The psalm for today is Psalm 22, whose first verse Jesus cries out from the cross. The despair mirrors the despair of Job, who in todays reading (Job 23:1-9, 16-17) laments that he cannot find God. In spite of his prayer, God’s hand is “heavy”. Prayer is not a magic spell, and the prayer of lament is a frequent form. Job and the psalmist have been abandoned, they think, by God. While Job is absorbed in God’s absence, the psalmist complains loudly, and notes that his enemies “laugh me to scorn”, because he trusted in God and God has abandoned him. His fate, he suggests, makes God look bad. This is not quite the feeling of “Why me?” that all of us have felt at one time or another when something terrible happens: these writers don’t understand why God isn’t there for them.
The dark night of the soul is a common experience in the lives of mystics, saints, and many people of faith: a feeling of being alone, being abandoned by God. It leads to doubt and fear. God isn’t there. Here’s the thing: they don’t stop talking to God. Job doesn’t stop, the psalmist didn’t stop. Mother Teresa spent 50 years worrying that God had rejected her, but she continued her ministry. Somehow they (and many others through the centuries) kept going because that seemed right. This is truly faith. Because of this, it’s too bad that the lectionary doesn’t include the last two verses of Psalm 22:
21 I will declare your Name to my brethren;
In the midst of the congregation I will praise you
22 Praise the LORD, you that fear him;
Stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel
All you of Jacob’s line, give glory.