Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 24 2019 - Psalm 22 – Why have you forsaken me

The psalm is entitled "A psalm of David"; other than that we are unclear of the events that lie behind its complaint. But we know that David was no stranger to trouble. In his youth, King Saul had sought his life and pursued him with armies. Years later, after David became king, he had been forced to flee Jerusalem when his son, Absalom, had wanted to make himself king in place of his father. These or any number of other difficulties may have given rise to this psalm of complaint.

David is a man of faith who has trusted in God from his earliest years (vv. 9-10). He knows that God is still enthroned as the Holy One who saved his people of old (vv. 3-5). But David feels abandoned. He feels himself to be more like a worm, trodden under foot, than a man. He is the object of scorn and mockery by others (vv. 6-8, vv. 12-18). So David pleads that God may come to his aid (vv. 11, 19-21). If only God would rescue him it would lead to praise of God not only from David but also from God's people generally (vv. 22-26), and even from all peoples on earth (vv. 27-31).

But right at the moment, David feels that God is far away from him and cries out in agony of soul, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (v.1a).

The psalm expresses the mystery and pain of unanswered prayer. We have all experienced times when we are in desperate need of God's help for ourselves or for others whom we love. We have come to God at such a time in earnest prayer, seeking for his help. And at times it has felt to us that God is not listening. Those who do not know God may mock our prayers and our expectation of divine help, but we know that God is sovereign and that there is no limit to his power; we have experienced his help and blessing in the past. But right now that knowledge, far from encouraging us, seems to mock our prayers. We end up perplexed and sometimes in despair.

There are no slick answers to the mystery of unanswered prayer. But I want to take you from David's words of complaint to those of David's Greater Son. As he hung upon the cross Jesus cried out to his Father using the words of this psalm, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34, Matthew 27:46).

I am sure that it was not just the opening words of Psalm 22 Jesus had in his mind; he saw the whole psalm as prophetic of all that he was now suffering. He may have had verse 15 in mind when he cried out, "I thirst!" Certainly verses 16-19 describe what happened to him in his crucifixion. Jesus appeared to have been forsaken by God and felt himself forsaken.

The mystery of unanswered prayer, of our unanswered prayer, should take us to the foot of the cross. Here God seemed deaf to the cries of his own Son – he is a God who hides himself. But the cross is also the place where unanswered prayer finds its resolution, for the cry of Psalm 22 does find an answer. Verses 19-21 are answered by Jesus' resurrection from the dead; the cry of dereliction becomes a cry of victory. His triumph over death is celebrated by his people and shall, one day, be celebrated by all the peoples of the world "They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!" (v. 31). It is because of Christ's resurrection that we can be assured that though our prayers may not be answered now, in the end all shall be well.

Father God we thank you for the many times when you have heard and answered our prayers. But we praise you supremely for the Lord Jesus Christ who has gathered up the pain of all our unanswered prayer to himself in his cry of dereliction from the cross. Thank you that his resurrection provides us with the absolute assurance that the day will come when all our prayers and longings will be answered. We long for that day when you will wipe all tears from our eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for all things shall be made new.

Peter Misselbrook