Faithfully Doubting God - Psalm 22


Most of the time, we think of faith and doubts as polar opposites.  We think of faith and doubt on a single spectrum.  We think that if we have more doubt, we have less faith, and if we have less doubt, we have more faith.
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Doubt                                          Faith
But that’s not what the Bible teaches.  The Bible’s perspective on doubt and faith is more like the father with a sick child who said to Jesus: “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).  Belief and unbelief are all mixed together - like overlapping ovals.  We have all these doubts of different shapes and sizes, but they can be enveloped by an even larger circle of faith.  Having doubts does not mean we don’t have faith.  Doubts can actually enlarge and enrich our faith.  True faith is not being doubt-free.  True faith is taking the leap to trust God even while the doubts are there screaming that we shouldn’t.  True faith is moving forward to follow Jesus - even if it means carrying a backpack full of doubts along the way.
Sometimes, we let our doubts drive us away from God and away from God’s people.  We can get very ashamed of our doubts.   We think, “If I was a real Christian, I wouldn’t feel like this.  If I really trusted God, I wouldn’t have these doubts.”  And so we end up hiding our true selves from other people at church and even from God in prayer.  We only say the nice things.  We only pray the nice prayers.  We stuff our doubts down.  We try to shoo them out the window of our souls.  
Here’s the thing about doubt and pain and fear.  It’s part of us.  It will always be part of us as long as we live in this broken world.  If we don’t bring God our pain and fear and doubt, then we are leaving a huge part of us in the back room of our souls.  If we don’t bring our church and our friends our pain and fear and doubt, then we are hiding huge parts of ourselves and preventing deep relationship from ever happening.  
We (as a church) and we (as Christians) have to find healthier ways of dealing with pain and doubt.  Thankfully, we have Psalm 22.  This is probably the single most famous “lament” or “doubting” Psalm in the Bible.  Listen for how it mixes together doubt and faith.  
1  My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?   Why are you so far away when I groan for help?

2  Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.  
    Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.
3  Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4  Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them.
5  They cried out to you and were saved.  They trusted in you and were never disgraced.
6  But I am a worm and not a man.  I am scorned and despised by all!
7  Everyone who sees me mocks me.  They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
8  “Is this the one who relies on the Lord?  Then let the Lord save him!
    If the Lord loves him so much, let the Lord rescue him!”
9  Yet you brought me safely from my mother’s womb and led me to trust you at my mother’s breast.
10 I was thrust into your arms at my birth.  You have been my God from the moment I was born.
11  Do not stay so far from me, for trouble is near, and no one else can help me.
12  My enemies surround me like a herd of bulls; fierce bulls of Bashan have hemmed me in!
13  Like lions they open their jaws against me, roaring and tearing into their prey.
14  My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.
      My heart is like wax, melting within me.
15  My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.  My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
    You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
16  My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me.
    They have pierced my hands and feet.
17  I can count all my bones. My enemies stare at me and gloat.
18  They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing.
19  O Lord, do not stay far away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid!
20  Save me from the sword; spare my precious life from these dogs.
21  Snatch me from the lion’s jaws and from the horns of these wild oxen.
22  I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.   I will praise you among your assembled people.
23  Praise the Lord, all you who fear him!  Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob!
      Show him reverence, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy.
     He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help.
25 I will praise you in the great assembly.  I will fulfill my vows in the presence of those who worship you.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied.  All who seek the Lord will praise him.
     Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy.
27 The whole earth will acknowledge the Lord and return to him.  
     All the families of the nations will bow down before him.
28 For royal power belongs to the Lord.  He rules all the nations.
29 Let the rich of the earth feast and worship.
     Bow before him, all who are mortal, all whose lives will end as dust.
30 Our children will also serve him.   Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord.
31 His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born.  They will hear about everything he has done.
Psalm 22 teaches us three things: how to have doubt with faith, how to have faith with doubt, and how Jesus transforms our faith and doubt.  
