April 11, 2011 David Balzer

Psalm 22: Why?

On February 15, 1947 Glenn Chambers, a young man from New York, boarded a plane for Quito, Ecuador. It had been his lifelong ambition to work for God in South America. Finally, he was off to work with “Voice of the Andes” missionary broadcasting team.

 

But the plane never arrived. It crashed into a 14,000 foot high Columbian mountain called El Tabloza, not far from Bogota, and then dropped into a ravine hundreds of metres below.

 

Glenn Chambers died instantly, along with everyone on the flight.

 

At the airport on the day of his departure he’d been desperate to send a final note to his mother. So he looked for a piece of paper, and found a scrap on the floor. It was an advertisement ripped from a magazine, with a single word “Why?” in the middle.

 

So Glenn scribbled his note to his mother around the word in the middle, stuffed it in an envelope, and put it in the post-box.

 

And while Glenn never arrived, his letter DID. A few days later, Glenn’s grieving mother receives the note. And the first thing she saw when she opened the note was that single word, written in large, bold letters. “Why?”.

 

The very question she would have been asking herself. Why?

 

When Di and Dean think about Di’s mum who’s been left with little ability to do anything after brain aneurism years ago, that’s the question they ask. Why?

 

And when they think about why God hasn’t taken her home yet. They ask the same question. Why?

 

Or when Peter and Caro Williamson found that Caro’s breast cancer had reappeared.

Or Judy’s brother Bill found out his cancer had returned. Why?

 

And while MANY people ask the question to NOBODY IN PARTICULAR. Or ask it in DESPAIR. At least CHRISTIANS ask the RIGHT PERSON. God. To the only one who can give them an answer. To the one who HAS got a plan and a purpose.

 

Someone once asked C.S. Lewis, “Why do Christians suffer?” “Why not?” he replied. “They’re the only ones who can take it.”

 

It’s not wrong to be asking the question. Because the VERY ACT OF ASKING God is an expression of TRUST in him. Trust that even though you don’t SEE his hand, it’s still there. That His plans and purposes are behind everything.

 

One of the great things about Psalms like this is that they give us PERMISSION TO QUESTION. It’s okay to DOUBT. To seek God’s answers. As long as you turn to HIM.

 

Over and over, it’s the PSALMS that comfort people going through tough times. The so-called positive, encouraging passages just seem EMPTY. Words on a page.

 

But it’s the depth, and emotion, and grief, and confusion behind words like these which RESONATE with people. And give them the encouragement to KEEP seeking God’s answers and plans and comfort.

 

It was certainly a Psalm which resonated with Jesus. The very first words, ones he used on the cross. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

And while there are many points of similarity between this Psalm, and Jesus’ experience. It wasn’t originally written describing Jesus.

 

The heading of the Psalm tells us that it was a Psalm of DAVID. And while we don’t know the EXACT situation, there were probably plenty of times when David felt like God was nowhere to be found.

 

Whether it was early in his career, being chased around the countryside by King Saul. Or later on, describing some of his battles. Or perhaps describing the consequences of his adultery with Bathsheba – when his son died.

 

But in the end it doesn’t matter. Because it’s the GENERAL situation that we’re interested in anyway.

 

Whatever it is, something TERRIBLE has happened. And David wants deliverance. He wants God to change his situation. But God’s not answering. And David can’t understand it.

 

“Why are you SO FAR AWAY? I cry out, but you don’t answer.

Why aren’t you ANSWERING? Where ARE you?

 

But at the end of v2, there’s A CHANGE OF TONE. The first of several through the first half of the Psalm. You can see the structure there in the outline.

 

And it’s marked with a “YET”. EVEN THOUGH. DESPITE. Even though PRESENT circumstances look bad, it hasn’t ALWAYS been like that! V3.

(Psa 22:3-5 NIV)  YET you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of ISRAEL. {4} In you OUR FATHERS put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. {5} They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

 

What’s he saying? He’s reminding himself of God’s actions through history. They’re what give David the confidence to KEEP asking God the question. Otherwise he would have given up ages ago.

 

It’s one of the great reasons to keep studying the Old Testament. Many churches hardly TOUCH IT. But how else can we be reminded of God’s faithfulness THROUGH HISTORY? That’s what gives us the confidence to keep trusting in the present and future.

 

And so, we’ll keep studying it. At least one term a year. We’re doing the second half of Isaiah next term. And then Daniel in term 4. Hard work, but WORTH IT. Because “in God OUR FATHERS put their trust, and HE DELIVERED THEM”.

 

And WE need to KNOW that! Because sometimes it’s hard to see it in OUR LIVES.

 

At v6, we get another change. Signaled by a “But”. Just when we think David might just be able to see light at the end of the tunnel, he loses sight of HISTORY, and catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror.

 

It’s like he KNOWS what God’s like with HIS HEAD. He knows THE THEOLOGY. But the PRACTICE is a different thing.

