Posted in Courage/Perseverance
Scripture: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.” – Psalm 22: 1-2
I have a confession to make. I really don’t like Psalm 22. I would rather Jesus had quoted Psalm 13 or 32 from the cross. I find those laments more palatable; more decent; less raw.
I remember first reading The Message of the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann’s groundbreaking appeal for the church to recover the language and practice of lament soon after it was published. I have a signed copy from the summer of 1986, when he lectured on “Psalms of Disorientation” for a week in Montreat. So, I have been aware of and an advocate for the recovery of lament as a spiritual discipline for a long time. Lament is good for us. Only the faithful can dare to hold God to account for our affliction and suffering. And still, even in the longest and darkest nights of the souls, the opening words of Psalm 22 catch in my throat.
I find the experience of God-forsakenness difficult to articulate. Entertaining the notion that God is well and truly absent in times of trouble is a fearful prospect. The possibility that God might be delayed in coming to our aid, to rescue, or console, or heal is more reasonable, less absolute. Maybe it’s just me, but “How long?” is easier to pray than “Why have You forsaken me?” My soul recoils from abject dereliction.
That Jesus can cry out in these words from the cross ought to make them more accessible to us. Jesus gives us permission to acknowledge our feelings of forsakenness, and there is no one better to grant such a permission. And still, when the darkness descends, I retreat to safer ground. “I know you’re here God, tell me what you want me to do.” “This has been going on a long time, God, what are you trying to teach me?” “I know you have a plan, O Lord, so teach me your ways.” “You never give us more than we can handle, Lord, so strengthen me in my stoic resolve to bear this suffering with dignity.”
We can bring our discomfort and pain to God’s attention without accusing God of outright abandonment. It feels safer that way. More decent. Respectful. Proper. “Of course, I can handle this, Lord, (don’t mean to be a bother) I just need you to know that if there’s anything you might be able to do to rectify this injustice, your assistance would be appreciated.”
So, I don’t like Psalm 22, but I know, deep down in my bones, that I need Psalm 22. I need Psalm 22 because if we can’t be honest with God, if we can’t trust God with our truth, if we can’t bear our souls, for better or worse, before the one we know to be slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, then we will never be honest with ourselves or anyone else. We will never trust anyone with our truth. We will never be secure enough anywhere, in any relationship, to bear our souls honestly and authentically.
The dereliction of Psalm 22 is not unseemly at all. It is the profession of the deepest, most profound trust in the God from whom nothing in all creation can alienate us. It is the cry of the One who knows that God can handle the truth, even when that truth is that God’s absence feels like forsakenness.
Prayer: O God, who is for us such that nothing in heaven or on earth can prevail against us, grant us such trust in your abiding love and mercy that we might find the courage to bear our souls to you, lay our lives before you, offer our unutterably dark realities to you. For Your glory is sufficient to right our wrongs, heal our wounds, cover our flaws, comfort our sorrows. Hear us when we dare to say the difficult bits out loud. For you are our sure defense, our fortress in chaos, and our only hope in trouble. Amen.
Submitted by Rev. Dr. Douglass Key