You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.
Psalm 22 begins with words that Jesus cried out from the cross: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me." These words reveal not only physical suffering, which most assuredly Jesus experienced, but also the emotional and spiritual suffering that emerged from his sense of abandonment by God. If we read this Psalm from a Trinitarian perspective, then surely the God whom Jesus cried out to must have experienced a sense of separation as well. Here in this moment a family bond is broken, even if not eternally.
Theologians have written many books, including rather long ones, seeking to make sense of the cross and its relationship to God and to us. Preachers have tried to do the same. We have struggled with this because it simply doesn't make sense. How does death bring life?
While the Psalm begins with this "cry of dereliction," it doesn't remain focused on that aspect of the story. The reality of separation and its effect is lifted up, but in time the Psalmist moves to a confession of faith and an offering of praise to God. Indeed, the Psalmist calls on us to join in worship of God because God "did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him." It might appear at first glance that God had abandoned Jesus, but in the end that is not possible. God does not abhor those who are afflicted. Instead, God reaches out to the afflicted bringing healing and hope. Although we may feel like God is absent (we've all felt this way), the promise here is that God will be present.
In this declaration that God does not abhor the afflicted there is hope. We can put our confidence in this promise and therefore move forward with our lives. Paul writes to the Romans and declares that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Indeed, we are "more than conquerors through him who loved us" (Romans 8:31-39). To walk by faith often means moving beyond the "facts on the ground." Good Friday seemed final. Jesus was dead and buried. His movement was destroyed. But here we are! Therefore, whatever the circumstances, can we put our trust in God, for as the Psalmist declares, "dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations?"
Written for the 2015 Lenten Devotional for Central Woodward Christian Church, edited by John McCauslin.