 

It reminds me of that scene in the Lord of the Rings movie. Where Gollum is having a conversation with himself. There’s GOOD Smeagol who wants redemption and release and friendship. And then there’s EVIL GOLLUM, who’s consumed with lust for the RING. And will do anything to get it back. And the two personalities have a conversation with each other. Debating what course of action to take.

 

And it’s a similar situation here. BAD David speaks in v1 and 2. Where ARE you? Then GOOD David takes over. V3-5.  “Yet, our fathers trusted you and you delivered them!”

 

But look at how BAD David comes back. V6. He’s snuck a peek in the mirror.

(Psa 22:6-8 NIV)  But I am a WORM and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. {7} All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: {8} “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”

 

Everything else seems so overpowering and awesome. Circumstances sweep him up, and throw him along. Everyone ELSE seems to take the lead. Have the answers. Hurl the insults. And David seems so SMALL. Insignificant. A WORM.

 

That’s often when we’re at our LOWEST. When we lose perspective. When everyone else has it better than US. When no-one experiences things as tough as WE do.

 

And that’s when God seems most distant.

 

But then GOOD David remembers. V9. Another YET.

(Psa 22:9-10 NIV)  Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast. {10} From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

 

Once again, he’s turning the clock BACKWARD. Not all the way back to his forefathers. But to how God’s already acted FOR HIM. At least his memories now are PERSONAL ones. They’ve moved from the ACADEMIC to the PRACTICAL.

 

In other words, “It hasn’t always been like this. God HAS been working in my life.”

 

I’ve been a Christian for about 30 years now. I grew up knowing nothing else. There was never a time when I didn’t know the TRUTH of God.

 

But, growing up, whenever I heard a radical testimony. From someone who came to Jesus LATER in life. I was tempted to wish I had a story like that. OF DRAMATIC CHANGE. Of how I was orphaned, on the streets, stealing, dealing drugs. Until God found me. And RADICALLY turned my life around.

 

It seemed a more POWERFUL and DRAMATIC story.

 

But I’ve changed my mind. I realise what a wonderful PRIVILEGE it is to be able to look back over my life, and see God’s faithfulness and guidance and protection at various steps along the way. MUCH better. Much more beneficial for my faith in God in the present and future.

 

It means I’m much more able to TRUST God when tough times come along. Because I’ve EXPERIENCED his faithfulness BEFORE. It may not seem so obvious AT THE MOMENT. But I know it’s real, because he’s acted faithfully BEFORE.

 

Same with King David. God brought him from the womb. HE trusted God even at his mother’s breast. And so he can make his plea in v11.

(Psa 22:11 NIV)  DO NOT BE FAR FROM ME, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

 

The thought of the enemies resurfaces. And the hopelessness of the situation. And so, David’s thoughts turn once again to the ENEMIES. To the PROBLEM. And BAD David takes over.

 

If David felt like a WORM, then his enemies are at the OPPOSITE end of the animal kingdom. The most POWERFUL and DANGEROUS animals. V12.

(Psa 22:12-13 NIV)  Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. {13} Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.

 

And then all the way down to v18, we seen the sort of effect it has on David. Bones out of joint. Heart melted in fear like wax. Dehydration. Weakness. Hands and feet pierced.

 

His enemies gloating, surrounding him. Ganging up on him. So little are they concerned for David’s future, his CLOTHES are worth more to them than HIM.

 

All things that ANOTHER king from David’s line experienced. Great King David’s GREATER son – Jesus. Who ALSO had enemies gloating, surrounding him.

 

And when it came to writing about Jesus’ death, the Gospel writers recognised the connections between David and Jesus. Between this Psalm, and what Jesus suffered. Physical pain, dehydration, gloating, casting lots for his clothing.

 

And so they make sure they mention these details when they write their accounts.

 

Like I said earlier, we don’t really know DAVID’S situation. Perhaps battle wounds are the closest we can imagine. But maybe it’s all poetic. Like the worm and bulls and lions and dogs.

 

I’m sure there are some of you who can understand the emotions behind the imagery. Times when you’ve felt like a WORM. And your enemies like lions and dogs and bulls.

 

Whether poetic or real wounds, God is nowhere to be found. Until GOOD David butts in again. V19. Another plea. “Be near.” Echoing the plea of v11.

(Psa 22:19-21 NIV)  But you, O LORD, BE NOT FAR OFF; O my Strength, COME QUICKLY to help me. {20} DELIVER MY LIFE from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. {21} RESCUE ME from the mouth of the lions;

 

The plea that only comes from confidence in the GOODNESS of God. And confidence in the POWER of God to change the situation.

 

And it’s here that we get to the crucial turning point of the Psalm.

 

And you can see the BEST translation for v21 down there in the footnotes. Other translations pick it up well. But for some reason the NIV DOESN’T. Here’s what v20 and 21 LITERALLY say.

Deliver from the sword, my soul;

and from the power of the dogs, my precious life.

Save me from the mouth of the lions,

from the horns of the wild oxen…..

YOU HAVE ANSWERED ME!!!

 

After all David’s pleading, God answers. It might have seemed SLOW to David. Like God had turned the phone off. Gone on holidays.

