Psalm 22 and Fear of the Virus

During the COVID-19 pandemic I have been brought back to some of David’s Psalms, specifically his laments. During our church’s mid-week Bible study, we have been going through David’s life, sometimes with a fine-toothed comb, and I have been left a little overwhelmed with the completely human, yet shockingly faithful character of the human king who stands as the OT foreshadowing of the Messiah. David was often afraid and surrounded by his enemies, yet he managed to leave us examples of faithful lament and prayer during those times.

I can’t say the same for many Christian thought leaders right now. The pandemic is overwhelming and often frightening, and many Christians have responded with knee-jerk criticism of churches, fear, anger and political frustration. There isn’t as much faithful lament out there as there is when we read David.

May David become a guide for us to a better response to unsettling times.

One such lament is Psalm 22. The modern Christian, if they know Psalm 22, knows it in the context of the crucifixion. On the cross Jesus quotes from Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” And because of that, we flip back and read the Psalm through the lens of the Gospels. There is fruit to be picked there, but we cannot neglect the original, and very powerful, context of the Psalm in its original setting.

Read Psalm 22 and ask yourself, how does David respond to genuine fear for his life? What does he say? What does he leave out? What does he find most important to his soul while surrounded by the “strong bulls of Bashan” (vs 12)?

Here are a couple of thoughts to get us started.

Genuine Frustration

The first two verses of the Psalm are a whole-hearted expression of frustration:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,

    and by night, but I find no rest.

It is OK to openly lament, to clearly and without reservation speak your fear to God. Is it possible that He has actually left me? That He has turned His back on me?

But don’t miss a quick and subtle detail. David begins, “My God, my God.” Every lament begins with an address to God. And here it isn’t a distant God, whom we might expect would disappear in a time of trouble, but a personal God that we can wrestle with.

A Quick Pivot

Just when we think we are on the way to a laundry list of frustrations, David changes the tone. Very quickly, David reminds himself of who God is no matter his personal situation.

Yet you are holy,

    enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In you our fathers trusted;

    they trusted, and you delivered them.

To you they cried and were rescued;

    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Probably the most important feature for us to learn in the lament Psalms is the deliberate reminder of the character traits of God when we are tempted to toss them all aside. When events are more than we can explain or too large to control (or for any human institution to control), we must run to a God who is holy, enthroned, praised by His people, and a trustworthy rescuer.

A spiritual leader does the congregation a disservice if they get lost in fear and anxiety and miss the unique opportunity that distress gives us to turn our eyes on God. When all is well we can praise God and declare His authority over all things. When all is well we tend to think we can make sense of the world, so we don’t hesitate to say God is good. But what if we can’t make sense of things? What if evil seems to be winning the day? What if our lives are drastically changed because of events out of our control, and we can’t “snap back” (like being driven from your home by your murderous son, or being quarantined in your home for a month)?

We learn that God is good in much more profound ways when we are able to praise him and recognize His supreme authority while distressed. This means not knowing how to completely make sense of God’s rule and still finding that He is good. Probably the most important thing for the follower of Jesus to learn in these times is who He is and rely upon that.

Probably the most important thing for the follower of Jesus to learn in these times is who He is and rely upon that.

Some of the worst responses in the Christians world in the last 2-3 weeks have been people falling back on well-worn managerial clichés, new marketing gimmicks, and the ubiquitous complaints about how “a lot” of churches “don’t get it.” If we spend a lot of time drinking from puddles instead of wells, we keep going back to the puddle even when they dry out.

Peace is not in the puddle. It is found in the inexhaustible well that is the unchanging nature of God.

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