Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.
Psalm 22 begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This prayer is etched on the Christian imagination, in our memory of Jesus hanging on the cross, suffering and dying, alone and godforsaken.
We too experience abandonment in our lives. Overwhelmed by grief and pain, relationships in disarray, church dry and annoying, scripture uninteresting, prayers distracted and powerless, and a God who is absent and disinterested. Behind these personal difficulties is the universal problem: If God is love, why is the earth filled with violence, abuse, disease, poverty, wars, and injustice? Has God has forsaken the whole world?
Let’s start by listening to the poet’s prayer. His first words are “My God, my God.” These words refute atheism and rationalism and existentialism. Even when we feel the situation is hopeless, the worst is upon us, that evil is winning, that life has no meaning and even God has given up, our prayer still begins “My God, my God.”
This is a cry from the heart. We don’t understand what God is doing, we are pained by his absence, oppressed by his silence, offended by his refusal to help. But through all this, he remains “MY God”. We remember when he was near to us, times when he brought us comfort and courage and joy. Even now in our forsakenness, he gives us each breath we breathe. So we call him by name, and we call him out, saying, “MY God” as we point out his lack of love, his lack of attention, and his failure to live up to his name and his promises.
And then, having asserted our relationship with him, we ask the painful question, “Why have you forsaken me?” The poet does not retreat into silent pain, he speaks to God about his experience, he shouts his troubles, he tells God how bad things are. If we join him in this prayer, our complaint mingles with his complaint and with Jesus’ anguished cry from the cross and with the suffering of Jews and Christians over three thousand years. This prayer embraces the world’s pain and puts in on display before humans and God, even if no one is listening.
For twenty and a half verses, the poet details his misery to God.
Then half way through verse 21, the language of pain and suffering is exhausted. Abruptly and unexpectedly the song changes tune. Some new experience or revelation shines into the darkness. The poet says, “You rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen. You have not despised the suffering of the afflicted one but you have listened to his cry for help” (vv 22 – 24). And the psalm finishes with a song of praise to the God who hears and saves and delivers. The God who abandoned is suddenly the God who rescues. God saves not only the poet but all nations and all creation and all the generations that follow. God has turned from king in absentia to God ever present.
Our father, evil and war and genocide have scarred the world you made: Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Rwanda, the Rohingya refugees, residential schools in Canada, the Holocaust. Have you abandoned us to do our worst to each other? Cancer and depression are the defining diseases of western civilization, we use drugs to mask physical and mental and relational pain, we numb ourselves with entertainment. Have you forsaken us to the consequences of living in a godless society?
O God, our experience of you moves randomly and inexplicably between the comforts of faith and the fear of forsakenness. We ask two things of you. When we experience your presence, leave your imprint of faith on our lives. And when we experience forsakenness, give us the courage to pray, “My God, my God.”
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.