Last year our college ministry spent the summer in the Psalms, and our staff directional team took turns writing devotionals for each Psalm that we covered. While I am on vacation this summer, I thought I’d share some of the devotionals I wrote. This one is on Psalm 22, which you can read here.
As someone who remained single until her mid-30s while living in a college ministry world of people who often married at 22, I developed a lot of wedding pet peeves. There’s a wide world of stupid things commonly said to single people of a certain age at weddings: “When is it going to be your turn?” “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride!” and my favorite, “How come you’re not married?” I was always tempted to pretend to start crying and say, ”I guess no one wants me!” (I am not brave enough for that – I just went with the awkward smile and shrug.)
Thoughtless comments are annoying, but what was communicated in wedding ceremonies themselves sometimes (unintentionally) hurt more: Stories of answered prayer, thanksgiving for God’s faithfulness, the idea that this bride and groom were receiving God’s greatest blessing because “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Sitting in wedding after wedding as a single woman who had long prayed and trusted God with her singleness, and who deeply longed for marriage and motherhood, all of that “glory to God” felt like salt in a wound. It made me cry out in my heart, “WHAT ABOUT ME?”
The memory of that pain gives me a tiny glimpse into the bitter lament that opens Psalm 22, a raw cry of pain.
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; And by night, but I have no rest.
Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
In You our fathers trusted; They trusted and You delivered them.
To You they cried out and were delivered; In You they trusted and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm and not a man, A reproach of men and despised by the people.
Do you hear the bitterness and comparison? God is high up and far away, lounging on His holiness. Others trusted Him and He delivered them, they were not disappointed. But me? I am a worm, despised and rejected.
It feels to the psalmist like God’s goodness is far away and for other people, but not for him.
I am so encouraged that this level of honesty is in Scripture. We’re allowed to express our real, raw feelings to our holy God.
As Psalm 22 continues, we see the source of this pain and bitterness: The Psalmist really is in desperate circumstances. He describes his situation as being surrounded by wild animals, poured out like water, without strength, naked and surrounded by enemies.
The first 18 verses speak honesty, despair, even hopelessness. But we don’t stop there. Even feeling hopeless and helpless, like God is choosing not to hear him, the psalmist continues
But You, O Lord, be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.
Inexplicably, immediately after this prayer is an assurance that God will answer, and the psalmist will have the opportunity to praise Him:
I will tell of Your name to my brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.
The rest of Psalm 22 is a beautiful Hymn of praise to a God who
…has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; nor has He hidden His face from him; But when he cried to Him for help, He (Yahweh) heard.
This God will be praised by those who seek Him, and all the earth, all the nations will turn to Him and praise Him. This is a picture of heaven, of eternity, of what is happening now in God’s presence:
And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation… Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (Revelation 5:9 – 12)
Worthy is the Lamb. The kingdom is the Lord’s.
Amen. Which brings us to Jesus – the Lamb of God, who is so richly prophesied and foreshadowed in Psalm 22 that this Psalm is referenced 24 times in the New Testament, and is quoted by Jesus Himself on the cross.
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)
From the cross Jesus quoted the opening phrase Psalm 22, which would have been very familiar to any Jew who heard Him or heard the gospel accounts of His death. In doing so, Jesus joined Himself to humanity’s suffering, our deepest experiences of bitterness and feelings of rejection by men and by God Himself. Any Jewish listener would have thought of the bitter experience of the Psalmist in the first 18 verses of Psalm 22.
But might they also have thought of what follows? Jesus certainly knew that “why have you forsaken me” was not the end of the story in this Psalm. Jesus and any Jews who heard His cry would have known that the anguish in verse 1 of Psalm 22 is followed by “You, O Lord, be not far off…” And “He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted.”
Jesus, and any Jew who heard His cry, would also have known where this Psalm ends: “all the families of the nations will worship before You, for the kingdom is the Lord’s.”
On the cross – which was His coronation as King – Jesus put His suffering in the context this beautiful picture of God’s coming kingdom in which people from every tribe and tongue and nation bow down and worship and love God.
Worthy is the Lamb. The kingdom is the Lord’s.
My question as we read these ancient words, centuries after the Psalmist wrote them, and further centuries after Jesus spoke them is:
Are you feeling forgotten? Invisible? Like God’s goodness is far from you and for other people?
Let Psalm 22 be a model for us, of response to the feeling of abandonment and God’s seemingly slow response.
Remember that this feeling is part of our human condition. It was experienced in David’s time, centuries later by Jesus on the cross, and now in your own life. This feeling places us in the company of all humanity – we who long for connection and God, and feel He is far, far away.
And remember that in Jesus we have a God who intimately knows this feeling. But He also knows how this story ends. And where you sit right now is not the end of the story.
Let’s not run away. Let’s not numb the pain or hide it or escape. Let’s join Psalm 22 in honest complaint, pouring our hearts out to God. Let’s tell Him how we’re feeling, and ask Him to “be not far off, O You my help!”
When we are brave enough to join the Psalmist and our Lord Jesus Christ in this honest cry – we are also remembering that we will also some day join them in praising God in the great assembly.
The afflicted will eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the Lord!
If you’re interested in reading any of the other Psalms devotionals from last summer (I was very impressed with my coworkers’ writing skills, I really enjoyed every one of these!), you can look around over here.