Anyone who spends any amount of time with young children knows that continual questions accompany their journey of discovering the world around them. A recent visit with one of my nieces reminded me of the importance of questions for the development of her young mind. She fired off her questions one after another, often barely hearing my answer before rapidly and excitedly asking her next.
Answering the persistent questions of my niece is one of the joys of my relationship with her. Every once in a while, she asks me a question that I am unable to answer for her in a way that satisfies. And so, she continues to ask the same question over and over again to no avail. Other times, she asks for things I cannot give to her, or that require me to tell her “no.” In spite of frequent “no’s” or my lack of a satisfactory answer, I am her aunt. She will continue to ask me questions because I am her aunt. She rests, even without answers, in our relationship.
The parallels with our spiritual questions are obvious. There is hardly a day that goes by that most of us do not wonder about some puzzling question involving faith. Unlike the child-like questions of curiosity and discovery, these are often questions that fill us with doubt. These are the questions that challenge our trust; not only in the answers we’ve been given that may no longer satisfy, but also in the character of the one who does not provide the answer we are looking for or, worse, seems sometimes not to answer us at all.
The writings of Habakkuk recorded in the Old Testament are filled with questions and very few answers. Habakkuk is one of the final prophets of Judah prior to her exile. The situation is grim and Habakkuk is the bearer of bad news. Indeed, the opening verse is often translated, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet saw.”(1) Habakkuk’s burden involved carrying the weight of God’s impending judgment. Habakkuk could not understand, for example, the method of God’s judgment of Judah by the Chaldeans. Even though Habakkuk understands that God uses the Chaldeans to bring judgment, he wonders aloud, “Why do you look with favor on those who deal treacherously? Will they therefore empty their net and continually slay nations without sparing?” (Habakkuk 1:13b, 17). As Habakkuk pours forth cries of woe against Judah for their oppression of the poor, their pride, and their idolatry, he still cries out for God to save. “In wrath remember mercy,” he prays.
Habakkuk is clearly in conflict over God’s answer. The third and final chapter of this book records Habakkuk’s prayer: “Lord, I have heard the report about you and I fear.” He recounts the fearful record of God’s wrath poured out on other nations. This same wrath will come in the form of the Chaldeans against Judah, and Habakkuk trembles at the thought of it. “I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble.” Yet, in spite of the distress that is coming, Habakkuk trusts in the One who will remember mercy:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
and there be no fruit on the vines…
Yet, I will exalt in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.(2)
Recounting prayers made by King David and Moses before him, Habakkuk places his trust in the God who saved his people in generations long past. In this place of fearful waiting for God to answer with salvation, Habakkuk rests in a place without words or answers. It is a place of mystery and silence, a place in which the God who is and who has been his strength and salvation will again lift him up to the heights.
In our world of unanswered questions or in the difficult places where the answers are not what we want to hear, we are called to rest in this wordless place beyond answers. Just as a young child rests in those relationships of trust, we can rest in God’s faithfulness from ages past. The wordless place can be for us the place of trust, instead of fear.
Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.
(1) Habakkuk 1:1. The word for “burden” is also translated “oracle.” The Hebrew in Habakkuk is very difficult with many obscure Hebrew words that often do not occur anywhere else in the Old Testament.
(2) Habakkuk 3:17, 18-19. Verse 19 is a direct quote from 2 Samuel 22:34 and from Deuteronomy 33:29.