How do I sit with suffering? Psalm 22

How does the world respond to suffering?

We medicate it.

We dismiss it.

We deny it.

We try to explain it away.

We even blame the victim sometimes.

Jesus has a different way of sitting with suffering.

Psalm 22 invites believers to sit at the foot of the cross with Jesus and bear witness to many aspects of His suffering. Each verse takes the reader deeper into His pain and isolation.

When I come so close to suffering, if I am being honest, I want to look away, fix it, or find a way to stop it. To lean in and be fully present with someone we love experiencing a storm of suffering is agony. I want to take three steps back and create some comfortable distance.

My heart and mind feel desperate to escape. It feels far too much for me to handle.

Jesus warned us about this.

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
(John 16:33 ESV)


How does Jesus model “taking heart” while suffering?

He cries out to God.

He prays scripture aloud.

He speaks truthfully about His suffering.

He surrenders to God’s will on repeat.

He continues to look for His rescue.

Last week on the blog, I looked at the first part of Psalm 22 through the lens of Queen Esther. I examined the pain and isolation she must have felt when faced with an almost impossible decision to risk her life to save her people.

Another way to look at Psalm 22 is to see it as a prophecy about Jesus’ death on the cross.

Psalm 22 fulfills many prophecies about the Messiah

Jesus quotes Psalm 22 from the cross.

Those who stood by watching would have recognized the text immediately. The bits and pieces of the text He shared would have brought the entire Psalm to their minds.

Psalm 22 begins with a haunting line,

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
(Psalm 22:1-2 ESV)

Jesus cries out to God

 

These words highlight the scene of Jesus hanging on the cross surrounded by a hostile crowd and knowing His death is near. His ordeal has included beatings, humiliation, and a barrage of accusations. He has willingly submitted Himself to this torture, motivated by a fierce and sacrificial love for each of us.

He prays scripture aloud

6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
(Psalm 22:6-8 ESV)

Here Jesus describes the utter humiliation of being displayed before a crowd as an example of failure. In verse 8, Jesus even quotes some of the harshest things that were said as the crowd mocked Him for His belief in God. However, Jesus continues to cling fiercely and audibly to His belief.

He speaks truthfully about His suffering

9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother's breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
(Psalm 22:9-11 ESV)

Jesus responds to the mocking of His belief in God by recounting his birth on Earth, from Mary’s womb, and His utter reliance on God. He expresses the agony of the impending but brief separation He is about to experience. He and God have always walked hand in hand, but now He faces a moment of separation as He can see His death is imminent.

12 Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
(Psalm 22:12-13 ESV)

Jesus speaks honestly about how desperate a state He is in. When He could have escaped this agony, He remained inside the suffering storm.

He surrenders to God’s will on repeat

14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
(Psalm 22:14-15 ESV)

Jesus surrenders again and again to the Lord’s will as He pours His strength out and becomes weak.

16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet
(Psalm 22:16 ESV)

Jesus acknowledges His state of being. His honesty in the face of peril is real and raw.

17 I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.
(Psalm 22:17-18 ESV)

In this moment of being stripped naked on the cross, Jesus’ humiliation is on display. The authorities give Him no room for dignity. God allows us to glimpse the devastating force of our sin.

Even His clothing, the last earthly objects Jesus could call His own, became something to be won by casting lots. The soldiers were operating in utter certainty of his impending death.

He continues to look for His rescue

19 But you, O LORD, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!
(Psalm 22:19-21 ESV)

Jesus cries aloud to the Lord before a watching crowd. Even in His desperation, He points to the only source of reliable help because He wants the world to know. Jesus had a direct line to His heavenly father, so speaking aloud would not have been necessary. And yet, He continues to narrate His journey so all will understand the destination He seeks. He wants to be near the Lord.

Sitting at the foot of the cross

Am I willing to lean in and be fully present with Jesus as He experiences a storm of suffering and agony in His final moments on the cross?

Take a few minutes today to ask Jesus what He wants you to know about this. In your own life, how do you respond to your suffering or the suffering of those you love? Are you willing to ask Him to show you how to sit with suffering?

Prayer

Jesus, what do you want me to know about suffering? Strengthen my soul to follow You, even in this. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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