God has taken charge; from now on he has the last word.” Ps. 22:28 (Message)
Psalms of lament usually begin with the psalmist’s declaration that he is in a really bad place.
1 Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you pay no attention during times of trouble?
2 The wicked arrogantly chase the oppressed;
the oppressed are trapped by the schemes the wicked have dreamed up.
3 Yes, the wicked man boasts because he gets what he wants;
the one who robs others curses and rejects the Lord.
4 The wicked man is so arrogant he always thinks,
“God won’t hold me accountable; he doesn’t care.
Other Psalms such as Psalm 34 and 69 have similar beginnings. But, when we read a psalm, we have an expectation that things will change; that God has been present throughout the difficulties, that God will provide help. We read the whole Psalm to understand and interpret and understand the beginning of it.
The first words from Psalm 22 are much more familiar in the King James. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What from this Psalm would Jesus have us understand? On the cross, nailed in such a way that he could hardly breathe, he spoke no more than that first line. Surely Jesus, just as the Psalmist, was speaking from his immediate pain and isolation. Soon he would be thinking about remembered trust and confidence in God. Had Jesus not been nailed to the cross in such a position, I believe he have quoted the whole psalm with the movement from a sense of distance from God to full confidence that God was with him. Consider the context of the scripture to see if there is support for this view.
Context is everything:
An insurance company’s lawyer was questioning an old farmer in court. The company did not want to pay his claims for injuries. These occurred when their client ran a stop sign and hit the farmer’s trailer that contained his favorite mule.
Lawyer: “Didn’t you tell the police officer “I fine” when he arrived?
Farmer: Well, that morning I loaded Old Bessie into the trailer and started down the road. Hadn’t gotten far . . .
Lawyer (interrupting): “Just answer the question. Did you say, “I’m fine”?
Farmer: I loaded old Bessie into the trailer … .
Lawyer: Just answer the question. Judge, please instruct the witness to answer.”
Judge: Why don’t we let the witness continue? I want to hear what he has to say.
Farmer: I had Old Bessie in the trailer and we were driving down the road to the vet’s when this red car came zipping through the stop sign and hit the truck and trailer. I was trying to get out of the truck to check on Bessie who I heard moanin’ and groanin’. I was afraid she was a goner.
About that time a trooper came up and saw Bessie was a goner so he pulled out his gun and shot Bessie. I was still trying to clear my head and get over to Bessie when the trooper came up to me with his gun still in his hand. He said, Hey, old guy, how are you doin’?
I said: “I’m fine, I’m fine”!
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” So, what is the context?
I think there are three parts to the context. First, is Jesus’ situation. Nearly all the disciples have deserted him. Jesus has pressure on his lungs due to the pull of his arms from his nailed hands. He feels the burden of the sins of people of all ages have put him on the cross. As a loving son, he asks John to take care of his mother, Mary. Jesus knows that like in the parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:28-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19) we have tried to put ourselves in God’s place. But, as the loving Jesus still speaks words of forgiveness to the criminal crucified with him. He includes us in the words “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” We were forgiven, not because Jesus was “forsaken”, but because Jesus interceded with a loving God on our behalf. A contemporary Christian song include the words “the Father turned his face away”. Another contains the words “The wrath of God was satisfied when Jesus died”. * Where do those phrases come from in scripture? Doesn’t scripture say that God wants to forgive? How can one say that God deserted Jesus without saying that the Trinity was split apart? When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing” he clearly assumes his role as our intercessor in the model of Moses and Ezekiel. After the resurrection, Jesus would be seated at God’s right hand to continue that intercessory role. Finally, Jesus concludes with a commitment to the Father. “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
That is the immediate context.
Context of the original words
Psalms of lament like Psalm 22 frequently begin with the psalmist in a bad way. Awake! Why are you asleep, O Lord? (Psalm 44:24) “You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.” (Psalm 88:6) Do we conclude that is the whole truth about the Psalmist? What is the usual way of interpreting a Psalm of lament? “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.” Psalm 69:20. Would Jesus use the first words of Psalm 22 in a way to contradict the later verses?
Then look at the context of the words Jesus quotes from Psalm 22, especially the latter part of the Psalm.
28 God has taken charge;
from now on he has the last word.
29 All the power-mongers are before him
All the poor and powerless, too
Along with those who never got it together
30-31 Our children and their children
will get in on this
As the word is passed along
from parent to child.
Babies not yet conceived
will hear the good news—
that God does what he says.
Psalm 22, The Message
Broader Biblical context
Several passages in John tell us that Jesus and the Father are one. Especially note John 10:30 and John 16:32. Jesus speaks further of this identity in John 17. Paul understood what Jesus meant when he wrote: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself.” God was present with Jesus in his hour of deepest need. This text, for me, does not say Jesus was forsaken and condemned that I might be forgiven and accepted.2 Therefore we can be confident that God will be with us when we experience great need. Surely, in this hour, Jesus temptation to despair was greater than any we can experience. The writer of Hebrews assures us, that Jesus was “tempted in every way as we are”. Did Paul think about Jesus at the cross when he wrote these words?
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NET
How do we embrace the whole of the Psalm in our understanding? I would like to believe that Jesus, with the Psalmist would affirm:
God has taken charge;
from now on he has the last word. Psalm 22:28
*Michael Card, “Love crucified alone”; Stuart Townsend, “How deep the Father’s Love”. Other similar: Natalie Grant, In Christ Alone; Chris Tomlin: “You Are My King” 2I’m forgiven because you were forsaken” These songs do an excellent job with most of the Gospel story. But they obscure an important part: God was always reconciled to us, God always wanted to forgive us and God always wanted to restore us. It is we as humans that need to change and be changed. I am still working out the implications of this. Our understanding of God and how he forgives and restores leads to important actions. Believing in a punishing God leads to sentences for persons guilty of crimes that feature jail first, rather than restorative justice; solitary confinement rather than opportunities for education and improvement; and capital punishment rather than compassionate care. I am still thinking through this aspect of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
My thinking on this topic was shaped by reading Darren Belousek, Atonement, Justice and Peace. Any confusion is mine.
Other scriptures to consider:
“When you all run away from me and leave me alone, I won’t be alone, because My Father is with me.” (John 16:32).
- Examples include: Psalms 12, 44, 60, 74, 79, 80, 83, 85, 90, 94, 123, 126, 129
Personal Lament (these psalms fit more than one category)
- Examples include: Psalms 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25, 26, 27*, 28, 31, 36*, 39, 40:12-17, 41, 42-43, 52*, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 59, 61, 64, 69, 70, 71, 77, 86, 89*, 120, 139, 141, 142