 

But it was PERFECT TIMING from God’s point of view. The MOMENT, and the METHOD, he’d chosen all along.

 

And that’s a great comfort to some of us who’ve been praying for things for YEARS. Who are STILL praying.

 

God’s answers are ALWAYS perfect timing.

 

And in David’s case, we don’t know the specifics. But that’s not the point, is it? Because God can answer us in ALL SORTS OF WAYS for all sorts of SITUATIONS.

 

And when the good news arrives, David just CAN’T WAIT to share it. V22.

(Psa 22:22 NIV)  I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.

 

A joy SHARED is a joy DOUBLED. When you’re favourite team scores a try, it makes the occasion so much better to SHARE it with a fellow fan – even if you’ve never met them before.

 

How MUCH MORE special to share things with the brothers and sisters of your church family. What answered prayer can YOU be sharing with us? How have you seen God working in your life? Share it, so WE can be encouraged TOO.

 

But David doesn’t just PROMISE it, he actually DOES IT. V23. Talking to his congregation.

(Psa 22:23 NIV)  You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

 

And then the reason. V24. His personal testimony.

(Psa 22:24 NIV)  For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

 

And with that, David’s thoughts move forward. To the future. In v26 he mentions a community feast. Lev 7: 11-27 describe a festival of praise. A FEAST where God’s goodness is CELEBRATED. A fellowship meal – a bit like the Lord’s Supper.

 

And just like the Lord’s Supper, this community feast for David and his people looks forward to a much GREATER feast. One that will fill the earth. When God’s salvation will be seen – not just for one person. Or one family. Or one congregation. Or one nation.

 

But for the whole world. When he winds this world up. And brings in his NEW HEAVENS and NEW EARTH.

 

A time of PERFECT feasting and relationships and work and worship. When NO-ONE will need to ask “Why?” Because there’ll be no more pain or suffering or tears. V27.

(Psa 22:27-29 NIV)  All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, {28} for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. {29} All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him– those who cannot keep themselves alive.

 

And what is it that gives David the confidence to long for this day?

 

His experience of God in the present. His faithfulness TODAY guarantees his promises for the future. V31

(Psa 22:31 NIV)  They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn– FOR HE HAS DONE IT.

 

And it’s this LONG-TERM perspective WE need to keep. In the face of OUR questions. “Why have you forsaken me? Where are you?”. In the middle of stuff when we struggle to see beyond the struggles.

 

God MAY answer us – like he did David, and bring RELIEF in the actual situation.

 

OR he may answer in a different way. He might have a GREATER purpose in the suffering than to deliver you NOW.  If we think about JESUS. What was God’s answer to HIS question, “My God why have you forsaken me?”

 

Isaiah 53 tells us that it was the Father’s PLEASURE to crush his Son. He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. And his punishment brought us PEACE.

 

“My God why have you forsaken me?”

To bring LIFE to the world through Jesus’ DEATH. To bring HEALING to the world through Jesus’ SUFFERING.

 

God USED that pain and abandonment and ridicule for HIS GREATER PURPOSES.

 

And when that had been achieved. The father ANSWERED his Son. And raised him from death. As a recognition of the success  of the task. Sin HAD been paid for. Death HAD been defeated.

 

Jesus’ question HAD been answered.

 

And as we read the accounts of Jesus – his suffering AND his exaltation – we can be encouraged in OUR difficult times. Because we see God’s hand in Jesus’ situation. And so can trust him in OURS.

 

Even if sometimes OUR questions are only answered in the LONG-TERM.

 

I found a post-script to the story of Glenn Chambers, the missionary killed in Colombia.

 

His mother had asked the question “Why?” God doesn’t ALWAYS give us the answer. But he did in this occasion. Years later, a missionary in South America visited a REMOTE village in Colombia with an unusually LARGE number of believers.

 

She was puzzled. She hadn’t heard of any missionaries who’d spent much time there before. “Who brought you the gospel?” she asked.

 

The people brought out an old, charred briefcase and a Spanish Bible from an air crash. She opened the Bible. Inside the cover were written the words “Presented to our dear brother, Glenn Chambers.”

 

The people of the village had FOUND the Bible, READ it. And God’s powerful word had done its work. And people had become Christians.

 

God had an answer to the question of WHY. Glenn Chambers death DID have a purpose. People came into the kingdom because of that terrible accident.

 

And God had an answer to JESUS’ question of why. Jesus’ death had a purpose. To bring men and women into an eternity spent with God.

 

And God has an answer to YOUR questions of why. You may never find it out. But you can be sure that he DOES. I know because of how he’s acted down through history. To our fathers. I know because of how he’s acted towards ME and YOU in the past.

 

And I know because of Jesus. Let’s remember THAT this Easter.

Comments (2)

  1. Stan

    Where did you find the rest of the story about Glenn Chambes’ Bible. Everyone has the first part about his note ot his mother. I can’t find the rest. I am using your article for our men’s group meeting and need to verify the ending. (i am using your article anyway, great take on why we experienc trials.

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