Day 14: May 16, 2018: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Psalm 22:1-8: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
The words of Psalm 88 – “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness” – could have been Tamar’s words of lament after she was raped and abandoned by her brother (2 Sam. 13). So also could the opening words of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” These words of pain and struggle could be the prayers of the fleeing refugee whose home land has been torn apart by war. They could be the words of a young boy or girl trapped in slavery. They could be the prayers of a mom in her thirties or a gentleman in his sixties who feels imprisoned in the throes of depression.
Melissa Kelley writes of the “grief born of injustice” – as the grief “that is caused by unjust structures and/or by unjust actions or inactions of individuals, groups, and systems.” Many of the psalms of lament give voice to the grief born of injustice. These are prayers of innocent sufferers – victims of violence, abuse, neglect, and grinding poverty.
The remarkable reality is that Jesus uttered the complaint of the innocent sufferer as he hung on the cross: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus identified himself with all of history’s innocent sufferers. On the cross he experienced the grief born of injustice because he was the most innocent victim of violence and cruelty. The bulls of Bashan surrounded him (Ps. 22:12), the roaring lions opened their mouths wide at him (Ps. 22:13), and the evildoers encircled him (Ps. 22:16) as the religious authorities plotted how to get rid of him (Mt. 26:1-5), came by night to arrest him (Mt. 27:47-56), and conducted a mock trial to find “evidence” that would justify having him executed (Mt. 26:57-68). The circle of his persecutors expanded when the Jewish leaders brought him before the Roman governor Pilate, who eventually overcame his ambivalence and condemned Jesus to crucifixion (Mt. 27:1-2, 11-26). Then the soldiers mocked and beat Jesus (Mt. 27:27-31). The physical, mental, and emotional suffering of crucifixion were prophetically anticipated by Psalm 22 (v. 14-18), as were the taunts of those who rejoiced in his excruciating and humiliating death: “And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” (Mt. 27:39-44; cf. especially Ps. 22:7-8).
Jesus suffered as an innocent (and perfect) victim of injustice for the sake of all victims of injustice. His betrayal, arrest, trial, condemnation, and crucifixion are the demonstration that God shares in and understands the sufferings of his people. Jesus’ sufferings are also the means by which God redeems his people. He suffered human injustice at its worst so that in the perfection of divine justice the sins of all humanity might be atoned for and ungodly people – both victims and perpetrators – might be made right with God (Romans 3:21-4:12). The beauty of the gospel is that in his humanity the divine Son of God shared in the very worst of human sufferings in order to bring God’s transforming love to all people.
Take time now to seek God. This brief prayer can help you get started: “Oh God, thank you for what Jesus your Son has done for us. Thank you that he willingly submitted himself to the worst of human injustice and violence. Thank you that he knows the pain of the refugee, the rape victim, and the abused child. Thank you that in your infinite grace Jesus suffered on the cross in order to redeem both the victims of injustice as well as the perpetrators of violence. Lord, I stand amazed at the love of Jesus, and I pray in His holy name. Amen.”