In the previous article, John Anderson used Psalm 22:1-2 to illustrate how important it is to honestly confront God with our problems rather than fleeing from his presence in fear. Next, he quotes vv. 3-5, showing how important it is for us to trust God:
“Yet you are holy, O you who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel. In your our fathers trusted; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were delivered; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”
Facing God in our affliction is essential. However, we must also trust him. The Psalmist recalls God’s faithfulness in his past dealing with the Israelites as evidence of his trustworthiness. Patricia, who had experienced a great deal of sexual abuse in her childhood, learned from these verses that hardship is the rule rather than the exception in life, and that those who had experienced such hardships in the past had learned to trust God even in their darkest and most dire affliction. Indeed, it is a great comfort that we are in the spiritual presence of a great many previous saints who have endured a difficult struggle and, by God’s grace, pushed their way through it.
Henderson reminds us that we cannot, however, use this truth to dismiss the awful reality of abuse. “Celebrating the faithfulness of God in ages past and our union with fellow saints in suffering does not mean that we are minimizing the experience of being victimized. Rather, we are maximizing the reality of our fellowship in a redeemed and eternal community. We are maximizing the comfort we can receive from knowing that God has always been the Savior of lowly, destitute and mistreated people.” Perhaps the best example of this reality in scripture is Hebrews 11:39-40, which Anderson quotes:
“And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they could not be made perfect.”
Rather than being being lambasted as a lousy wife, instead, she needed reminders of how faithful and loving God is to those in trying circumstances. Although we may be hurting sinners, we must continually emphasize the fact that God is a healing deliverer. As the Psalmist says in Psalm 22:6-8:
“But I am a worm and not a man, a reproach of men and despised by the people. All who see me sneer at me; they separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying “Commit yourself to the Lord; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, because he delights in him.”
The Psalmist’s self-identification as a “worm” (a description of how he had been made to feel by the abuse others were inflicting on him) resonated a great deal with Patricia, Henderson reports, since she had repeatedly been made to feel sub-human in a comparable way by those who had sexually abused her. As Henderson says:
“Then add the brutal weight of mocking. Just as Jesus heard these words hurled on him whiel he hung on the cross…so Patricia had heard the spoken and unspoken words of her brother, mother, and father (and even her own conscience) scorning, dismissing, blaming her at the height of her affliction. “I’m sure this was my fault…I could have done something to stop this…I must have led them on in some way.” She assumed that everyone else blamed her, too.”
Indeed, even her brother left a note that said “Ha! Ha!” under her cereal bowl the morning he learned that her uncle had raped her. This made her feel as though she deserved the abuse she experienced, and that she was therefore unworthy of God’s deliverance. Listening to how Patricia felt was important for Claude, as he had not really understood the depth of her struggle with the shame, guilt and dejection she experienced. He realized that these issues would not vanish overnight, and that it might be a long time before she significantly healed from these injuries. Claude was encouraged to face the brutal reality of the abuse Patricia had endured as the Psalmist had encouraged them to, even while reminding Claude and Patricia that God had delivered his people from trying circumstances before and that he was still in the business of doing so.
Henderson then quotes Psalm 22:9-11, which reminds the reader of the comfort God’s children ought to embrace:
“Yet you are he who brought me forth from the womb; you made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Upon you I was cast from birth; you have been my God from my mother’s womb. Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help.”
These passages helped Patricia remembered that she belonged to God. God had brought her forth from her mother’s womb in love, with plans to nourish her and help her grow, and not to destroy her. “These were the truths that Patricia needed to hear and believe more than anything else: “You are God’s. You have always been God’s. He has always been near. He will always be near. He has been holding you this whole time. He always will.” No matter what she has experienced or felt, she belonged to God, who loved her and who was intent on protecting and nurturing her.
This is particularly important to remember, since, as Henderson notes, abuse can make you feel as though you were enslaved and possessed by other people. This is particularly true of violent abusers, who want their victims to believe that they are the property of another human, and that the abuser can do whatever he wants to her. Psalm 22 repudiates this false belief by reminding the reader that he or she belongs to God.
Henderson points out that one of the main things to take home from the Psalm is that God’s love does not guarantee a pain-free or abuse-free existence. Nor does experiencing pain or abuse mean that God does not love them. The two are not in conflict, he says, citing Rom. 8:38-39:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”(Rom. 8:38-39).
The Psalmist reflects the same sentiment in Psalm 22:
“Many bulls have surrounded me; strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me. They open wide their mouth at me, as a ravening and a roaring lion. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and you lay me in the dust of death”(Ps. 22:12-15).
The Psalmist provides an intense portrayal of the oppression of victims of abuse. Henderson reports Patricia’s surprise at the weakness and desperation so honestly portrayed in the Bible. What she would experience at night when her brother would open her door mirrored what David described as his heart melting like wax. These were realities, Henderson says, that both Claude and Patricia had resented, and which they had blamed on God. They did not want to accept the truth that they were vulnerable and weak, and that although they experienced a great deal of pain, they were loved by God.
Claude had a hard time getting over his own pride due to his inability to “fix” his wife’s problem. He was humbled by how chronic an issue it may prove to be, and how much God was required to fix it. Not being able to quickly fix something made him feel resentful towards God. It was at this point, Henderson notes, that Claude had to face the reality that he simply was not sufficient to heal his wife and that both of them had to depend on God to do this.
“Weakness and desperation were human experiences that he avoided, denied, and even resented. He was a fixer. When things went wrong, he prided himself on making them right. But he couldn’t fix his wife. He couldn’t make his marriage right. He resented her struggles. He resented the inconvenient pain that they brought to his life. Now he was being asked to acknowledge his smallness and insignificance. Only the Lord could bring restoration and healing to Patricia’s soul and their marriage. Only the Spirit of God could give Claude gracious words to speak and humble ears to hear. Only Christ could grant him the compassion and love that he needed to know and display.”