The other morning, I was heading to an event for the Presbytery and ended up getting down there about 30 minutes earlier than I needed to. Right by the church where we were to meet was a cemetery that looked like a nice place for a little walk. So I stopped and took a stroll while talking out and praying about my sermon for Sunday. While walking, I came across this piece of a flag that I assume had been placed on a veteran’s grave at some point in the recent past but had blown off and fell into its current state. It was faded, torn, and dirty and just sitting in the dirt by the side of the path.
This feels very emblematic of where many feel about our country today. Regardless of whether one is on the political right or left, there is a strong feeling that the country has lost its way. We each have very different solutions for how to fix things, but there’s a general sense that we are not on the path we should be. There’s a feeling that we are not the country we could be or should be. Some say (incorrectly in my opinion) that God’s blessing has been removed from the country (I don’t believe that the US was God’s chosen country in the first place, but that’s another commentary for another time) and that we are forsaken as a result. Others (myself included) feel that we have lost our way in the furthering of the deep divisions that have existed and continue to exist in our country over so many different things. Regardless of where one feels, there is a sense of being forsaken and that our country feels a bit like this flag – ragged around the edges and not what it is meant to be.
Some feel similarly about the church in America today. Others feel this way about circumstances in their own lives.
That’s the first word that stands out from Psalm 22 – this difficult Psalm to read that is sandwiched between the uplifting words of Psalm 21 and the comforting words of Psalm 23.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
I groan in prayer, but help seems far away.
My God, I cry out during the day,
but you do not answer,
and during the night my prayers do not let up.
These were also the words quoted by Jesus as he hung upon the cross.
Yet there is hope – the Psalmist speaks as the Psalm goes on as God as the source of his strength and the hope against the sword, the wild dogs, the lion, and the wild oxen. The Psalm closes with an affirmation – a long journey from where we started…”They will come and tell about the Lord’s saving deeds…they will tell a future generation what God has accomplished.”
However, there are times we need to stay with the first part of this Psalm and not just jump to the ending. There are times that we need to be willing to stay in the time of questioning and doubt in order to come to a place of seeing how God has led us from that place.
Eugene Peterson wrote, “Belief in God does not exempt us from feelings of abandonment by God. Praising God does not inoculate us from doubts about God.”
There’s a beautiful quote (with a great ending) by Brennan Manning that says, “When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate…I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”