It remains more than mildly embarrassing how many important faith concepts that I learned from television, but here, we are. As a teenager, I was obsessed the political drama, The West Wing. It portrayed a fictional Presidential administration led by President Josiah Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen. The influence that this show has had on my life cannot be underestimated. It is why I got a near perfect score on the AP American History test my Junior Year of High School. It is why I passed the AP US Government exam and got college credit, despite having never taken a government class in on my life. It is why I went to an East Coast school to study political science in the hopes of one day serving in the real West Wing. To this day, I’m still pretty good at talking like a press secretary if you really need me to.

In the show, President Bartlett is a devout Catholic, and his faith often plays a major role in how he’s portrayed. He has a memorable rant at a radio host about the Book of Leviticus that pointedly declared: we don’t follow that book in detail anyways, so stop using it as a crutch in your arguments. On a more fundamental level, his character gave me a role model for a person who could be both faithful and overly intellectual, that I too could love God, serve people, and be a particular kind of smart. Relevant to today’s passage, he’s the one who taught me that it’s okay to yell at God.

In the season finale of season two, which aired in 2001, Bartlett’s secretary, that he’s had his whole career, gets killed by a drunk driver. Bartlett embroiled himself in some trouble by lying to the public, and this all happens in front of the backdrop of him deciding if he’s going to run for a second term. This all sets up the scene at the heart of this theological question. The funeral for the secretary has just finished. They’re in the National Cathedral. The Secret Service loudly shuts all the doors leaving President Bartlett alone in the sanctuary. He proceeds to yell at God. He swears at God. He sarcastically throws Latin prayers at God. He pointedly asks God why his various accomplishments as a President and as a man weren’t enough. He snuffs out a cigarette on the floor of the Cathedral to spite God.

I had never seen anyone talk to God like that. The show didn’t treat it as some sort of ending of Bartlett’s faith. He continued to be portrayed as a Christian. Part of why it lodged so deep in my brain is that I had had and continued to have my own version of those complaints. I didn’t know that I could give voice to those thoughts – to anyone, much less to God.

Turns out, this is a massive failure in my religious education. The Old Testament is filled with exact sort of conversations that President Bartlett had. We tend to only read the nice Psalms. I wrote about one last week, where God cares for us, and we are so happy for it. We say aloud Psalms of praise and of trust. We do the same thing with the prophets. We read their attempts to reassure of the people about God’s plan for them (Jeremiah 29:11), about God’s continual presence (Ezekiel), or about God’s promised Messiah (Isaiah and Zechariah). Brave preachers sometimes manage to slip in their more challenging words about our own behavior, about our own failings, and our own need for God’s grace. Both of these genres of Biblical text also spend a good amount of time yelling back at the Almighty. We just don’t tend to read them in a church or worship context. In doing so, we remove a valuable tool in navigating the life of faith.

The opening of Habakkuk, that we are reading a sampling from, captures one of these moments of invective towards God. The role of prophet normally means delivering messages from God to the people. Here, Habakkuk reverses the equation. Babylon is on the rise. It’s clear that will mean trouble for God’s people. Maybe, as Prophet, Habakkuk can see in detail the coming destruction. Whatever he sees, it’s enough for him to demand answers, so he uses the form of an ancient lawsuit against God. Him standing in the watchtower, which we often treat as a sign of faithfulness, is more him being an ancient process server making sure that God responds to the summons of to court.

God does respond. Part of faith means being faithful in hard times – to trust in God’s bigger picture even, when we can’t really see the good in it. It’s often how the Psalms that yell at God end too. It’s how God responds to Job yelling at God at the end of that book. Job, also like President Bartlett, hurls a ton of stuff at God, and God responds, not by zapping him, but by saying, “I am God. You are not. I see a far bigger picture.”

The Old Testament authors want us to know that this kind of communication with God is in bounds. It’s a part of following an Almighty God in a world that still contains vast amounts of brokenness. We’ve all felt like yelling. That desire is a faithful one. These scriptures of invective made it into the canon. They’re not there by mistake. The people who assembled what would become the Bible knew that they were there. God knows that this stuff is in there. None of these stories or Psalms end with someone getting zapped or condemned. We are not meant to suffer in silence, and we can bring our unvarnished and less than faithful selves before God. We shouldn’t let anyone else tell us otherwise.