The Psalms are deeply rhythmic.
Psalm 22 is a case in point. When we read the Psalm, we are often shocked to discover a kind of back-and-forth, bifurcated description of the path of faith. For example, David, the author, speaks in the first two verses of God’s seeming absence—“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Then, almost without blinking, David goes into ecstatic praise of God in verse 3 and 4. As if that weren’t enough, David returns to his lament—“I’m a worm, not even a man.” Then, again, back to praise and exaltation.
The piercing truth of this Psalm is found in the fact that, first, the author is deeply in touch with his emotions—a fact that remains deeply crucial for any person on the path of Jesus. These Psalms reflect—in the words of an Old Testament scholar—a kind of “free speech” before God
Truth be told: if someone came into most of our churches and spoke about God the way Psalm 22 speaks about God, we would think they need Prozac.
Such is a reflection on our uncanny and unrelenting unwillingness to admit most of our faith is quite fickle. This kind of fickleness is not isolated to Psalm 22. Look at the crowds in Jesus’ approaching to Jerusalem. In one chapter, they cry His praises—“Welcome to Jerusalem. You are the coming King, glory, glory, come!” Almost before the words of praise are out of their mouths, they turn immediately to kill Jesus in the next chapter. What was “Hosanna” quickly turns to “Crucify him, crucify him.”
In so many of the stories of wandering in the Bible, wandering is itself a narrative instigated by God.
We are the crowds. We are the fickle ones.
Consider for a moment what it would have been like for the reader of the Psalms to get through Psalm 22 and then read Psalm 23, a Psalm marked by beauty, grace and anticipation of God’s rest and grace. Life is like that, isn’t it? We walk through Psalm 22 and turn the corner to find a Psalm 23 experience. That is faith. That is what is like to follow Jesus.
C.S. Lewis picks up on this fact. When describing the rhythmic nature of the “poetic parallelism” as found in Psalm 22, Lewis is quick to point out that there is something about our attempts at following God in the rhythm itself. He calls Hebrew poetry like that found in Psalm 22 “a little incarnation.” His point? This kind of back-and-forth, topsy-turvy, unpredictable fickleness isn’t just the ramblings of a biblical lunatic—there is something about God in that rhythm.
Why is this all important? What does this all matter?
In my new book The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens our Faith, I contend that wandering isn’t always bad or a result of the lack of faith. Quite the opposite. In so many of the stories of wandering in the Bible, wandering is itself a narrative instigated by God. In fact, Hebrews 12 goes out of the way that to say all of the “cloud of witness”—our heroes of the faith—were killed, hated, sawed in two and never found a home. They “wandered” because “this world was not worthy of them.” Wandering, for them, was part of the God path.
God loves it when we lose our way. Not because He is mean. God is not mean. God is loving, gracious and really in touch with what is going on in us. No: God loves it when we lose our way because in losing our way we ultimately gain something.
A sufferer, a wanderer, a person who has yet to arrive, has a better time reading the Psalms because the Psalms are written by people who had not arrived yet. C.S. Lewis, for example, fell in love with a woman named Joy and in the course of their engagement, they discovered Joy had cancer. She died shortly after their marriage. His book A Grief Observed is one of the rawest and revelatory readings on suffering a follower of Jesus can read.
When Lewis read Psalm 22, he points out that Jesus said these words from the cross. And in the fashion of the ancients, Jesus only quotes the first line of the Psalm—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—as a way of saying that all of Psalm 22 was actually about Him. Lewis was struck by something, and we ourselves must take note of it: The Psalmist and Jesus both utter a question to God, “Where are you?” And in both cases, Lewis is apt to point out, no answer ever came.
God loves it when we lose our way because in losing our way we ultimately gain something.
Why does God do that? I do wonder, as does everyone in their right mind, why does a good God let so much evil happen in the world in and in our lives? Sadly, the Bible offers no answer to this question. But, a counselor friend of mine told me once that when people who walk through trauma together—in a car accident, survive 9/11, lose a friend together—there is an inseparable bond forged between those two people that almost nothing can overcome.
They call it a “trauma bond.”
I don’t know why God doesn’t always give us an answer to why we walk through what we do. But, I do know that when I am willing to walk through trauma and evil and pain, I come out the other side deeply in love with Jesus. We “get” each other a little more.