So first, Psalm 22 teaches us how to doubt with faith.  Psalm 22 was written by David, and he had good reason for doubts.  God interrupted his peaceful shepherding life.  God anointed David as the new king while the old king was still in power.  That didn’t go over too well.   David had to run for the hills just to survive.  Then, later, after David became king, his own son tried to overthrow him.  David had to run for his life again.  David must have felt like God was all big and bold at the beginning of the party but in the shadows when the trouble started.  
Why have you abandoned me God?  Why are you so far away when I pray?  Why don’t you help me?  What happened to the God who called me?  What happened to the God who helped me kill Goliath?  Why am I running for my life now?  Why is this happening to me?  I’m dying out here, and you’re not helping!
But listen to how David mixes faith into his doubts.
1  My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?   ...
2  Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.  ...
3  Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4  Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them.
5  They cried out to you and were saved.  They trusted in you and were never disgraced. ...
7  Everyone who sees me mocks me...
8  “Is this the one who relies on the Lord?  Then let the Lord save him! ...
9  Yet you brought me safely from my mother’s womb and led me to trust you at my mother’s breast.
10 I was thrust into your arms at my birth.  You have been my God from the moment I was born.
11  ... no one else can help me. ...
15  My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay.  ...
19  O Lord, do not stay far away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid!
Even as he doubts God, he still trusts God.  Even as he says God has abandoned him, he still asks God to come back.  Even as he says God isn’t answering his prayers, he keeps praying.  Even as he says his strength is gone, he acknowledges that God is the source of his real strength and asks God for help.  He doubts God in the context of a deep trust.  He has these huge doubts, but he brings them to God in prayer.  
And this next part is just as important, he voices this prayer in the context of the believing community.  We only have this prayer now because David shared it.  We only know about his doubts because he prayed this prayer in the community of faith.  Look at the heading of this Psalm: “For the choir director.”  This was a worship song for God’s people to sing their doubts with faith.  Go ahead and doubt, but don’t do it alone.  Doubt in the context of faith and with the people of faith.  This is how to doubt with faith.
Psalm 22 also teaches us how to have faith with doubt.  David didn’t let his doubts stop him.  But he also didn’t bury his doubts or pretend they weren’t there.  David had faith with doubt.  For 21 verses, David offers God a prayer of faith mixed with doubt.  
Let’s just face the truth.  Things look bad for us, and it’s hard to trust God right now.  But, let’s not lose sight of our history.  God has been faithful to our ancestors, and God has been faithful to us before.  Trouble is near, but only God can help us.  We have  strong enemies, and our strength is failing, but God is our strength.  Despite the circumstances, despite our feelings, despite all appearances that God is not listening, let’s put our trust in God and keep following him.
That’s the real key to having faith with doubt.  Don’t let the doubts stop your faith.  Keep following God.  Keep obeying God the best that you can.  Keep trusting God to the best of your ability.  Let the doubts be there.  Express your doubts.  Paint your doubts.  Pray your doubts.  But don’t let them block out your faithful commitment to keep walking with God.  Allow your faith to form a blanket that wraps up your doubts in a circle of faith that allows you to keep moving on.  Having faith with doubt is continuing the journey of faith - no matter how loud or heavy the doubts.
So we’ve talked about how to have doubt with faith and how to have faith with doubt.  Now let’s look at how Jesus transforms our doubt and faith.
David wrote Psalm 22 about his own life, and Israel saved and prayed Psalm 22 because it spoke to their own pain and doubt and faith.  Then, even Jesus prayed and lived Psalm 22.  When the first Christians wrote down the story of Jesus’ death, they quoted Psalm 22 more than any other text.  
One of the themes of the Gospel stories is that Jesus actually embodied the history of Israel.  Jesus was not only God incarnate; he was also Israel incarnate.  Jesus’ own life mirrored the whole life story of Israel.  Again and again in the Jesus stories we hear these echoes of Moses and Abraham and David and the prophets and the nation of Israel.  
