Lectionary Reflection for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Psalms 1-50 (BTCB) by Ellen Charry, commenting on Psalm 22:1-15:

The pleader knows himself to have been cared for by God all his life. The complaint is that God is now shirking the responsibility that he took on at the onset of human life itself. The suppliant is not pointing to any virtue or merit of his own but to God’s role as giver and provider of life. The assumption is that God has no right to “slumber or sleep,” as Ps. 121:4 puts it. His watch does not end at midnight or at dawn. The poet reminds God that caring for people is a full-time job. Again one can see theism hiding behind the translucent curtain of theodicy.

The theology presented here is the precise opposite of the idea that suffering is punishment for sin or that God is angry and justly punishes in order to humble rebellious people. On the contrary, God is responsible for failing to alleviate the suffering. His love for the sufferer is so obvious to both the speaker and the human audience that it does not need to be stated but can be called upon to embarrass God into acting. The deep trust in God’s providential care attests palpably to the inability of the speaker to actually believe the words he spoke in 22:1. He cannot believe that God has or even could abandon him. The opening verse is an attention-getting device set against the deeper revelation that the speaker cannot abandon God, believe that God has abandoned him, or embrace the skeptical alternative.

In contrast to much Christian psychology, which holds that suffering should stimulate introspection on one’s sinfulness to generate humility and a turn to God in self-despair, the poet believes that celebrating God’s powerful deeds of rescue in the past will arouse confident devotion whatever one’s personal circumstance. The psalmist’s interest is not in fostering humility but in energizing devotion and praise. In a striking essay on Ps. 22, Ellen Davis argues that it is fundamentally a psalm of praise. The old mythos of salvation—that God will simply make bad circumstances go away—lies in the dust. It has been supplanted by a stronger resymbolization facilitated by poetic language that enables faithful suffering even in the absence of material rescue.

©2015 by Ellen T. Charry. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.