Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My God, My God, Why have You Forsaken Me: Learning to Pray Psalm 22:1-11

Let us hear the memorable words of Psalm 22:1-11

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.
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
    “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.”
Yet you brought me out of the womb;
    you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
    from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

Psalm 22 begins in desperation “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We likely know these words best because Jesus uttered them from the cross (Matt 27:46, Mark 15:34). Christ followers have long read Psalm 22 in light of Jesus’ death because the Gospels invite us to do this. The description of the suffering of the psalmist in Psalm 22 connects powerfully and specifically with the abuse and trauma that Jesus experienced during his crucifixion.

As we read and study Psalm 22, it is important to see the connections between both Jesus’ death (22:1–21) and resurrection (Ps 22–31). But it is also crucial for us to hear Psalm 22 as a psalm that reflects deeply on suffering and thanksgiving as we may experience it. Here is another way to say this. Psalm 22 does point to Jesus’ death and resurrection, but Jesus chose the to speak the words of Psalm 22 because Jesus wants each of us to understand, know, and feel deep inside of our beings that God truly identifies with us in our suffering and will lift us up to victory through our pain. This is good news.

Ps 22:1–2 are the words of a person desperate to hear from God. We do not know the precise specifics of the psalmist’s plight, but he is in a difficult setting and he feels far from God. It is a time when prayers seem to go unanswered and sleep is no where to be found despite our weariness. This is lament to the core. When Jesus spoke these words, he did not literally mean that God had left him. Rather he identifies with human suffering and the feeling in the moment of utter abandonment. When we pray to God out of our desperation, remember that Jesus understands precisely how it feels to be in such a condition.

Remember also that extreme despair is no indication of our faith commitments. Notice in verses 1-11 that the psalmist alternates between desperate lament (vv. 1–2 and 6–8) and passionate praise (vv. 3–5 and 9–11). Some of the most beautiful lyrics of worship are here. Verses 3–5 recognize God’s power and prestige as the “Holy One.” God can be trusted and generations of believers have testified to this truth. They prayed to the LORD and found deliverance. This faith is the grounds for the psalmist’s prayer to God. The psalmist wants to experience the same deliverance to which others have witnessed.

But in the present, the psalmist is in crisis. Verses 6-8 return us to the psalmist’s reality. These words remind us of the forsakenness of Jesus on the cross and mocking of the crowds as he died. The mocking includes cynical remarks about the futility of the sufferer’s faith.

Yet the psalmist again returns to praise in vv. 9–11. The praise is now more personal. The psalmist remembers God’s previous work in his own life. God has guided him from birth. This is reason for hope in the suffering. In verse 11, the psalmist affirms his belief that only God can help him.

When our times in your life that you identified with the psalmist’s sense of forsakenness?

What is the relationship between prayers of help and our words of praise?

How does Jesus’ identification with our suffering shape how we understand and experience times of trial?

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