fbpx Skip to Navigation Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer

When God Doesn’t Answer Our Cries For Help

Derek Caldwell

How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen?

Habakkuk 1:2

Growing up, I was one of those children who instantly began crying for their Mama when left in the care of a trusted babysitter. Usually, I was left with my grandma, Judy, whom I loved dearly, but that didn’t matter. I was inconsolable. I could typically be distracted into contentment by watching Looney Tunes, but if that did not work then it was going to be a rough day.

A young mind wrestles with the odd choices adults make. Why would my mother leave me here again? I told her not to! Wherever she goes, I go; that’s the deal. And to top it all off, she would regularly be gone for hours doing some terribly inconvenient activity called work. She didn’t like work. Her boss was clueless, and she had funny names for him. And yet, she chose that over me. The unmitigated gall!

To put that in perspective, though, I would also ask my mother to buy me outrageous things whenever we were at the grocery store or anywhere else. I loved things back then, and I knew that for some reason the adults had to be the ones to get them. But sometimes my mother would again go against my wishes and inform me that she couldn’t buy the item—usually an action figure, which is what boys call their dolls—because we didn’t have enough money. I knew she was lying, though, because whenever she didn’t have money, she could just give the store a little rectangular piece of paper that she wrote on, and they gave her everything she wanted. So, I told her stridently, just write a check. I know you have them!

Life was good, though, and these little misunderstandings were cleared up quickly or simply forgotten about. And those feelings of abandonment? They didn’t last. Though to a child an hour is like a thousand hours, Mama always came back.

Big Girls (and Boys) Do Cry

Of course, these early interactions with loved ones become the foundation for our forays into the big, bad world later in life. When I reached my teen years, my childlike faith subsided and I started to think more and more for myself. And people around me were still talking about God, but I just didn’t see any evidence for His existence. The world had gotten more complicated since those Looney Tunes-filled mornings in the late eighties with Grandma. Probably my most distinct childhood memory was of my brother dying in a car accident, so what I knew of the world was that it was the kind of cruel and cold world where young people die without an apology, and time marches on and everything keeps spinning like none of it meant a thing.  

People kept urging me to seek God, though. I thought they were ridiculous. And then, long story short, I found out they were onto something. Hallelujah, happy days are here again!

Until they weren’t. It is bad enough to feel abandoned when you are a child, even when you really aren’t. It is worse still to feel alone in the universe when you are an atheist, even though you aren’t. But one of the worst tortures we can face, one that has—if the reports are correct—converted many a theist to atheism, is feeling abandoned by the God who once spoke to us, the One who once sang a tune of forgiveness and paradise to lull us to peaceful sleep at night.

We have all been there. We face a terrible trial in our lives and we look to the heavens. The only sound we hear is a breeze, if there is a breeze. It is at times like these when we learn that silence is the most devastating of sounds.  

I was told by many well-meaning people that in those moments of abandonment you could pray to God, and He would respond. Much like the pray to God to reveal Himself to you prayer that is often recommended to non-Christians, we assume the same thing will happen—maybe more!—to those who know and love Him. It’s not a bad idea, and I think God does often respond to those prayers. However, beyond just a conviction that God is faithful, there is sometimes an unspoken belief that God is like a watch we can wind up and make tick to the tune of our beating hearts. Well, sometimes the watch won’t tick. And people get really uncomfortable when the watch they recommended doesn’t seem to be playing by the(ir) rules.

Perhaps you will find it comforting (in a misery loves company sort of way) to know that even spiritual giants have struggled with this problem, crying out to God and hearing nothing in return. John of the Cross viscerally describes the cries of a hurting soul for an absent Christ when he writes,

Why, after wounding

This heart, has Thou not healed it?

And why, after stealing it,

Hast Thou thus abandoned it,

And not carried away what Thou hast stolen?

Quench Thou my troubles,

For none else can do so;

And let mine eyes behold Thee

Who art their light,

And it is for Thee alone I would use them.

Reveal Thy presence,

And let the vision of Thy beauty kill me.

Behold, the disease

Of love is incurable

Except in Thy presence and in the light of Thy countenance.


Habakkuk’s Cries Unanswered

We don’t talk enough about Habakkuk, whom I think has the most enjoyable name to pronounce of all the prophets. Habakkuk was a prophet who felt abandoned. Was God even listening to him? If He was, then surely, He would answer. That’s what God does. But He didn’t.

