My God, My God, Why Have You Foresaken Me?

Sunday, March 1, 2015
Psalm 22

(Scripture quotes are from the NRSV)

Today we read from Psalm 22.  We only read from the last bit.  

The Psalm actually begins
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Ah, yes.... we know those words.  Words that we hear echoed from the cross as Jesus suffers before death.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

These are not the only words from this Psalm that take us to Golgotha.  Not at all.

But this Psalm, which Jesus quotes, was not written by Jesus.  It was written hundreds of years before Jesus lived.

Indeed it echos in the suffering of Jesus.
But if we only read it in that context, and do not allow it to speak to other times, then we are limiting it.

No, Psalm 22 is about the suffering on the cross.
But it is also about much more.

Let’s take a look.

There are five kinds of Psalms:   hymns of praise, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, wisdom psalms.... and laments

Well, Psalm 22, for the most part, fits squarely in the category of a lament.

1  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

These words of lament..... Jesus was not the first one to raise them with pained voice to God.  Jesus was not the first to raise them in desperate prayer.

The writer himself was writing, one can be sure, from some personal experience.  But what was that experience?

Certainly the writer has been of significance in society.  But now that disaster has come, everyone looks down upon him:

6 But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.  7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;  8 "Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!"

Now, as we read through the Psalm, there seems to be people who are mocking and persecuting.  And there is severe illness.

Remember - many people in those days figured that if you were healthy and prosperous, it was because you were good; and if you were sick or poor, that God was punishing you for something.

Thankfully Jesus pushed that theology away.  
    Though some Christians haven’t got that figured out yet.

In any case, it makes sense of the Psalm:  people were mocking the writer because the writer was not well:  they laughed and mocked because they were still healthy, and so they could judge the writer in their own self-righteousness.

Either way, there are two layers of suffering: The initial layer of illness.  And the second layer of judgement.

And in suffering, the poet lifts lament.


Yet still, even in the lament, the writer has a kind of confidence.  

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he begins.

And then words of confidence:

3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

And following the words of lament:  But I am a worm, and not human;
the writer continues:
9 Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother's breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.

Ahh, this is faith.  This is faith.  In the depths of despair - confidence.  How can it be?  Yet it is.
In the depths of despair, from the maelstrom of suffering: confidence.  Confidence that God has always been there.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he begins the Psalm.
And then continues:

11 Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

The same juxtaposition - forsaken?  But God listening to prayer, God staying close....

In the next verses, by the way, the bulls of Bashan are spoken of - Bashan was a fertile area, and the livestock of Bashan were famous for being the best, and probably the largest....  And we hear description of what seems to be an utterly devastating disease.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

12 Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; 15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; 17 I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; 18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

The poet is so close to death that the people are already dividing up his possessions!

But prayer does not cease.
Confidence in God’s presence does not really cease, in spite of those desperate opening words.
As we meet this Psalm, as we see that it was originally written by one who was near death with illness, and as we remember that Jesus quoted it in the midst of his persecution and his death, we realize it encompasses Jesus’ suffering - and far more.

It is meaningful for all who suffer illness.
It is meaningful for all who approach death.
It is meaningful for all those who suffer persecution.
It is meaningful for all who are outcasts in family or society.

And it encompasses all who feel forsaken by God - because of physical suffering, because of persecution, because of any number of things.  

It is written for us today.

And in it we see great faith.
In the depths of despair - confidence.  How can it be?  Yet it is.
In the depths of despair, from the maelstrom of suffering: confidence.  Confidence that God has always been there.

 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? ....

And suddenly, the poet bursts into praise, with the words we read together -

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters.
But immediate family is not enough.
 in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

But his praise alone is not enough:
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

But the praise shall not be limited to the Jewish peoples:
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

And the praise is not limited to those alive now, but even those who have gone before:
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust

And still more - those of the future -
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn.

The lament is for all peoples of every generation.
Even today.
The praise is for all peoples of every generation.
Even today.