In-between, there is hope

Psalm 22:1

Psalm 22:1 holds words attributed to King David; however, we know them best as words cried out by our Lord Jesus as he experienced excruciating pain while fastened with nails upon the cross (Matthew 27:46). For both David and Jesus, these heart-wrenching words of desertion reflected the greatest dread of all – the fear of God’s abandonment.

Psalm 22 is considered one of the greatest personal laments in the Psalter. Such laments are not an easy read, nor should they be. These psalms well up from great depths within the human soul, from places imbued with fear, doubt, confusion, and despair.

We do not know the historical setting that served as genesis for King David’s expression of these words, but we do know the context for the Lord’s recitation of them hundreds of years later. He cried out these words while bearing humankind’s wickedness in his body, becoming a curse for us; an object of wrath.

Lament psalms like King David’s serve a purpose in Scripture that often goes undiscovered because we as believers seldom go deep, spiritually speaking, with these expressions of anguish. It is true that they can unsettle the soul and test the spirit, but should they be avoided or set aside for other less provocative passages for that reason? God’s living and active Word is to penetrate our very soul, not just to evoke joy or praise but also to move us to places of discomfort and deep reflection.

Texts like Psalm 22:1 do just that in a profound way, and result in significant spiritual renewal and refreshment, just as much as 1 Corinthians 13 (the love chapter) or Matthew 5:1-10 (the Beatitudes) do.

Consider, for example, the layers of emotion and meaning that comprise King David’s personal lament. In it we see frustration and faith, helplessness and hope.

There is frustration at God’s silence. Why, wonders David, would God turn a deaf ear to his cries? But there is also faith that God is still present. More than that, God remains personal (“my God”).

There is helplessness as the psalmist feels vanquished and in need of saving, but hope in that he recognizes God as still being God – the only One who can do the impossible, given his situation.

Consider also how Psalm 22:1 instructs us to live life before God while on earth. It encourages us to give full expression to the deep longings of our soul; longings only God can satisfy. It reminds us to express human emotion before God in all its varied forms, even those of fear, doubt, and despair. It even gives us the words to do so when we cannot utter our own.

Consider this text’s most powerful quality, how it models honesty with God – honesty when we question his mysterious working, honesty when we wonder about his apparent silence, and honesty when we doubt his watch-care. These cries of abandonment move us to set aside our masks and become real with our Creator. We need them because they give us permission to be genuine in our walk of faith, to be honest with God about our dreams and our despair, our hope and our helplessness, our joy and our junk, our good news and our groaning.

Best of all, they communicate to us that our honesty with God is a part of our relationship he welcomes, a part he is big enough to hear. If King David, who Scripture says was a man after God’s own heart, can voice these cries, we can too.

Psalm 22 as a whole is a prayer addressed to “my God.” The fact it is uttered at all means that hope has not been exhausted or faith squelched. The opening of this hopeful prayer, expressing a desperate sense of abandonment, is of no less value or significance than the closing verses, which sing God’s praises. Like words of praise, these tearful words can also renew faith and refresh the spirit.

In my personal journey through this lament, I rediscovered that in it one begins with God and ends with God, and in-between, there is hope.

Philip Gunther is pastor of Parliament Community Church in Regina.

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Psalm 22:1 (link to BibleGateway.com)

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

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