You see, Habakkuk had a problem, a burden.[2] The nation was in trouble, violence abounded, and the Law—which had just been rediscovered a few years earlier under King Josiah to much celebration—was now trampled underfoot once again. And he thought God shared this burden to right the ship, but he was beginning to have doubts. “How long must I call for help,” he wailed. How long must I cry out for rescue from violence without hearing or seeing a trace of you, God? Habakkuk wasn’t even pretending to appear reverent.

Who can’t relate? We can imagine the joy of national renewal that had taken place, like anyone who has placed all their hope into the hands of attaining some thing, whether it be the election of a political candidate or a dream job. You can almost imagine the fireworks on display in Israel, jets flying overhead as speakers blare patriotic songs, the smell of good food and the laughter of good people intermingling in the air of an endless night. But here stands Habakkuk in the present disaster, looking back and seeing the smoke of the celebration still lingering in the air.

God Is Listening and Working

Habakkuk’s world had turned upside down, the people had returned to their old ways like a dog to its sick, and God will not answer him. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that “God seems to be strangely silent and inactive in provocative circumstances,” which is no lie.[3] The operative word here is seems, for God does eventually, finally answer Habakkuk. And His answer is that He has already been answering the prophet’s prayer, from before he even began praying it. He has already been at work.

Look around the nations; look and be amazed! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.

Habakkuk 1:5

And even once someone did tell Habakkuk about the plan—that someone being God—Habakkuk was astounded, and God’s words rang true: Habakkuk not only didn’t believe it, but he couldn’t believe it. This is so often the problem of seeking God in prayer or through signs: even if He does reach out to us, will we believe it? Will we accept it if it isn’t the answer we wanted or expected? So often we pray to God asking Him to bless what we already want to do, rather than wanting to do what He promises to bless.

God’s strange plan is to bring judgment upon the wickedness of His own people, Israel, who had begun worshipping demons and forcing their own brethren into lifelong slavery and sacrificing their children to Molech, and much more. So far, so good, Habakkuk must think, until God divulges the method of judgment: sending the great and terrible Babylon to judge (or rather, discipline) Judah.

A Matter of Trust

Now, there comes a point in every relationship where you are asked to trust someone with some big decision. From accepting a ride home from work to accepting a marriage proposal, a leap of faith—even if we don’t recognize it as such—has taken place. Internally we say, I trust you, sure hope you aren’t a homicidal maniac! The riskier we understand the decision to be, the greater the trust required. God is asking Habakkuk to trust Him through patient watchfulness and faithful presence.[4] He’s telling him, think, remember, you know Me. I’m good for it. I always come back.  

Habakkuk has reached the point where he can “allow his doubts to be either destructive or creative.”[5] Judah’s enacting lifelong slavery and sacrificing children is the result of going the destructive route with doubts: the kind of hopelessness that causes a drowning man to pull others into the water with him.Habakkuk chooses creativity and trust, for the prophet who says “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (Habakkuk 2:4) knows that, as Owen Young wrote, “Faith is not reason’s labor, but repose.”[6] When trust is placed in the proper object, it is not blind faith but illumined wisdom, peaceful rest, the return of song and dance and color.

Of course, trust takes time. Patience takes practice. From the frantic conversation with God in Habakkuk 1 and 2, we don’t know how many days passed before Habakkuk wrote what we know as the third and final chapter of his book. Perhaps it was one day, perhaps it was 10,000.

Whatever happened on that journey, he interestingly returns not with a burden, but with a song. What did Habakkuk learn? What did he experience? What sights was he led to see?

Perhaps he remembered Israel’s rescue from slavery, or their rescue from the wrath of warlords, or even the many times they were rescued from their own consequences. Perhaps he remembered the God who reached down and made friends with the smallest and weakest of nations, the One who called them back, the One who forgave them for forsaking Him, who longed to gather His people like a mother hen gathers her chicks (Luke 13:34). Maybe he remembered God walking with Adam in the cool of the day. Or the time He let Adam name the animals. Or the time He created woman.

