From Agony to Praise
Psalm 22 begins as a psalm about suffering. King David cries,"My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning"(v.1). The trials and tribulations of life have mounted in such a way that David believes that God has forsaken him. "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?".
What is going on in David's life, that causes him to utter this cry? The truth is, we just don't know. We don't know if David is facing Absalom's contingent, if he is facing the Philistines, or if he is facing the Amalekites--and I'm glad. If we could attribute this cry of David to a particular event in David's life, I fear we would avoid applying this verse to our own context.
Let me ask you this morning, have you ever felt as if God had forsaken you? Have you ever felt let down by God? Ask David that question, and the answer you get is 'yes'. David says, "O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer; and by night, but I have no rest"(v.2). David is calling out to God for help and, from what he can tell, God is doing nothing.
Has this ever been your experience? Do you know what it is like to pray, and pray, and pray, only to receive no answer? If you can answer 'yes' to these questions, you are in good company. David's anguish was so profound that he describes having "no rest". I read that and I picture David struggling to fall asleep at night. I read that David had "no rest" and I picture him being perpetually tired while trying to execute his day-to-day duties as king.
God is not answering David, and so David concludes that God has left him. But does David really believe that God has forsaken him? I don't think David really believes this--O yes, it is true, David feels forsaken, but I don't think David really believes that he is forsaken. First of all, why would David pray if he was really forsaken by God? If David is really forsaken, what use is there in crying, "My God, my God"?. David cries to God because, though he feels forsaken, he knows that God is there.
There is a lesson here for us. Some of us, at times, could cry with David, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?". There are seasons in our life where we doubt the presence of God. The Bible promises, however, that God never forsakes His people (Heb. 13:5; Josh. 1:5; Deut. 31:6, 8). We must always bear this in mind. A cry that doubts God's presence is never a cry of fact, it is a cry of unbelief.
The great Puritan, Richard Baxter, once wrote, "where we do not have a promise from God, we must trust in His nature". This strikes me as a very important statement. The Bible does not promise us a life free from hardship. The Bible does not promise us prefect health. Christians are not exempt from death and suffering. And so, when we are confronted with the death of a loved one, when we are confronted by challenges to our health, we should not shake our fist at God as if He broke some promise to us. Where there is no promise from God we must trust in His nature.
'But Bryn', you say, 'isn't this precisely what David did? Didn't David shake his fist at God and yell, 'Where are You?'' Yes--David did shake his fist at God, but he stopped when he considered God's nature. If we read the first 3 verses we see that David's unbelief gives way to his faith in God, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer; and by night, but I have no rest. Yet Thou art holy, O Thou who art enthroned upon the praises of Israel".
David's instinct is to yell, 'God, where in the heck are You?', and that is probably our instinct in the midst of suffering. But what is instinctive for David becomes quelled when David considers the nature of God, "Yet Thou art holy". That is to say that God cannot be charged with evil. God is holy, He is righteous, He is perfect.
Notice what David does to help him reflect on the nature of God. David reflects backward, "In Thee our fathers trusted; they trusted, and Thou didst deliver them. To Thee they cried out, and were delivered; in Thee they trusted, and were not disappointed"(v.4, 5).
Recalling God's past faithfulness is essential to remembering God's holiness. Your present situation may look bleak, but you need to ask yourself how you got this far in the first place. For when we recognize that grace has brought us safe thus far, only then will we have the confidence that grace will carry us home.
In saying all of this, I wouldn't want any of you to conclude that grieving or mourning over your particular situation is a bad thing. Grieving is the normal response to pain and suffering. Notice that even after David recalls God's past faithfulness, even after David confesses that God is holy, he still complains. Verses 6 through 8 are a return to David's complaint. The difference is, however, is that his complaint is no longer in the context of despair. David's complaint is now in the context of remembering God's past faithfulness.
In verses 9 and 10, David's complaint, "I am a worm" and "a reproach of men", gives way to trust, "Thou hast been my God from my mother's womb". Here we begin to see that David's agony is giving way to faith. This is such an important lesson for us to learn. We all will face seasons of anguish. Some of you are facing them right now. We all will have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death at some point. The question is, will we do so trusting in God or will we do so despairing His presence?
The good news is that God will never forsake His people. And the reason we have confidence that God will never forsake us is based on the fact that He did forsake His own Son. Now that may sound like a contradiction, but bear with me. Most of you know that Jesus, on the cross, uttered the cry of Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Mt. 27:46).
If we were to read this cry of Jesus without the background of Psalm 22, we might be tempted to conclude that Jesus was confused on the cross. We might be tempted to conclude that Jesus, sensing the Father's absence, did not understand why the Father had left Him. Just the opposite, however, is true. Jesus understood exactly what was taking place.
When Jesus cried, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?", it was not a cry of frustration or unbelief, it was a cry of faith. The cry of Jesus was a cry of faith that prophecy was being fulfilled, that the Divine plan was being accomplished, even as He hung there on the cross.
Have a look at Psalm 22, verses 12 through 18, "Many bulls have surrounded me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me. They open wide their mouth at me, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me. My strength is dried up like potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and Thou dost lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, for my clothing they cast lots".
Does this sound familiar? David is clearly giving us a prophecy of the crucified Christ. David writes, "they pierced my hands and my feet". That sentence is conspicuously prophetic when you consider that crucifixion was not even practiced in the time of David (Boice, The Psalms, Vol. I, 191). Jesus then, by uttering, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?", was not expressing bewilderment, but rather, was expressing confidence that the Divine plan was being carried out just as it had been prophesied.
Was Jesus truly forsaken by God the Father? Yes--for a time on the cross, Jesus was a victim of His Father's righteous wrath. For a time, God the Father did forsake Jesus because all of our sins had been laid on Him.
And because we know that the Father forsook Jesus on the cross, we have confidence that He will never forsake us. Our sin cannot separate us from God the Father because Jesus atoned for that sin nearly 2000 years ago.
Because we know that the Father forsook Jesus on the cross, we have the confidence to say with the apostle Paul, "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord"(Rom. 8:38, 39).
Psalm 22 begins in with agony, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?". But that agony eventually gives way to praise. Verses 22 through 24 demonstrate David's underlying confidence that God had not forsaken him, but would indeed deliver him. David writes, "I will tell of Thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise Thee. You who fear the Lord, praise Him; all you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel. For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither has He hidden His face from him; but when he cried to Him for help, He heard."
If you know what it is like to be in agony, if you know what it is to suffer, this psalm is for you. This psalm informs us that our feelings of abandonment are nothing new. David knew what it was like to feel forsaken by God. Perhaps you know this feeling also.
I want to remind you this morning, that this feeling abandonment is not reality. Since the cross, nothing in this universe can keep you from the love of God.
Agony will not get the last word in your life. The Lord has not despised your affliction. He has not ignored your cry for help. The Lord has heard your cry, and it is His will to turn your agony into praise. Amen.