May 21, 2008 was one of those “before & after” days for the Chapmans. The kind that you mark time by “before” the event happened and “after” the event happened. (You can read the moving story in the book found here.)
The event happened when one of the Chapman sons, Will, was coming up the driveway to their house. He had been to an audition at his school for a musical. His little 5-year-old sister Maria saw him coming. She had been playing on the playground and wanted him to help her get up on the monkey bars so she ran towards him.
Sitting up high in the SUV he was driving he did not see her. The car struck Maria. Paramedics came quickly and she was airlifted to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. The paramedics were unable to revive Maria. She was pronounced dead on arrival.
Steven Curtis Chapman said that the accident made the family question their faith in God. In one interview about the day he said: “My son said the other day that, you know, ‘Yeah, we are family.’… But we’re a family with a lot of questions…But that’s what faith is. It’s living with the questions. That doesn’t mean you have the answers. That’s exactly what faith is.”
Maybe you’ve had questions too. And maybe you’ve had a “before & after” day where you wondered where God was. You’re not alone. Count in that company Jesus. On the cross he was experiencing a day like that. And since he knew the Psalms, he pulled one out to help him give words to his experience: “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni ?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
The words come from Psalm 22. Unless you have a habit of reading the Psalms you may not be familiar with Psalm 22. But we need to be familiar with it if for no other reason than that Jesus was. Jesus knew the Psalm. And he knew the experience. And so he pulled himself up on the nails and took as much of a breath as he was able and he spoke the first line of the Psalm.
It was the custom of the Hebrew people to memorize entire parts of Scripture, in this case entire psalms. Then, the way they referenced a passage was to quote it, especially the first verse. So when Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he expects the hearers to think of the entire psalm. And as they did, these words would come to mind: “I am … scorned by everyone, despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads…”
Sound familiar? Psalm 22 is a fairly detailed account of what has been happening to Jesus on the cross. Does he feel abandoned? Surely he does. Haven’t you? Haven’t you had those “before and after” days you questioned where God was and felt alone?
- The doctor calls you in to discuss the test results.
- The company decides to downsize and you are a casualty.
- The elderly woman sits alone in her room at the nursing home.
- A young wife watches as her husband walks out the door for another woman.
You’ve lived long enough to have had a “before & after” day where you wondered where God went. And that’s why you need to become familiar with Psalm 22. Because if you know the first line you will learn these lines: “For he has not despised or abhorred the torment of the oppressed. He did not hide his face from him but listened when he cried to him for help.”
Jesus cites the first verse of the psalm to bring to mind all of the psalm. It is a psalm that teaches us one can cry out the feeling and the experience of abandonment within the hope of a God who will never abandon us. Even on the cross Jesus is our “Rabbi” or teacher. Teaching us that when our lives are the darkest to have faith that God will hear our cry.
I have days I need Psalm 22. It reminds me that in this life of faith there is hope of a dawn after the darkness. Of a God from whom nothing can separate us. Of a Shepherd who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death.
If you haven’t already, get familiar with Psalm 22 today. Let it sink deep into your being. There will be a “before & after” day where you’ll need it.
Question: When have you felt abandoned by God? How did you deal with that experience?