How Long and the Sense of God’s Absence

The prophet Habakkuk begins his conversation with God around the question, “how long?” That question is one we all voice from time to time. It is our question in the midst of times of trouble, but also humanity’s cry in the apparent absence of God. Habakkuk raises his voice to God, “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you…but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 2:2).

Many times our own “how long?” is a cry for God to act when we sense that He is not at work. We wonder if God is absent from our suffering. As the troubles of our world and our personal lives boil around us, we may begin to ponder questions like these: “where is God?”; “what is going on here?”; “does God even care?”

In these times we may resonate with the German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, who turned his own straining soul in search of God with these words:

I feel as though I make my way
through massive rock
like a vein of ore
alone, encased.

I am so deep inside it
I can’t see the path or any distance:
everything is close
and everything closing in on me
has turned to stone.

Since I still don’t know enough about pain,
This terrible darkness makes me small.
If it’s you, though –

Press down hard on me, break in
That I may know the weight of your hand,
And you, the fullness of my cry.[1]

The “how long” is our cry, even rising at times without understanding, to God.

But the difference between faith and lack of faith in troubling times is what we see right here with Habakkkuk: turning to God in the midst of the troubles versus turning away from God. Habakkuk allows the troubles around him – even within him – to push him toward God. Ironically, it is right in this cavern of confusion that he – and we –begin to hear from God.

[1] “Vielleicht, daß ich durch schweren Berge gehe ,” Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours, trans. Barrows and Macy, 127.

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