Sermon For February 4, 2018 - God, I Need Help - Where Are You?
1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
One can’t read Psalm 22 without making the obvious connection to Jesus on the cross. The powerful, deeply personal, turn toward God, in suffering, exposes what the son of God gave up for us. It wasn’t simply suffering that Jesus accepted on our behalf. He accepted our kind of suffering, our condition. He suffered not just physical pain, but suffered without the wisdom and miracles and stature of the son of God that we so often attribute to Him. Putting yourself through a pain you can control, like a project you work hard on, or a fitness goal, is nothing like enduring a pain you have no control over, nor insight into. Pain you can control, and understand, can be pleasurable, just as a good workout might be painful but leave you with a sense of accomplishment. Pain imposed on you without a known end, and without a reason, is something else entirely. Jesus accepted our condition, accepted the kind of pain we bear, and, in so doing, gave us a key to our own nature, and thereby, our own liberation through Him.
So how does this play out for us? How can we, in our modern context, understand what this all means here and now?
It’s one thing to act, in our daily lives, with love and kindness, when it seems that life is returning your good spirit with favor. It feels as though life makes sense when this happens. Do good things, get good things back. Be kind, receive kindness. It feels like righteousness and justice are alive and that it really matters what we do as we navigate our lives. This might have been what it would have been like for Jesus if he had descended from heaven with all the power and stature we would assume the son of God would have. Sure, he’d be in the world, but he’d have things as he liked, whenever he liked. He would have been in control. Pharisees, soldiers, bring it on. But then, would Jesus have been an example for us, or just a fantastic spectacle that we couldn’t relate to?
Now, in a totally different sense, when you seem to be doing those same nice things, living the kind of life you feel God intended, and you get the opposite back, things begin to fall apart and feel empty. Good deeds are returned with trouble. Blame comes through no action of your own. It feels like you have some kind of curse and that life just has it in for you. This would be analogous to the blameless Son of God being hunted, and ultimately sent to his death, for no righteous reason whatsoever. We can now identify with Jesus, identify with his heart, because he is not only enduring the pain we know, he has chosen to do so, for us- even to the point of feeling forsaken just as we do sometimes.
Now, being snapped back to our own modern reality, doubt will creep it’s way into, what you might have thought, was a strong faith in God, when you experience the harsh realities of life. You may begin to ask yourself, “Does God really care? Does God really act in the world or did he just set it in motion and now it’s up to us? You might think, "What Jesus did was a long time ago and it feels like I’m fighting alone.” It’s important to allow these questions and not to try to subdue them under a feeling of guilt or not being a ‘good Christian’. Jesus himself, while on the cross, didn’t suppress his longing for God because it might be ‘look bad’ because he was Jesus. He knew he had to live the experience fully, no matter the cost. Go back and read the start of Psalm 22 again. It’s an affirmation of these things we go through.
Especially in the context of our modern comforts, we often believe we are ‘on the right path’ when our outer world is conforming to our expectations and desires. We try to treat our doubts, fears, and sorrows with the medicine of worldly things rather than the Grace of God- until they don’t work anymore. We sometimes feel far from Grace, perhaps not even knowing what that really means, and so we turn to something concrete in the world. We get caught up in the comforts of the world- until they don’t comfort any longer.
So, what do you do when you feel hopelessly disconnected from God. What do you do when it only seems like there is doubt, powerlessness, and despair. You may be tempted to try to fix these things BEFORE going to God. You might beat yourself up with guilt and embarrassment and begin to feel isolated. These are all things Jesus experienced because he came to live the experiences we have in their full reality.
Psalm 22 is leading us to Christ’s answer for us. It is what made his resurrection possible. When all your strength, your own answers, worldly understandings, and all manner of dependence on yourself and the world are burned away, you are then available to God- but only if you do the hardest thing and turn toward Him and not away. Affirming your doubt, bringing it to God, is what transforms doubt into freedom. Acknowledging your weakness and fear in front of God creates a space within you for God to fill. It’s not that God was ever unavailable to you, but that you were looking for your own idea of God and not what He simply is.
The saving Grace of Christ works through the fact that he is never separate from any part of you. He lives in your doubt, your confidence, your strength, and your helplessness because he lived as a man, and died, so that you may be transformed, through His power. You are promised, through the example of his resurrection, that your suffering will not be in vain and that you are saved through faith, by Grace.
Now, read the start of Psalm 22 again. It’s important because these promises can feel so empty when you’re in the darkness of individual pain. Go back and read, affirm what you are feeling, and that you are not alone in that. Now, continue.
It is here where Christ’s example, and the progression of Psalm 22, are like medicine for us. You might be reading all this, with many parts ringing so true- especially regarding suffering and doubt and feeling God and Jesus are silent in your time of need. If you read the Psalm, and you examine the experience of Christ on the cross, you will see that it is only when the overwhelming pain of the experience is finally acknowledged, there is no more ‘fight’ left, and God is looked to with absolute need, that a transformation is experienced. In the Psalm, the tone turns more toward a praise and gratitude after the acknowledgement of such a great pain and need. In the same way, Jesus is resurrected back to God only after he experiences those innately human sufferings as an individual in apparent separation from the divine.
If you apply this to your own situation, you will see that your suffering is directly proportional to the resistance left in you as an individual. Consciously, or subconsciously, you still believe you have some answers, and that you can figure things out. The truth is that your idea of control is an illusion. Your suffering is your attempt to keep up the illusion because you are resisting all the experiences that are trying to bring you closer to God. It can be the hardest thing in our lives, to go to God at the moment when we feel least connected and understood, but this is exactly the moment when you must.
Everything in the Bible is meant to bring you back to God. Psalm 22 is a powerful affirmation of our struggles in this life. It is a powerful affirmation of our way to handle these struggles also. Christ has shown us, not with just words, but with his very death, that he is the way back to God. He made the ultimate sacrifice so that we don’t have to actually die to be saved. He has put the path before us and we only have to follow it. In the best or worst times of life, in every moment of life, we are to go to Christ, to God, no matter if all we have is doubt and suffering. If all you can do is turn to God, without any other promise, that is enough.
God's Grace be with you- Pastor Rob