We can hold on to the promise that God is there for us and that God is there with us. And as people of faith in a true, authentic relationship with God, we can hold God accountable. We have every right to “remind God of God’s faithfulness, to remind God of God’s involvement in the world, to plead with God to change the world, and to believe strongly enough in our anger that God will in fact respond.”
October 29, 2023
God, Why Have You Abandoned Me?
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
My God! My God, why have you left me all alone? Why are you so far from saving me— so far from my anguished groans? My God, I cry out during the day, but you don’t answer; even at nighttime I don’t stop. You are the holy one, enthroned. You are Israel’s praise. Our ancestors trusted you— they trusted you and you rescued them; they cried out to you and they were saved; they trusted you and they weren’t ashamed. But I’m just a worm, less than human; insulted by one person, despised by another. All who see me make fun of me— they gape, shaking their heads: “He committed himself to the Lord, so let God rescue him; let God deliver him because God likes him so much.”
But you are the one who pulled me from the womb, placing me safely at my mother’s breasts. I was thrown on you from birth; you’ve been my God since I was in my mother’s womb. Please don’t be far from me, because trouble is near and there’s no one to help. Many bulls surround me; mighty bulls from Bashan encircle me. They open their mouths at me like a lion ripping and roaring! I’m poured out like water. All my bones have fallen apart. My heart is like wax; it melts inside me. My strength is dried up like a piece of broken pottery. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you’ve set me down in the dirt of death. Dogs surround me; a pack of evil people circle me like a lion— oh, my poor hands and feet! I can count all my bones! Meanwhile, they just stare at me, watching me.
They divvy up my garments among themselves; they cast lots for my clothes. But you, Lord! Don’t be far away! You are my strength! Come quick and help me! Deliver me from the sword. Deliver my life from the power of the dog. Save me from the mouth of the lion. From the horns of the wild oxen you have answered me! will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; I will praise you in the very center of the congregation! All of you who revere the Lord—praise him! All of you who are Jacob’s descendants—honor him! All of you who are all Israel’s offspring— stand in awe of him! Because he didn’t despise or detest the suffering of the one who suffered— he didn’t hide his face from me. No, he listened when I cried out to him for help.
I offer praise in the great congregation because of you; I will fulfill my promises in the presence of those who honor God. Let all those who are suffering eat and be full! Let all who seek the Lord praise him! I pray your hearts live forever! Every part of the earth will remember and come back to the Lord; every family among all the nations will worship you. Because the right to rule belongs to the Lord, he rules all nations. Indeed, all the earth’s powerful will worship him; all who are descending to the dust will kneel before him; my being also lives for him. Future descendants will serve him; generations to come will be told about my Lord. They will proclaim God’s righteousness to those not yet born, telling them what God has done.
God, Why Have You Abandoned Me? Psalm 22
As I shared earlier, as Christians, we hear the opening line of this Psalm and immediately we are taken to the moment when Jesus is hanging on the cross. However, as Christians, we need to understand that these words did not originate with Jesus. While on the cross, he spoke these words from his faith tradition, from his Jewish heritage. He was reciting Psalm 22 as he hung on the cross on what would become known within the Christian tradition as Good Friday, a day which culminates in the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
Although Jesus spoke these words some thousand years ago, they remain relevant for our world today, especially given what is happening in the Middle East at this moment. It really does feel in many ways that God has abandoned us, that God has washed their hands of us, that God is tired of us always being at war with each other. Yet, as I have said each week, and will continue to say each week because it truly is the core of the Gospel message, we know that God has not left us, that God has not abandoned us, that God is at work in this world, bringing healing and wholeness to all, even if we cannot see it at the moment.
That being said, as I have lived with this text this week, I have come to realize that is where we usually stop our conversation about grief, our conversation about our relationship with God in those moments when we are so overwhelmed that we don’t know which direction to go. We as people of faith usually stop our conversation about grief, about sorrow, about the hurt and brokenness which fills our world at the understanding that God is there for us, that God will be there for us, that sometimes bad things happen to good people. We don’t go any farther than that point. Because this understanding of who God is and how God acts in the world brings us comfort. It brings us hope. It brings us some sort of sense of knowing that all will be okay even if we don’t know what that okay will look like in the future.
However, as I have lived with Psalm 22 this week, I realized that the hope this knowledge of God being there with us, being there for us does not really give us hope with teeth, doesn’t really give us a hope that latches on to our hearts and spirits, a hope that doesn’t let go because it has a white knuckled grip from holding onto us. This hope found in the knowledge that God is there with us, that God is there for us is not an ugly hope which “finds a way to go on when nothing else can find a way in.
Hope in the knowledge that God is with us, that God is for us is not a hope strong enough to change the world.
And that is where Psalm 22 comes in. If we take another look at Psalm 22, we realize that it pushes our conversation about grief, about our relationship with God beyond the feel good, comfortable God is with us point because it reminds us that faith is a both/and conversation. What I mean by this is that too often we focus only on what we deem the safest part of the conversation. But the reality is we can hold to the promise that God is there for us, that God is there with AND as people of faith, AND as people in true, authentic relationship with our God, we can hold God accountable. Because we are allowed…scratch that we are encouraged, we have every right to “remind God of God’s faithfulness, to remind God of God’s involvement in the world, to plead with God to change the world, And to believe strongly enough in our anger that God will in fact respond.”
Because for God to be the God that we have all known and experienced in our lives, it is simply not enough to know that God is there for us, that God is there with us. It is also necessary to know, to understand, to hold to the life giving, the life changing promise that God will bring about God’s Beloved Community here on Earth for all of God’s people, that God is a God of justice, that God is a God of grace, that God is a God of love, that God is a God who will not let death and destruction have the last word.
Which is what Psalm 22 exactly names. The psalmist ends the psalm with the future understanding that God will act and that the psalmist will respond with praise. And not just the psalmist, but future generations as well. The psalmist proclaims that God will act, not because he can predict the future. The psalmist proclaims this because that is who God is, that is what God promised us when we entered into the covenant with our God. The psalmist proclaims this because the psalmist has hope…the ugly hope”which thrives in the discards, which survives in the ugliest parts of our world, which finds a way to go on when nothing else can even find a way in”. It is this type of hope which Jesus clung to on the cross. It is this type of hope which reminds us that death and destruction will not have the last word. It is this type of hope which is the most dangerous thing, the most life changing thing, the most powerful promise which arises from our faith in God…because in the words of Anne Lamont… we know as people of faith who have seen God act in the past to bring about justice and peace for God’s people, as people of faith who know God will act once more to bring about God’s Beloved Community here on earth, not just for a select few but for all of God’s creation, we know that “hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if [we] just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come; [so in the meantime, until that day when God ‘s full Shalom comes to fruition here on Earth, as people of faith, [we] wait, [we] work, and [we] don’t give up.” May it be so.
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