My God, my God,
O why have you forsaken me?
O why are you so far from giving help
and from my groaning cry?
By day and night, my God, I call;
your answer still delays.
And yet you are the Holy One
who dwells in Israel’s praise.
All those who look at me will laugh
and cast reproach at me.
Their mouths they open wide;
they wag their heads in mockery:
“The Lord was his reliance once;
now see what God will send.
Yes, let God rise and set him free,
this man that was his friend.”
Our fathers put their trust in you;
from you their rescue came.
They begged you and you set them free;
they were not put to shame.
But as for me, I am a worm
and not a man at all.
To men I am despised and base;
their scornings on me fall.
You took me from my mother’s womb
to safety at the breast.
Since birth when I was cast on you,
in you, my God, I rest.
When I proclaim my praise of you,
then all the church will hear,
and I will pay my vows in full
where men hold him in fear.
On the morning of Monday, March 27, 2023, I felt the soft kicks of my little baby boy for the first time during my pregnancy. It wasn’t until later in the day that I learned of what had transpired less than three hours away in Nashville. In the same moments that I was feeling the sweet, fluttering evidences of new life growing within my womb, three other mothers were learning that their young children had been cruelly taken from this world in a school shooting. I sunk down on my kitchen floor and wept as this sobering realization struck me, grieving the horrifying reality that these families were currently enduring. No matter how old we get, how mature we become in our faith, I believe there are always circumstances that cause us to beg, Why, O Lord? Less than two weeks away from Easter, the words to Psalm 22 were fresh on my mind, and I whispered them in prayer because my own words would not form. O, how often do the Psalms provide language for the wretched soul!
As parents, one of the most important truths we will ever teach our children is that the Lord is always good, no exceptions. At some point, every child asks their mom and dad, “How can God be good when he lets so many bad things happen?” We can explain that when sin entered this world through Adam, it left nothing untouched in its wake. We can teach our children to realize that we often have too tame a view of sin, and that it is pernicious, violent, insatiable, and evil beyond what our frail minds can comprehend. Acknowledging these realities gives us a biblical lens by which to view this fallen world, and maybe we can muddle through an answer to our children by telling them that creation is fallen, and that sin has entered the world and made everything terrible. But there’s a question behind our child’s rather simple query that disquiets our souls. And it’s not so much why God allows bad things to happen, but why he sees fit for us to suffer, sometimes grievously, when they do. If that weren’t enough, he also asks us to be joyful in the midst of our suffering. How can this be, Lord? It is too much! How are we supposed to endure? Our Father has not asked anything of his children for that which he has not already provided instruction and encouragement.
This song is a paraphrase of Psalm 22. There are many other verses to this psalm than just the four listed above. Some psalters include renderings of the entire psalm. I have always sung this psalm to the tune, “Kingsfold,” but other suitable renditions exist. Though David authored these verses, they were ultimately fulfilled by Jesus. This is the psalm of Calvary, the agonizing cry of Golgotha. We see the cross from the vantage point of the one who hung there. No greater depths of woe have been endured. “My God, my God, O why have you forsaken me? O why are you so far from giving help and from my groaning cry? By day and night, my God, I call; your answer still delays.”In these lines we see how Christ clings to a father he can’t see or feel, a God who seems far off. But this is not a cry of unbelief. Jesus cries out in anguish to “My God, my God.” This is faith, dear believer. This is your Savior enduring his greatest affliction and responding with confidence that the God who is allowing him to suffer is still his Lord.
Let your eyes scan over the remaining lyrics. The next thing the psalmist does is rehearse to himself God’s past faithfulness to his people. “And yet you are the Holy One who dwells in Israel’s praise. Our fathers put their trust in you, from you their rescue came. They begged you and you set them free; they were not put to shame.” The remaining verses alternate back and forth between sections of agony followed by sections of unwavering faith; great distress met with a confident response. There is the dehumanizing aspect of the cross, “But as for me, I am a worm and not a man at all.” Then the sneering ridicule follows, “The Lord was his reliance once—now see what God will send.” Another wave of suffering, but this time the psalmist rehearses to himself God’s faithfulness in his own life. “You took me from my mother’s womb to safety at the breast. Since birth when I was cast on you, in you, my God, I rest.”
This psalm ends with the psalmist delighting in how he shall sing his deliverer’s praises in the great congregation. “When I proclaim my praise of you, then all the church will hear.” Even if our tribulations lead to death, we will still join the eternal throng in ceaseless praise. “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it” (Ps. 22:30–31). “He has done it,” or how Jesus understood those words on the cross: It is finished! Not even death itself can destroy our hope or silence our praise.
At some point for all of us, our theoretical knowledge of God’s goodness will be tested with fire through various torments, grief, and for some, persecution. Supply your children’s souls, and your own, with solid ammunition against the devil’s snares. It is the oldest lie in creation which Satan wields cleverly against God’s people: “Is God really good? Don’t you deserve better?” My husband preached through this psalm during the evening service on Easter Sunday, and he made this wise observation: If we would reread our life’s story, not with us, but with our covenant-keeping God as the central character, we would have abundant fuel for our souls in times of great distress.
Moms and Dads, teach your children the psalms! Let them read of David’s sorrow, how he cries out in agony in times of distress, how the Lord allows David to question his providence. Let them see for themselves that it’s okay to ask God, “Why, O Lord?” But let them also realize that despite David’s circumstances, he never doubts that the Lord will deliver him. Let them sing of the Lord’s salvation amidst the psalmist’s groanings. Give them 150 reasons to trust that the Lord is good.
John Calvin referred to the Psalms as “an anatomy of the soul.” The entire range of human emotion is on full display throughout this ancient prose, and this is not a coincidence. We are shown what the right expression of human emotion looks like in a man after God’s own heart and in a Savior whose sufferings on the cross were unlike anything we will ever endure. The Psalms are a treasure trove of unwavering hope; divinely-inspired words of beauty amidst anguish, written for the benefit of the King’s sons and daughters in earthly exile, that they may endure faithfully until they are called home.
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.