Trembling Faith

Taylor TurkingtonBy Taylor Turkington11 Minutes

Excerpt taken from Trembling Faith: How a Distressed Prophet Helps Us Trust God in a Chaotic World by Taylor Turkington


The Prophets and Paying Attention

One thing is for sure, God’s spokespeople writing in the Bible will tell it to us straight—we must pay attention.

As one scholar puts it: “The situation of a person immersed in the prophet’s words is one of being exposed to a ceaseless shattering of indifference, and one needs a skull of stone to remain callous to such blows.”² The Bible paints the prophets as those who jolt us awake and force us to see what is happening and what God says about such things.

They are the watchmen signaling with waving arms, often to people wanting to look away. Look up and see the evil done against others (Micah 2:1–2), the prophets said. See the impact of your own choices on the vulnerable (Isa. 10:1–2). See the disobedience of God’s people (Zeph. 3:4). God sees the ways we’ve gotten things super wrong, guys, and he’s coming to do something about it. Get ready. We might not be paying attention, but he is.

A real estate agent I once rented from held a similar attitude as God’s people. She wanted to smooth over any problems rather than look closer at the grave state of things. Walking up to the apartment I would rent, the agent pointed up, saying, “Look how lovely the balcony is!”

As we got inside the flat, her tone changed about the platform hanging off the fourth story residence. “Oh, don’t look at it closely. Walk right past those terrace doors, and do not go out there now.” If you ignored her advice and chose to examine it, you would realize the concrete porch had cracks running through it, particularly where it was precariously attached. It leaned away from the building, sloping down, as if beginning the dive it would one day take. Stepping onto the balcony would have been taking our lives in our hands, along with the stream of people walking on the street below. The real estate agent preferred to smile, ignore the cracks, and continue on.

Similarly, it would be easy for some of us—and beneficial at times—to look away from the wrong done around us. We much prefer the aesthetics that way. Yet there are consequences to indifference, just like there would have been if we held lunch on that balcony. We should not be surprised by discipline from the Lord if we choose not to pay attention to the discrepancy between our community’s actions and God’s righteous standard, just as the prophets warned in Israel. The Lord told them it was because they did not listen; it was because they didn’t pay attention to his words that they were sent into exile (Jer. 29:18–19).³

Alright, you may think, suppose we pay attention to the injustice and brokenness around us, even when we want to look away. Then what? Do we acknowledge it then put on a happy face? What do we do with anger, sadness, and powerlessness in the face of the horrific evil of this world that we cannot stop?

This is exactly where we join Habakkuk on his journey. You see, this prophet’s book isn’t a collection of his messages from God like some other prophetic books. Nor is it a narrative of his life, like the book of Jonah.

Habakkuk does something different—he invites us into his conversation with God, like we’re sitting in on his prayer meeting. We have a front-row seat to Habakkuk’s wrestling, listening, bravery, and gritty faith. We get to see what real faith in the middle of chaos, wrongdoing, and suffering actually looks like.

But before we jump in further, let’s set the scene a bit.

Habakkuk’s Chaos

Habakkuk’s situation can feel far from our lived experience, but it really isn’t. He lived in a time of political chaos, violence, and a whole lot of wrong. He had witnessed strong leadership, and even revival. Then, he saw it all crumble before his eyes as leaders lived for their own power and believed in their own authority. Oppression, danger, and hardship enveloped his society. Sound familiar?

Pharoah Neco of Egypt decided to dabble in the politics of Judah by doing two things. First, after he’d killed Judah’s good King Josiah, he exiled Josiah’s son who had begun to rule. Second, Pharoah put another of Josiah’s sons in charge—with strings attached, of course. (He had already killed one king and ousted the next; his dominance was established.) Pharaoh even changed the new king’s name from Eliakim (“God will establish”) to Jehoiakim (“the Lord will establish”), inserting God’s covenant name the Lord Yahweh instead of the more generic “God.” Was this supposed to assure the Jewish people of his leadership? Was Pharaoh claiming divine right to rule over God’s people? As if the name of the Lord would bring any comfort when it was in the mouth of a cruel foreign ruler.

Our friend, Habakkuk, lived under the rule of King Jehoiakim. It wasn’t a virtuous reign.

Do we see leaders around us live for their own power so that injustice seeps in? Have we seen the choice of self-protection and self-benefit instead of caring for those in need and those in the right? Time and again. In organizations, in nations, and sadly, at times, in churches.

As I write this, the global Christian community is still reeling from the news of a major Christian leader who was found to be a systematic sexual abuser. Some dear to me are mourning the broken systems of foster care and the impact on children. And I bet you’ve seen some situation or issue unravel in recent years that made your stomach turn. Maybe it’s human trafficking. Or racism. Or the needs of children. Or unfair treatment of some vulnerable population. Here’s what I want you to know in all of that: Habakkuk gets it. He was facing what we still see in our world: injustice.

King Jehoiakim, the token king for Egypt, encouraged anything but righteous faith in the Lord of his name. “Change your worship to what aligns you with the right people,” would have been his sermon title (Jer. 25:1–6; Ezek. 8:5–17). Additional idolatry brought gain in his mind. Thus, he seemed to ignore the feasts and templeworship that God required of his people, only using religion for what served him.

Again, does this sound familiar? Leaders who would use religion to manipulate others and gain allegiance and power, all under the banner of God’s name? A quick scroll through various types of media will prove that our present reality is littered with such stories.

Adding to his horrific reign, Jehoiakim raised taxes to fuel his own lifestyle and to pay Egypt their tribute. His lavish buildings required slave labor and abuse of his own people. The people lived in poverty as he built his costly homes. He clashed with Jeremiah, whom God used to warn him of coming judgment (Jer. 22, 25).

What was Jehoiakim’s response to God’s correction? He burned Jeremiah’s scroll bit by bit, literally silencing the Word of God written for the people. To further silence the prophets who would dare to speak against him, Jehoiakim sent out assassins. Habakkuk faced the threat of death! The result of the abandonment of God’s justice in Judah’s society was chaos.4 The silencing of correcting voices wasn’t unique in Habakkuk’s time.

Leadership punishing those who want to serve the Lord describes the circumstances for many across the world today. While our government may not have been taken over by a Pharoah, the misuse of power is around us, injustice and corruption too, even in the name of the Lord.

Though we’d rather look away sometimes, faith requires us to pay attention.

2. Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, 1st Perennial Classics ed. (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2001), xxv.
3. Though the Hebrew word here is shema, meaning “to listen,” it is translated “pay attention” in the ESV. The verb more often translated as “pay attention” (keshav) is used to describe their failure to obey and the reason for their coming punishment in Zechariah 1:4 and 7:11.
4. Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum–Malachi: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: Westminster John Knox Press, 1988), 35.

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