Here is a profound statement: I am very thankful that Psalm 22 falls in between Psalm 21 and Psalm 23. Now, before you dismiss this as simply stating the obvious, allow me to explain what I mean.
Psalm 22 contains the anguished cry that Jesus quoted in His darkest hour on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (vs 1). It voices a serious complaint in verse 2: “O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer…” It expresses a desperate plea for God to be near in the midst of trouble (vs 11).
I can relate to that cry and complaint and plea. Sometimes God seems far off. Sometimes my cries for help seem not to be heard. Sometimes I feel very alone.
And so I’m thankful that God in His sovereignty included Psalm 22 in the book of Psalms. It helps me to express the pain and the longing of my soul honestly before God. But I’m also thankful that God sovereignly orchestrated the ordering of the psalms such that this raw song of need is placed in between two songs of great comfort and joy.
In Psalm 21, King David is rejoicing in God’s strength and salvation (vs 1). He is thanking God for giving him his heart’s desire, and for meeting him “with rich blessings” (vs 3). He proclaims that God “makes him glad with the joy of His presence” (vs 6).
Psalm 23 is the beloved song of the Lord’s gentle shepherding. It is a psalm of comfort and peace because the Good Shepherd is present and capable, even in the midst of the dark valley.
If all we saw about David’s worship of God was Psalm 21 and 23, the joy and the comfort, we probably would start thinking, “This guy is from another planet!” And in fact that’s sometimes how we react to other Christians who seem to always be happy and problem-free. Rather than being drawn in to their enthusiastic worship of God, we almost feel repulsed by their happiness that seems out of touch with reality.
And so to jump from Psalm 21:13 (“Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.”) to Psalm 22:1 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) is somehow refreshing to me because it reflects what often happens in my own heart and life. One day (or hour, or moment) I can be flying high and praising God for His goodness, but then the next day (or hour, or moment) I can crash into the depths of despair and feel alone and helpless.
That is the reality of the life we live in–it is up and down, and we feel joyful one moment and despairing the next. But what makes these psalms to be “songs of real life” is not only that they acknowledge the reality of pain and trouble in our lives, but also that they bring that reality to God. “Real life” doesn’t just mean “life that is hard.” But “real life” also means “life that is lived in the reality of God’s sovereign presence and rule.” And so David doesn’t just complain that God has forsaken him–rather, he calls out to the very One from whom he feels forsaken. That is real life, and that is the kind of song I need in the midst of the reality of my own life.