Suffering for God’s purposes – Psalm 22

All who see me mock me;

they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

He trusts in the Lord;

let the Lord rescue him – Psalm 22: 7-8 

Though composed centuries before the coming of Christ, Psalm 22 points to the suffering the Messiah would bear on the cross. As King David laments for the torment in his own life, the Spirit concurrently prophesises the fate of God’s anointed saviour. Hanging on a bleak wooden stake, the Christ would think these thoughts whilst bearing the insults of the mockers. No sympathy nor mercy would be granted.

Unwanted, alone, and full of anguish, he cannot enjoy the presence of his fellowmen, who do not understand his situation. Out of sheer disregard for his feelings, they apply their “theological” measuring sticks to his situation and conclude, that if he truly were to trust God, he would not suffer. (VanGemeren, 1991).

Even those who were healed or helped are gone. The gifts handed out freely during the Christ’s life meant for nothing. Everyone has deserted Him. People healed of blindness, leprosy, disease, the hungry, the lame and the poor. Of the thousands of lives Christ touched, only the  mockers and self righteous remain. The contemplation of this is confronting; it is an indication of the state of humanity – all humanity (Rom 3:10-18).

Godly Purpose

When we truly step out in faith to be Christ’s incarnate hands and feet (the salt of the earth) we experience the same persecution, rejection, judgement and condemnation. Read any of the pillars of the faith; from the Apostle Paul to Hudson Taylor, you discover a barrage of suffering and persecution. Ironically, more often than not, the persecution came from within the church as much as without.

Saint Patrick of Ireland is a prime example. He experienced severe persecution from the established church of the fifth century. After spending seven years imprisoned by Irish barbarians he was called by God to escape then later return  to his captives to save them! Patrick accepted the call (one he envisaged in a dream) and went on to convert a country. He is  still widely regarded as the founder of Irish Christianity. In contrast, many clergy before him  met with grisly deaths at the hands of the wild barbarian Celts.

Part of Patrick’s success can be attributed to his understanding of the Irish culture of the time. Whilst in captivity he studied their ways and knew their hearts. In suffering God had prepared him. He could now relate to the Irish better than anyone from the mainland. Sadly, despite Patrick’s success the church did little to support him. Instead, it sought to smear his character. Patrick suffered great anguish due to the jealousy and judgement of the self righteous.

No matter what suffering we experience it is important to frame its function correctly ( in the Christian world view suffering has purpose). When applying this psalm to human suffering, it is most appropriate for the Christian to be moved to tears when reflecting that Jesus the Messiah has so entered the human condition that he suffered in his humanity, being rejected by God and man. Whereas David’s suffering was for himself, Jesus’ suffering was on behalf of sinners (VanGemeren, 1991). This is the suffering that Paul (Rom 5:3-4) and Peter (1 Peter 4:16) speak of. Suffering for God’s purposes –  not suffering for our own.