A Life Bound Up With Eternity
Published Sept. 19, 2012 @ 6 a.m.
Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. -Psalms 22:3
I have been one of many people who are guilty of taking this quotation out of its original context for the purpose of turning our hearts towards God in praise. It isn’t that the verse cannot be used that way. It is that there is so much greater meaning when we understand the verse not only within its context of the Psalm but of the Bible as a whole.
Psalms 22 begins with the words, "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" Though ascribed as the Psalm of David few Christians can read those words without remembering that on the cross Jesus cries out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Once again we find all the sufferings of God’s people summed up in the cross of Jesus Christ and made the perfect sacrifice necessary for the redemption of the world.
That early Christians used Psalms 22 to interpret the crucifixion of Jesus is shown again by verses 16 and 18. The Psalm describes in almost minute detail the crucifixion even though it was written hundreds of years before Jesus’ death. In fact, there are many scholars who find the similarities too striking and think the Gospel writers idealized their accounts of the crucifixion to match Psalms 22. But once you claim the scandal of the cross why worry about such niceties as finding a matching Psalm? It doesn’t really make as much logical sense to think that they Gospel writers made up the crucifixion stories to match Psalms 22 as it first appears. Rather, Psalms 22 is interpreted in the light of their knowledge of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
I believe that the Gospel writers are not simply interpreting Psalms 22 from the perspective of Jesus’ death. They are interpreting their own suffering as well. We forget how amazing it is that Christianity survived the first three centuries. Christians were often ostracized from society, were from time to time openly persecuted, and even when they were not being burned or fed to the wild animals in the games they constantly faced the loss of their property and livelihoods because they professed the name of Jesus Christ. Early Christians truly suffered for their faith.
In the middle of their suffering they learned to praise God. They did not necessarily praise God for their suffering but they saw their suffering in a wider context than just their own pain. They saw themselves as fulfilling God’s Word and the mission of Jesus Christ. They believed that God was able and willing to deliver them and to set things right in the end. They were willing to endure whatever hardship they were going through if it would give God glory. They could see that their own life was being taken up, refashioned and reformed, in the life of Jesus Christ; both in crucifixion and in resurrection. It was because of this faith in what God was doing in the world through Jesus Christ that the early Christians endured and even flourished in their suffering and why they could praise God even through their sorrow and pain.
I think that we could learn a lot from the example of the Psalmist, the example of Jesus, and the example of early Christians. When we are suffering our tendency is to draw the world we are willing to deal with tight around ourselves. Our vision of life shrinks until it includes just us. All we see is darkness, failure and pain. During these times it is of the greatest importance that we praise God.
By praising God we begin to see our life bound up with eternity. The vision of our lives as being part of something greater than ourselves is restored. The hope we have in Jesus Christ is renewed. We once again look beyond our own devastation and see that God is able and willing to set things right not just for us but for all those around us whom we love. We remember that our suffering has already been summed up in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and so we have the hope of resurrection already present in our lives. In praising God we are once again reminded that we are a part of God’s redeeming work in the world and we realize that God has walked where we are walking and that the day will come when we will walk where God is walking. That is worth praising God for!