From the Prophet Habakkuk:

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
will exult in the God of my salvation.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NRSV) – November 20, 2012)
"Faith" Inscribed on a Granite BlockGiving thanks at a time privation, that’s what these two verses from Habakkuk’s prophecy are about. Habakkuk describes a situation in which he (and all the people of Jerusalem) have lost everything. Just look at what he lists in verse 17: figs, grapes, and olives, the year-round fruit crops of the area; the fields, which is to say the annual crops, the grains and staple foods; flock and herd, which means sheep and cows. All their their produce is gone, all their livestock are dead.

This is a society utterly destroyed. Habakkuk’s situation is worse than anything we can imagine in our time and place. In Habakkuk’s time, there was no “safety net”, no social service agencies, no homeless shelters, no food stamps, no church food pantries, no well-off relatives (everyone is suffering the loss of the crops and livestock). For Habakkuk and his kindred, this all means starvation. It means death. None of us, I’m sure, has ever been in quite the situation Habakkuk experiences, though I do know that many have, for example, faced death their own possible in the form of cancer or of battlefield danger, and others have handled the death of loved ones.

Nonetheless, in face of the virtual certainty of destruction, Habakkuk can say, “I will rejoice in God; I will give thanks to my Lord.” It is easy to give thanks and rejoice when we have things; Habakkuk does so when he has nothing. I think we sometimes confuse thankfulness for the things we receive from God for faith in God God’s-self. Habakkuk has no things to be thankful for; it is in God’s self that Habakkuk rejoices. It is in God, not God’s gifts that Habakkuk trusts. This is more than gratitude for stuff. This is more than optimism and positive thinking. This is faith.

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.