Parson to Person - A prayer in the midst of innocent suffering
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” -King David, Psalm 22:1
Among Old Testament believers in God, the first person I think of when innocent suffering comes to mind is Job. Through no fault of his own, Job lost possessions, children, and his health. He could have easily cried out the lament from Psalm 22.
Joseph surely did not deserve to be sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers. He surely could relate to the cry of the Psalmist that God had seemed to abandon him.
Most, if not all, God-followers face suffering and persecution that is not of their own choosing, and wonder where has God gone? Psalm 22 is a good read in such a time.
David, the author of Psalm 22, started out as a shepherd boy caring for his father’s sheep. Being a responsible shepherd, David faced death by rescuing sheep that had been carried off by lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:34-37; Psalm 22:12-21).
Further, obeying his father, David takes food to his brothers fighting the Philistines (1 Samuel 17:17-19). What does this gain David? His brother, Eliab, mocks him (1 Samuel 28; Psalm 22:6-8).
The giant Goliath mocks David also (1 Samuel 17:42-43). Again, David risks his life. No one questions that Goliath fully intends to execute David (1 Samuel 17:44).
After David defeats Goliath, does Saul peacefully surrender the throne to David? No. Repeatedly, Saul, and his henchmen, attempt to kill David through spearing, surrounding his bed at night, and schemes to have the Philistines kill David (1 Samuel 18-20).
Jonathan, Saul’s son who normally would have been next in line to the throne, vigorously defends David’s innocence (1 Samuel 19:4-5; 20:1). David never seeks vengeance against Saul, but earnestly prays Psalm 22.
When Christ-followers today feel abandoned by God, we, too can pray through Psalm 22.
First, using David’s prayer or song, a lament, God’s people can honestly and boldly call out to God day and night that he seems to have moved (Psalm 22:1). Obviously, an eternal, omnipresent God is present everywhere at every time.
But it doesn’t feel that way, as God, although present, may be present to fully bless, fully curse, or some admixture of the two.
Heaven is only experiencing the blessing of God. Hell is only experiencing the curse of God. Here on earth we currently experience blessing and curse.
The Psalmist, while admitting that God seems distant, still hopes and trusts in God, affirming God’s faithfulness to deliver his ancestors who trusted in the “Holy One,” the “praise of Israel” (Psalm 22:1-5).
Second, when God’s people are mocked for their innocence (Psalm 22:6-8), our prayers can turn to remembering how God has always been with us, even from birth (Psalm 22:9-11).
While, on the one hand, our choices to follow God are significant and consequential (the prayer warrior is choosing to pray), it is also true, that God has sovereignly been working in our lives without our knowledge or permission.
Recognizing God’s sovereign intervention, in the midst of facing suffering and death that is beyond our control, but not beyond God’s control, can bring the prayer warrior a measure of peace.
Third, when facing death, here pictured as surrounding bulls, roaring lions tearing their prey, and encircling dogs or jackals (Psalm 22:12-18), the prayer warrior calls out for help.
The prayer is for the Lord (Yahweh, the personal, covenant-keeping God), the psalmist’s “Strength” to deliver his precious life from the dogs, to rescue him from the mouth of the lions, and to save him from the horns of the wild oxen (Psalm 22:19-21).
David’s prayer is dramatically answered in the last third of the Psalm (22:22-31).
David, through Yahweh’s strength, defeats Goliath and escapes Saul.
For the Father’s sheep (David, and fellow believers included), they are rescued. God’s people, poor and rich, from all nations, they come to know God and share in his blessing.
Yet there is a piece of this story to be told.
David’s experience in Psalm 22 is a prophetic foreshadow of his greater Son, Jesus Christ.
Job had to offer sacrifices (Job 1:5), Joseph was arrogant (Genesis 37), David commits adultery with Bathsheba and murders her husband Uriah the Hittite (2 Samuel 11-12).
Only Jesus of Nazareth lived completely sinless (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus faced a life of suffering and death on the cross; he fully bore the curse of Hell for those that believe in him. Jesus completely defeated death through his victorious resurrection.
The first two-thirds of Psalm 22 are Jesus’ innocent suffering on earth culminating on Good Friday.
The last third of Psalm 22 is Easter Sunday and the great ingathering of God’s people from every nation, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. You can still join that harvest by declaring your faith in Jesus who is ready to accept you as a brother (Psalm 22:12; Hebrews 2:12).
Jesus prayed and recited Psalm 22 on the cross for his victory and our deliverance. Not a bad tune to add to our song track.