One of example of this is Psalm 22.  Jesus’ story intersects with Psalm 22 in mysterious and surprising ways.  When David wrote this, he was speaking out of his own pain and faith, but when we read it now, it almost feels as if Jesus is speaking.  In fact, Jesus did pray this psalm.  On the cross, Jesus cried out: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46).  Theologians are still trying to figure out what this means, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that Jesus felt far from his Father as he hung dying on the cross.  Also, in traditional Hebrew culture, saying the first line of a chapter was a way of asking the listeners to think about the whole chapter, so let’s do think about Psalm 22 in the context of Jesus on the cross.
7  Everyone who sees me mocks me.  They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
8  “Is this the one who relies on the Lord?  Then let the Lord save him!
    If the Lord loves him so much, let the Lord rescue him!”
Matthew tells us: “The people passing by [Jesus on the cross] shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery... The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus ... ‘He trusted God, so let God rescue him now if he wants him!’” (Matthew 27:39-43).
12  My enemies surround me ...
13  Like lions they open their jaws against me, roaring and tearing into their prey.
The Roman soldiers surrounded Jesus, mocked him, whipped him, put a crown of thorns on his head, hit him with a stick, and spat on him (Matthew 27:27-30).
14  My life is poured out like water...  My heart is like wax, melting within me.
Before Jesus was arrested, he was praying, and “he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood” (Luke 22:44).
15  ...  My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
While Jesus was on the cross, he quoted a version of this: “I am thirsty” (John 19:28).
    You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.
On Friday evening, after Jesus died, they wrapped Jesus in strips of cloth and laid him in a tomb and left him there till Sunday (John 19:40-42).
16  They have pierced my hands and feet.
The Romans hammered nails through Jesus’ hands and feet (John 20:25-27).
18  They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing.
“The soldiers gambled for [Jesus’] clothes by throwing dice” (23:34).
22  I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.   
After Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared to his disciples and explained how God promised that the Messiah would die and raise again and how this was God’s beautiful plan all along (Luke 24).
27 The whole earth will acknowledge the Lord and return to him.  
     All the families of the nations will bow down before him.
Jesus’ last words on earth were a commission to his disciples: “But you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere - in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Psalm 22 goes into the depths of human suffering and comes out again on the other side, and Jesus lived this Psalm through and through.  The New Testament writers understood what this means for us.  The writer to the Hebrews might explain it best:
Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. ... Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.  (Hebrews 2:14-18)
Jesus completely entered our life and death, our suffering and pain.  Jesus even entered our doubt when he asked if God had abandoned him.  Nothing we experience is foreign to Jesus.  He has been there already before us.  He has already lived our story.
Our stories are really comic tragedies.  We live a comedy of errors, making one foolish mistake after another.  But our stories turn dark when our sins pile up, bringing pain to ourselves and to those around us.  We become part of our broken world - adding to the brokenness - through our own bad choices.
Jesus entered our brokenness too.  He took our sin upon his shoulders.  He was executed as a traitor and terrorist.  His body and his very heart were broken for us, spilled out for the world - to heal our brokenness.
But Jesus lived Psalm 22 all the way through the brokenness to the redemption.  He went to the depths of pain, but came out on the other side.  He was “laid in the dust and left for dead,” but God raised him from the dead with new life that he shares with us.
Jesus lived our stories, descending into our brokenness - all the way to shame, cursedness, separation from God, death, and lying cold in the tomb.  But Jesus adds a new chapter to our stories - resurrection, life, hope, redemption, healing, grace, joy, mission, purpose.
Jesus lived our stories.  Now it’s our turn to live his.  When we pray, we are right to follow Jesus into the depths - voicing our pain, shouting at God, protesting the wrongs and injustices in our world.  That is good, right, holy, and Christlike.  
But if we call ourselves Christians ... if we see our stories within Jesus’ story ... then eventually we will move on to the rest of Psalm 22:
You are my strength ...  I will praise you among your assembled people... For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy ... All who seek the Lord will praise him.  Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy.
So, have doubt with faith.  Voice your doubts together with people of faith.  Have faith with doubt.  Allow your faith to form a circle around your doubts - allowing the doubts to be there, but continuing to trust in God while they are there.  And, finally, let Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to transform both your faith and your doubt into a life journey through suffering into eternal life and peace, walking with Jesus all the way.