The first Christmas after Penny was born, we were singing “O
Little Town of Bethlehem.” It contains the lines, about the baby Jesus: “The
hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” And I remember
thinking about how frightening it was to have hope–to look to the future and
expect God to work, to expect good things even if they might be difficult, to
expect joy. But God gave us reason to hope in the gift of our daughter, and we
have held onto our hope for her ever since. It isn’t so scary anymore.

I was reminded, though, of the frightening nature of hope
when I read Psalm 22. It begins with a cry: 

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

And even after this cry was memorialized in the Psalter, Jesus
made it all the more well-known. He chose these words as he hung on the cross.
But the Psalmist goes on, immediately:  

You are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel (verse
3).

It’s not the hurt of the Psalmist that frightens me. It’s
the hope.

The Psalmist has nothing other than his faith in God. In
God’s goodness to him and the people of Israel in the past. In God’s continued
presence. This Psalm isn’t expressing doubt. It is simply acknowledging that
even faith in God does not protect us from feeling abandoned by God.

But even from a place of abandonment, the Psalmist insists
that it is not God’s way to abandon or forsake forever. His cry is not a cry of
accusation. It is a cry that expresses the reality of his experience without
questioning the reality of God’s presence and goodness.  The Psalmist gives us details. He is in
this forsaken place because of the evil of human beings. And he realizes that
God is his only hope.

Towards the end of the Psalm, the tone changes. Instead of
questions, we receive proclamations:

For God has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted
one; ?

he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for
help (verse 24).

From the earliest days, Christians have interpreted this
Psalm on two levels. One, as yet another instance of honest prayer before a
faithful, listening God. Two, as a reference to the faithfulness of that God
through the death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus. Some scholars interpret
Jesus’ cry on the cross, the “cry of dereliction,” as evidence that he had lost
his faith. But others claim that Jesus was drawing attention not only to his
own feeling of abandonment, but to the entire Psalm. The abandonment, the
faith, the desperation, the hope.

For Christians now, this Psalm offers us a reminder of where
to turn when life circumstances press in on every side, a reminder that only

God remains faithful forever. And it reminds us that Jesus’ forsakenness did
not end in separation and death. It ended in resurrection hope. He cried out as
the forsaken one. And because he was forsaken, we can proclaim the final lines
of the Psalm, our living hope:

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the
Lord.

They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn–

for he has done it (verses 30-31).

 

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