Monday morning, I was on my way to the retirement home of some Franciscan Sisters to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption. On the front seat next to me was my cell phone; it made the buzzing sound it does when a text has come in. It was 10:43 am. Something told me to pull over to the side of the street. The text was only three words: “Water in house.”
Friends living in Prairieville, LA, on a canal of the Amite River had been cautiously, hopefully watching the waters levels rise. They had been watching the news from north of Baton Rouge – and upstream of their location. It was horrific news for the people in those areas. But there was hope. My friends had built their new home on higher ground. But the forecast for the flood crest kept being adjusted upward.
Night fell and morning rose – the river kept rising. On Sunday morning, it had begun to leak over the river bank into the low-lying areas. By Sunday afternoon the main road was underwater, and the river was in the backyard. By nightfall the electricity was gone, the river had closed to one side of the house, and all one could do was wait in the long, dark night.
Inexorably, the water slowly rose in the night. The area rug on the screened-in porch was beginning to float at 8:05 am. Some two hours later, “Water in house.” All the while hopeful, all the while helpless. Helpless in Prairieville. Helpless in Tampa.
One entire book of the Bible speaks to such helplessness of God’s people. The people of Jerusalem swept away in the flood of the Babylonian hordes, their homes vanquished. The book is simply called Lamentations. There is no theological discourse here. It is the human cry of anguish wondering where was God in such death and destruction? It is the helpless but hopeful cry of a suffering people who, along with the prophet Habakkuk, complain that God felt silent and aloof: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, and you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene?” (Hab 1:1)
This is just one example of the startling lexicon of human grief in Scripture: weeping, torment, disbelief, vindictiveness, envy, anxiety, wrath, bitterness, tears, betrayal, affliction, distress, desertion, desolation, weakness, violence, and the silence of God who appears not to hear our cries. By venting their frustrations, perplexity, and pain, the Biblical writers give us permission to do the same in our helplessness. It is the passion of Lamentations and Habakkuk.
Yet even in his helplessness, Habukkuk chose hopefulness; he chose faith and decided to watch and wait: “I hear, and my body trembles; at the sound, my lips quiver. Decay invades my bones, my legs tremble beneath me. I await the day of distress… For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, Though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, Yet I will rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God.” (Hab 3:16–18) Habakkuk’s faith didn’t depend upon a favorable outcome. Habakkuk writes that “the righteous will live by faith.” (2:4)
It is now six hours later since that simple text. No doubt the charge on the cell phone is gone. We wait in the silence for news that our friends are safe. We are helpless, yet hopeful and faithful.