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(Click or hover over the above Scripture reference link to read the passage.)
If you didn’t believe me when you read the Psalm 21 devotional that a victory psalm doesn’t mean we’ll always experience victory, Psalm 22 is here! When Jesus was hanging on the cross in utter physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual torment, what Scripture did he turn to? Psalm 22:1.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)
Have you ever felt like God has forsaken you? Jesus, the Son, the second member of the Trinity, felt like God the Father had forsaken him. This is heavy, heavy stuff.
Where do you go with feelings like that? You go to God. That’s what Jesus did.
The opening line of verse 1 is only the tip of the iceberg. It continues: Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
There will be times in this life of anguish–terrible, nightmarish times, of brutal anguish. We cry out to God in these times, but he doesn’t answer. We want rest, but we receive no rest.
We need to be very careful here not to try to create a perfect theology about why this is, either trying to get God off the hook or somehow explain this exception in the prayer-formula that we’ve constructed. If you haven’t noticed yet, the Psalms don’t abide by any prayer-formula. We need to not look away and act like these parts of prayer aren’t in Scripture, as if we can sing our favorite worship song loud enough and God will be right there as our waiter holding a silver platter. We need to look toward these deep and sometimes disturbing parts of the Psalms. We will certainly need them. Jesus did.
You will most likely never hang from a Roman cross while being beaten, tortured, and mocked. And you’ll certainly never have the weight of the world’s sin on your shoulders. But you will face darkness. You will face despair. You will wonder where God went. We don’t need trite and empty platitudes during these times. We need to know that this is part of the journey. We need to know that Jesus experienced what we are experiencing, and more. We need to know this isn’t an exception, as if God is with everyone else but us, so we’d better jump ship on our faith. We need to know we can, and must, run to God during these times.
Psalm 22 continues with a remembrance of God’s faithfulness (Psalm 22:3-5), mixed in with deep loathing for the state the psalmist is in (Psalm 22:6-8). It is a prayer for God to intervene (Psalm 22:9-13), with the psalmist admitting he has no strength left (Psalm 22:14-18). He is completely at the end of his rope. His prayer continues (Psalm 22:19-21) and turns to worship and resting in God’s promises (Psalm 22:22-31)!
It’s hard to picture a man whose bones are all on display, surrounded by a pack of dogs…villains piercing his hands and feet, blood everywhere…naked, barely having the strength to speak…declaring God’s name in the assembly! Declaring that dominion belongs to the Lord! That the poor will eat and be satisfied! That those who seek the Lord will praise him! That he does not despise or scorn the suffering of the afflicted one! That he has not hidden his face from the sufferer, but has listened to his cry for help!
It really is a strange picture. It’s a picture that doesn’t make sense. How can you say those things about God when you are in such a destitute state? How can you pray: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” And then just moments later declare: “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” To our Western, linear minds, these are opposite concepts. They don’t make sense at the mathematic level. But they do make sense at the life level. This paradox is precisely why Jesus turns to Psalm 22 in his moment of utter agony. It’s a psalm that doesn’t deny the agony. It doesn’t sugar coat it. It takes it head-on, like a tractor trailer collision on the highway. But it doesn’t leave you there. The agony doesn’t win. The agony is part of the journey, but the victory is God’s. There is a power and a love beyond the agony, more powerful than the agony.
Psalm 22 gives us permission to move past mathematics and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts. It allows us to move beyond words themselves. It allows us to be with God and for God to be with us, in the moments when he feels furthest away.
Prayer for the day: God, help me to cry out to you when it feels like you aren’t even there. Help me to run to you and never stop running to you. Meet with me. Be with me. Speak to me. Let me experience you even in my darkest hours. Thank you for your faithfulness. Thank you for the example you set for me, Jesus. Thank you that you endured the cross, scorning its shame, and that you sit at the right hand of the throne of God. Help me to remember you so that I don’t grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).
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Thanks for your post, this Psalm helps restore perspective. Sometimes living in a place with so much material comfort conditions us to avoid or deny the truth that Jesus’ call to follow Him leads us into suffering. His call is thru a narrow gate to a hard road bearing our own cross for our entire time here. But it’s the road where the Spirit guides us into Truth, where we learn Christ and become like Him, and it’s the only road given to those following Jesus. The Gospel is most satisfying when it includes the good news to take up and bear our own cross, and its encouragement to joyfully endure tribulation, which is the situation of every Christian, to be in this world but not of it.
We need that encouragement when those times of darkness and despair that you write about are real. A few years back I faced the hardest times I’ve ever had after reading one of your posts. There were months where the nights were oppressive and the darkness almost tangible and I’d hunger for the light of dawn. I couldn’t find God and it’s maybe the most alone and worthless I’ve ever felt. It was painful but it was when I was most empty and alone that I found God most real. There’s grace found in the brokenness we suffer. I realized so much I thought was true wasn’t, and that’s been freeing to let go the narrative I’ve lived with.
Thanks for all your posts. I can track a lotta of my journey with many of the posts and comments on your blog. The so many that pointed to Jesus were like the north star in the night.
One other thing is a typo after “You will wonder where God went.” Think you meant “We don’t need…” after that.
Noah Filipiak says
You are the best Alan! Thanks so much. I try to read over these quick before publishing, but am always afraid of the inevitable typos like these. You heard it here first folks, when you are facing darkness and despair, what you need is trite and empty platitudes! lol
Noah Filipiak says
Amen Alan! Thank you for that encouragement, I need it and appreciate it.
And I think you make a great point with our culture’s material wealth and comfort… that is what has shaped our theology in this area. I read “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” by James Cone over the summer and wow, I learned a real theology of suffering from African American Christians over the years. What’s extra crazy is a lot of their suffering was being done to them by white CHRISTIANS. That’s a real mind binder.
You’re so right! And it continues today, how much pain is added to their suffering when they see a whole lotta white Christians remain blind and deaf and unmoved to the inequity & injustice they face? And that’s to our loss as white Christians, they have so much to tell us about the cross that would encourage our faith. Doesn’t the history of the black church in America, along with the persecuted church in the world, seem more true to what Jesus and the whole NT said the experience of the church in this world would look like? It will make the rest of us deeper Christians when we learn to see & hear them.
I don’t know if you ever listen to old Negro spirituals, I found a couple of playlists on Spotify, but they’re awesome, the lyrics are like the Psalms and they’re good companions on the journey when you’ve embraced the cross. Check this one out: