Holy Complaining

Scripture:  Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

One of my first jobs was making pizzas for Pizza Hut, and I did that for a few summers in a row.  One of the things I learned while in that position is that one of the jobs that I personally would not enjoy is being the manager of a restaurant.  During my time at Pizza Hut it was my observation that one of the primary things responsibilities the managers had to deal with was dealing with customer complaints.   There are a lot of threads on the website Reddit where people who work in customer service share the most ridiculous complaints they have dealt with.   I even found a thread completely focused on pizza related complaints.  A couple were similar to one’s I observed years ago.  People who came in for dine-in would commonly complain that the pizza was too hot.  It just came out of the oven, and the pan pizza is served in the pan it just baked in, so I was never sure what people expected.  On the flip side it was not uncommon for someone to place a carry-out order and then come like an hour after the pizza was done to pick it up and complain it had been sitting too long.   The most ridiculous complaint from the thread I read though was a man who ordered a pizza to be delivered and then called, irate to complain that instead of being delivered a pizza he was just delivered cooked dough, nothing had been put on it.  That kind of mistake would have been literally impossible to make in any pizza place, and it turns out that somehow this guy had managed to set the box down upside down so that when he opened it he was looking at the bottom of the pizza.  It is not just restaurants, any sector that has to provide customer service has to put up with the incredibly entitled behavior and the most ridiculous of complaints.  Chances are most of us either have stories from our own experiences of dealing with this, or we have heard them first hand from someone that we know.

In general we do not like to hear complaining.  Years ago when asked the typical “how are you?” question, I got in the habit of sometimes answering “I can’t complain”.  I started doing this because I wanted to say something other than the typical “fine” or “good”.  Sometimes this response catches people off guard, but I very regularly hear back a common refrain that “No one would listen if you did.”  Some complaints are absolutely ridiculous, and because of that I think we tend to have an overall negative view of registering complaints.  We tend to assume that most complaints are whiney and based in entitlement.  Sometimes complaints are valid and they do deserve to be heard.   Sometimes there is a wrong that needs to be made right or an inequality that needs to be addressed.   Even though some complaints are frivolous others deserve to be truly heard even if we would rather not.

As much as we do not like to hear complaints, some of us do not like to complain.  Instead of airing our grievances, we grin and bear it, keeping a stiff upper lip instead of expressing what we know is wrong.  While some of the worst customer service examples, come from people who are too eager to complain about everything, some of us almost need permission to complain.  For these reasons I am thankful for Habakkuk.  This small and obscure book of the bible gives us permission to complain.    It lets us know when things do not seem right in the world, we can express that to God and have confidence that not only does God hear our complaints but God cares about our complaints.

Habakkuk comes from a section of the bible that gets past over a lot: the Minor Prophets.  They are called minor, because like Habakkuk, most of these books tend to be short.  This section is full of unusual names such as Nahum and Obadiah, but Habakkuk might be the most unusual, and it might be one of the least read books.   Habakkuk is an obscure book of the bible and not just because it is often passed over.   We tend to know very little about a lot of the Old Testament prophets, but we know even less about Habakkuk.  Very little clues is given in his own writing, and he is not mentioned much elsewhere.  Based on some context clues, biblical scholars end to place Habakkuk’s ministry towards the end of the kingdom of Judah.  This is the same tumultuous time as the prophet Jeremiah in the years leading up to the Babylonian conquest and exile.  Habakkuk is also very different than the other prophets.  For the most part the prophetic books contain proclamations from God, but Habakkuk really does not.  Instead Habakkuk is a book of complaints.  Of Habakkuk’s three chapters, the vast majority of it are two complaints that Habakkuk brings before God, and then God’s answers to those complaints.    This morning’s scripture reading gives a sampling of what we can find in the book because the first reading, 1:1-4 is Habbakuk’s first complaint and the second reading from chapter two comes from one of God’s responses.

Both of Habbakuk’s complaints are fairly similar, they are both valid, and they are both incredibly relevant.  Verses 2 and 3 of the first chapter do a good job at summing up the essence of this complaint: “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?  Or cry out to you, ‘violence!’  but you do not save?  Why do you make me look at injustice?  Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?”

It is amazing to me that we are separated from the time of Habbakuk by more than 2,500 years.  Our cultural context is so incredibly different, yet despite that the complaint of Habbakuk still rings true.   If we were so inclined we could bring the very same questions before God today.  We see injustice and wrongdoing everywhere around us.  On the international stage, we have seen the people of Ukraine subjected to an unjust and wrongful invasion for the vast majority of this war, with no real end in sight, no real justice forthcoming.   On the national level, regardless of whatever political party you support, we know there is corruption in the system, and it seems even when it gets called out the rich and the powerful are rarely if ever held accountable.  A little bit more locally we can still cry out violence, as the homicide rate in our general area is elevated.  This year the city of Chicago has had over 500 homicides and Indianapolis is just shy of 200 killings.  Both cities can claim they are on track for less deaths than last year, but that is not saying much when 2022 will likely be the second deadliest year in Indianapolis’ history.  Again, our context is so radically different than it was for Habakkuk.  The specifics are clearly different, but we can make the same complaints that Habakkuk makes.  On every level we can see injustice, corruption, and violence around us and we can have the same questions that Habakkuk has.  Why does God tolerate wrongdoing, why does God allow this to happen?

