Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove…
We have but faith: we cannot know;
For knowledge is of things we see
And yet we trust it comes from thee,
A beam in darkness: let it grow.
– Lord Alfred Tennyson; from Preface to In Memoriam
The arresting immediacy of poetry sometimes carries a profundity of truth that eclipses the rhetorical exactitude of theological inquiry and speaks to the world of our perplexing experience in the presence of God that cannot be captured in any other manner. Sometimes the broken hallelujahs we offer to God in the crucible of suffering are of more worth than the victory march we wish our faith would be.
I think also of the poetic cries of the Prophets who struggled in the light of the perplexing oracles of God. Jeremiah wept over the impending judgement of God. Habakkuk felt the same as he was confronted with the reality that the pagan juggernaut of Babylon would one day lay waste to Zion. Yet, in the face of the bitterest providence that God allowed his people to endure, we find some of the most resolute statements of faith in all of Scripture.
In the existential crisis Habakkuk faced, when confronted by the judgement of his people at the hands of wicked Babylon, God imparted a vision of his sovereign action of salvation wherein the whole earth would be filled with his Glory. But, this would only come in the wake of a disaster that struck a chord with the prophet’s deepest fears. Still, when all appearances of God’s blessings would appear to be absent, and the dreadful eventuality of judgement would fall upon Jerusalem, Habakkuk’s vision of faith transcended circumstance and rested in the abiding faithfulness of God who would vindicate his people, even in the face of calamity:
“I heard and my heart pounded
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will rejoice in God my Savior.
The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer,
he enables me to go on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:16-19 (NIV)
There are times when we must wander in the darkness, where the Lord is our only light. In these times, where all of the blessings we hope to receive from his hand are absent we are called to an unassailable hope – not in what we see, but in what we don’t. Joy in the presence of Christ is not found in the absence of trouble, but in the midst of it. If we cannot see his goodness in the dark night of our soul, we will miss it in the seasons of abundance as well. In these seasons, we abide in the faithfulness of God, not by sight but by faith. It’s okay when love is not a victory march, when all we have to give is a broken hallelujah in the pain that defies explanation. His presence is our abiding place in abundance or in its lack.