When in the midst of trials we pray and pray but see no rescue forthcoming, we find it all too easy to think that God might have forsaken us. In fact, we may feel as if the darkness has overwhelmed us, that the Lord is not paying heed to our cries. And yet, in these times of darkness, the fact that we continue to pray demonstrates that we believe that our Father has not forsaken us. We continue trusting in His sure promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5), knowing that deliverance may be long in coming but that it will certainly come.
Such experiences are not unique to believers of this day and age, for as we see in today’s passage, even the greatest king of ancient Israel—David, the man after God’s own heart—felt forsaken by the Lord at times (vv. 1–2). And yet in these wilderness experiences, He continued to believe in the one true God and covenant Lord of Israel, remembering that He sits enthroned on high and pledges to come to the aid of His people (vv. 3–5).
As alone as David might have felt at times, there is a sense in which He could never pray Psalm 22 with all his heart. That is because even in the midst of the greatest crises of his life, David always experienced divine rescue. Saul spent much of his reign trying to kill David, but he finally fell on his own sword and the one whom he pursued remained (1 Sam. 31). Absalom’s rebellion ended with the death of Absalom, not David (2 Sam. 18). Today, none of us can pray Psalm 22 to the fullest extent, for even at our lowest point, God never turns His face from those who are united to His Son by faith but remains ever at peace with us even in disciplining us (Rom. 5:1; Heb. 12:3–11). There is One, however, who could pray this prayer as a man who endured divine forsakenness not merely as a feeling but in reality, namely, Jesus Christ.
The Gospels tell us that on the cross, Jesus prayed Psalm 22 (Matt. 27:46). He endured true forsakenness—for a time—on the cross, the darkness at that hour showing the removal of the light of God’s countenance from Him. Our Lord’s fear in anticipating the cross proved to be justified (26:36–46), for He did not pass through any ordinary death. Instead, He bore in the place of His people the judgment of divine wrath upon transgression. John Calvin comments that the reason for Christ’s anguish was not merely death “but because there was before his eyes the curse of God, to which all who are sinners are exposed.”