I appreciate that God gives Habakkuk the space to ask these valid questions and lodge a legitimate complaint.  God does not try to silence Habakkuk, God does not tell him that complaining is not going to do any good, or no one is going to listen.  Instead God does the opposite, God answers Habakkuk’s complaint.   The most amazing thing is what happens next, God’s answer in 1:5-11 is not satisfactory for Habakkuk, so he complains more.  His second complaint is basically a reworded more detailed version of the first complaint.   God does not lose God’s temper, God does not get frustrated with Habakkuk’s refusal to let good enough be, but instead God answers him a second time.  Again, I appreciate that there is no rebuke, I appreciate that there is patience with Habakkuk because this communicates that there is patience with us.  The actions of Habakkuk communicate to us that we can ask questions of God, we can even ask difficult questions.  We can have the audacity to complain to the Almighty creator of all things and know that God does not dismiss our complaints, and just like for Habakkuk answer our complaints.

In the second part of this morning’s scripture reading we get God’s second answer to Habakkuk’s complaint.  It is an honest answer, but perhaps not the most satisfying answer.  God responded in verse 3, “For the revelation awaits an appointed time it speak of the end and will not prove false.  Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.”   In response to Habakkuk’s complaint, God tells him that a time will come when everything will be set right, when justice will be delivered, and wickedness will cease.   Unfortunately, God does not say when this time will be.  The implication is that it will not be any time soon.  The time will come, but it is a time that has to be waited upon.   There may be truth to that, but waiting is never easy.  I do not think people have ever liked waiting, but we are especially bad at it today.  We are so used to get everything either on demand or at most with two day, free shipping that waiting any longer than that can feel like an eternity.   Because of that it can feel like a bit of a letdown that the answer to Habakkuk’s complaint, the answer to the hard questions he asks about why God allows injustice and tolerates wrongdoing is wait.    Yet that is not the entirety of God’s answer that we read this morning.   Verse 4 states what we can do in the midst of the waiting: “the righteous person will live by their faithfulness.”

Evil is an inescapable problem in the world and we can be assured that there will be a time when God will deal with it, but until that time we still have agency.  We do not just need to sit by idly we can live by our faithfulness, committed to faithful actions of goodness and love.  This message of this morning’s scripture really resonates with me because it connects with one of the life lessons that my mom really tried to impress upon me at a young age.  When I was little, I would get really bent out of shape by other people not following rules or by not doing what they were supposed to be doing.  Often one of the things that would get me into trouble was my reaction (or rather overreactions) to these perceived injustices.  What my mom would remind me of is that the only person’s actions I can control or do anything about are my own.   I cannot force anyone else to do what is right, but I can control what I do to ensure that it is right.  In a lot of ways, I think that this wisdom is echoed in this morning’s scripture, in the idea that the righteous person will live by their faithfulness.

There is evil, injustice, and wickedness in the world today.   We cannot necessarily fix it or cause it stop, but we can control our actions.  We can choose to live faithfully in spite of everything else.   In a world beset by violence we can choose to be agents of peace, compassion, and understanding.   When confronted with corrupt systems, we can choose to conduct ourselves with absolute integrity and authenticity.   In the midst of waiting for the time when God will eventually make all things right, we can tend hurts while enabling dreams; we can share God’s love with the hopes to transform communities; and we can share God’s love through our words and actions so that the world can become a little bit more kind and loving place.  In the midst of all that is wrong in this broken and fallen world, we do not have to just sit by passively but instead we should live by faithfulness.   We can do this trusting that while it may not fix the big problems we see, it will certainly make an immeasurable difference in the lives of the people we touch through our loving actions.

This morning’s scripture comes from a part of the bible that we do not look at very much, but it contains a powerful message that is just as relevant today as it was when it was written.  In Habakkuk we see that we can be honest with God, even brutally honest, and take our complaints to God.  This short books also shows us that we also always have agency, which we can always choose how we respond to the wrongs around us, and the way we are encouraged to respond is with faithfulness.   So may have an honest and authentic faith.   May we be willing to take our questions and complaints to God, and we may have the faith to wait on God’s timing.  In the meantime though, may we be faithful.   May we seek to love God with our whole being, love our neighbor, and love one another.   In the middle of this broken and fallen world, may we live by our faithfulness and may we find that makes all the difference.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *