My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
This is a refrain familiar to many. Life can be filled with moments of light, but it’s also full of darkness. When things have turned against us and the gods seem to be anything but for us and when the weight of the universe stands against us, we find ourselves wondering if this whole things is an elaborate hoax. In these tormented lines, the Psalmist is offering us a raw and honest glimpse into painful moments of dread and despair. Those moments when a God who promised to be near feels far from us.
These are the moments of anguish, these are the moments when we can feel hauntingly alone. “God, where are you?” we speak into the night.
With his words hanging in the universe, his questions still lingering on his lips, the writer begins to reflect and remember. He begins to remember. “I’ve heard the stories of my ancestors. I remember the ways my parents trusted in you. I remember how you provided for them in their moments of need. I remember how they cried to you, how they placed their trust in you, and how their hope was not misplaced.”
For this short moment, this is a brief respite from a dark reality. A glimpse of light in a dark room.
This respite is short-lived, however. These musings prompt the Psalmist to take a dark turn. His rumination casting doubt and shame on his present reality. The memory of God answering his ancestors while being silent in this present moment, stands as an accusor over him. Why does God not answer me?
“I am a worm,” the Psalmist concludes. “I’m not a man.” If God has not answered me, if God is no longer near, it must be my fault. If there is something wrong, the fault is squarely on my shoulders.
This perception is painfully familiar, isnt it? How often, in moments of darkness, silence or unanswered prayers do we find ourselves wondering what’s wrong with us? How often does our current situation get interpreted as God’s deep displeasure in us? How often do we feel our identity in Christ get shaken because we no longer believe we’re worthy of love?
Finally, it’s here, with a measure of resignation, which the psalmist prays, “do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”
God, if you do not help me, I am doomed. There is no other who can do what needs to be done.
Officially, Psalm 22 is classified as a “Thanksgiving Psalm” and if we are to read this Psalm to its conclusion, we would read promises of God’s nearness, of God’s faithfulness and God’s provision for the poor. But this week, the Psalm doesn't get there. Together we sit in the darkness. We find ourselves wondering if joy will ever arrive.
As pastors, it’s easy for us to jump right to the promise of answered prayers and provisions from above, but the lectionary reminds us not to rush past the pain. As eager as we might be to find reconciliation, there are many in our congregations who currently find themselves in seasons which mirror our text. These are seasons where God feels far off and where they’re not sure if they’ll make it out alive. They need the comfort found in common experience.
This text can be a powerful reminder of two things.
First, they’re not alone in their grief. This is an invitation for your people into a long tradition of Christian saints who, themselves, have found themselves in this land of abandonment.
Second, this is a reminder that they’re doubt and fears are not acts of unfaithfulness. To find oneself crying out in the darkness, asking why God has abandoned us, is not a sin-filled moment of weakness, but rather a divine moment of being fully human.
So, pastors, as we proclaim the Gospel this week, may we remind our people that God is faithful, no matter where we find ourselves. May they find comfort, not just in the light, but also in the dark. May the find peace in their present situation, knowing they are not alone, and while it may not feel this way now, our darkness will one day turn to thanksgiving.
Thanks be to God…but not yet.
Pastor, Living Vine Church of the Nazarene