“Lord, I have heard your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord,” Habakkuk cried out in longing adoration. “Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy,” he sang to the God whose mercy was of great renown (Habakkuk 3:2). This mercy is the whole reason Habakkuk felt comfortable with his accusative questions of Yahweh in the first place. No other ancient “god” would have allowed such an opening salvo, but then again, the weak can never take the slightest amount of criticism. Yet the All-Mighty welcomes it.

God spoke to Habakkuk again in a beautiful and terrifying vision. And after he had seen the vision of mountains writhing and waters churning and the great luminous bodies arrested in the sky, Habakkuk’s heart pounded, lips quivered, and legs trembled (3:8-16). God’s point, though human beings so easily forget it, was clear and simple. Scott Andrews explains, “We have nothing left to fear when our faith is in the God who shakes the hills.”[7]

Cries After the Hills Shake

Though the previous revelations were not how Habakkuk had assumed the future would look—He still struggled to understand God’s ways and wrestled with the knowledge that the bountiful land of Judah would still reject its needy inhabitants—he sings out, “I will be joyful in God my Savior” (3:18) Habakkuk’s pronouncement of faith in the beginning becomes for him experientially true in the face of God’s return in the end: God is Habakkuk’s “rock” (1:2), the sure thing he can cling to in this world.

Like Mama, God had not abandoned anyone. He had been working to set about His plan for the world, to provide a room in His house for each of us. God is a homemaker, after all. Behold, Habakkuk’s vision of the future, though opaque, was ultimately of Jesus. This is the inescapable figure in all of reality, the middle of the hourglass into which and out of which all things must flow. There was enough known of God for Habakkuk to trust Him in those moments. And history has shown us that Habakkuk’s trust was not misplaced. And neither is ours.

The waiting does, in an odd and mysterious way, prepare us for the answers to come. In the words again of St. John of the Cross, “The endurance of darkness is the preparation for great light.”[8] Habakkuk is asked to wait, as are we, but not indefinitely. We wait for a purpose, for a building up. Everything we want to do in life comes with a period of preparation, and the more at stake, the longer the preparation. I, for one, am happy that it takes at least eight years of concentrated study to become a doctor. But we are being made into the people of God, a beloved community of goodness, truth, and beauty. And as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross explains, struggle and suffering and loss help in our creation as people who love. In other words, she writes, “Beautiful people do not just happen.”[9] All those tears we’ve been shedding, HW Beecher explains, are God’s gift to wash and sanctify the eyes “until they can behold the invisible land where tears shall be no more.”[10]

At times, God asks us for only “silence, patience, and tears.”[11] Some of my questions and cries have been answered, but not all. Yet I’ve seen enough to trust. The response of just wait and see is always unsatisfying until you have waited and seen and been amazed at the divine hand’s intricate weaving of suffering and loss and darkness into rescue and redemption and light.

Instead of a having comments section, we invite you to contact us here.

[1] St. John of the Cross, “Dialogue Between the Soul and Christ,” in The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross (London: Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts & Green, 1864), 5-6.

[2] The Hebrew word typically translated oracle in Habakkuk 1:1 means burden.

[3] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. From Fear to Faith. (Chicago, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Fellowship, 1966), 13.

[4] For the concept of Faithful Presence, seeJames Davidson Hunter’s To Change the World (Oxford University Press, 2010).

[5] Kenneth L. Barker and Waylon Bailey, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah. The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 318.

[6] Owen Young, “The Complaint: or, Night-Thoughts,” in Select Works of the British Poets (Philadelphia: Thomas Wardle, 1831), 581.

[7] Scott Andrews, “Habakkuk 3” (sermon, Alliance Bible Fellowship, Boone, NC, October 18, 2005), https://www.abfboone.com/habakkuk-3/.

[8] St John of the Cross, “Letter to M. Catalina de Jesús,” in Edgar Allison Peers (ed.), The Complete Works of Saint John of the Cross (London: Oates & Washbourne, 1943), 265.

[9] Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, MD, Death: The Final Stage of Growth (New York: Touchstone, 1986), 96.

[10] Henry Ward Beecher and Edna Dean Procter (ed.), Life Thoughts: The Extemporaneous Discourses of Henry Ward Beecher (Edinburgh: Alexander Strahan, 1858),31.

[11] Charles Seymour Robinson, Annotations Upon Popular Hymns (New York: Hunt & Eaton, 1893), 380.