets are talking about the same thing here! This is hope for a nation. It is hope for a telos—God’s ultimate purpose for creation. It is not a promise that life will be peachy in the meantime or that everything that is happening is according to God’s plan. This is, in fact, the opposite of what the prophets are preaching. They are telling us that things are most definitely NOT happening according to God’s plan, and that’s why the nation is being displaced, and anxiety is rampant, and this hope is far, far off. The prophets are saying that things are, in fact, really bad, and the hope we have is not one for this world, because most of us won’t see it.
At first this doesn’t feel like a better kind of hope. I can understand why we want God to tell us that it will all work out for us in ten years, because we want to experience that telos on this side of death. We want to see our children and grandchildren fulfill our hopes for them. It’s perfectly natural to give God our timetable. The problem is that it doesn’t always happen that way.