Suffering and the Shepherd

Bible Focus: Psalm 22-23

The LORD is my shepherd; I have what I need.

Psalm 23:1 CSB

Twenty years ago, I lost the person in the world who was the most dear to me. Her name was Ann. She was my wife, and she was my best friend. Cancer took hold of her body, and we didn’t even know it was there until it was too late to stop it.

After Ann died, I knew that God was still with me. Yet sometimes my questions to God seemed to hang in the air. Did he know how much I was hurting? Yes. Did he care about my suffering? Absolutely. Why did Ann have to die? Silence.

Friends have asked me how I was able to keep trusting in God during that time. Honestly, I don’t know, except that I still believed in the God of the Bible. So it seemed to me that trusting God was my only real choice. Any other option seemed to lead nowhere.

But I also felt God urging me to keep listening and keep trusting, despite how I felt. The Shepherd always pursues his sheep. I may not know exactly how I held on to God during that time, but I know he kept holding on to me.

The Shepherd always pursues his sheep.

Psalm 22 and Psalm 23 sit next to one another in the Bible, yet their tone differs greatly from each other. Both are attributed to King David. Psalm 23 is probably the all-time favorite psalm, and is often quoted at funerals and other times to give comfort and encouragement. Psalm 22, on the other hand, describes raw suffering that obscures any sense of God’s presence.

Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff--they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4 CSB
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning? My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest.
Psalm 22:1-2 CSB

Those who continue to trust God during times of suffering can probably identify with both of these psalms. Sometimes they may feel God is very close to them, even as they suffer. Other times, they may feel utterly alone in their suffering, even when they still believe in God.

There is one thing that both of these psalms have in common. In each case, the psalmist is turning toward God, whether they feel God or not. They continue to affirm that God is good–even when they don’t sense his goodness. And they continue to trust that God will come through in the end.

Psalm 22 is also a prophetic psalm that finds its full expression in Jesus. As he was dying on the cross, Jesus cried out to God, quoting the first line of Psalm 22 (see Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34). The verses in Psalm 22 that follow Jesus’s quotation–written hundreds of years before the death of Christ–describe in chilling detail the scene at the cross:

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by people. Everyone who sees me mocks me; they sneer and shake their heads: “He relies on the LORD; let him save him; let the LORD rescue him, since he takes pleasure in him.”

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed; my heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength is dried up like baked clay; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You put me into the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people look and stare at me. They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing.

Psalm 22:6-8,14-18 CSB

Here’s the good news: When we trust in Jesus, the penalty for our sins is wiped away and our greatest suffering is removed. He suffered for our sins so that we’d never have to be separated from him. Jesus fully embraced the horror of Psalm 22 so that we could realize the blessings of Psalm 23.

Featured image from Mick Haupt on Unsplash.

This post is #28 in The Truly Good Book series. Subscribe to more posts below.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close