Psalm 22: Commentary by James Limburg
What does this psalm mean for the “Good Fridays” in our own lives, when we are shaken by grief or almost destroyed by the circumstances of life?
First, the psalm points to the importance of community, a group of concerned fellow-believers… who will sympathize and pray with and for us when we are suffering. The psalm assumes life in such a community, remembering the community of the past (verses 4-5), pointing to the community of the present (verses 22, 25), and anticipating the ongoing community of the future (verses 30-31).
Second, we notice that the “why” questions at the beginning of the psalm are never answered. Never is there a voice from heaven saying, “These things are happening to test you …” or something similar. Or when the laments ask, “How long, O Lord” (Psalm 13) there is never a voice coming out of the clouds saying, “In about two weeks it will all be over.”
Even for Jesus on the cross (Matthew 27:46), the questions remain questions.
I have heard the Jewish teacher Elie Wiesel tell on a number of occasions of a young man who was very disturbed because he had so many questions about God. Most disturbing was: “Why does God allow suffering?” A friend advised the young man to travel to another town to hear a particularly gifted rabbi speak. He did, and something happened. He returned and said “The questions remained questions. But somehow, I could go on.”
Finally, we remember that Jesus prayed this psalm on the cross. If Jesus believed himself forsaken and far from God, it should not be surprising that we ordinary believers feel that way at times. In such difficult times Jesus reached for this psalm.
Since retiring in 2001 as Professor of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, James Limburg has filled in as a visiting professor of Old Testament at Pacific Lutheran Seminary, in Berkeley, California; Luther Seminary, in St. Paul, Minnesota, and United Seminary in New Brighton, Minnesota. For five winter seasons he was Guest Pastor at Living Waters Lutheran Church in North Port, Florida. He continues to teach and preach in a variety of churches throughout Minnesota. Recent books include The Psalms (Westminster John Knox, 2000), Encountering Ecclesiastes (Eerdmans, 2006) and The Other Woman (Zion, 2006).