Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. (Psalm 22:11)
In 2015, movie goers were treated to two outstanding performances by two great actors—Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, and Matt Damon in The Martian. Coincidentally, both stories were about survival and self-reliance. DiCaprio’s character, Hugh Glass, is a frontiersman in the hostile North American wilderness of 1823, while Damon portrays Mark Watney, an astronaut on a mission to Mars.
In both stories, the main character is on a wild, uncharted adventure; each suffers what appears to be a life-threatening injury, and each character is abandoned by his traveling companions and left for dead. The stories are about the struggle for survival and overcoming adversity, but they are also about struggling with the helplessness and loneliness of abandonment.
But despite their uncanny similarities, the two stories end up taking us in very different directions. While DiCaprio’s frontiersman is truly alone and abandoned, Damon’s astronaut discovers that even though his situation is grave…even though there is no one around for millions of miles…he is not alone.
Psalm 22 is David’s song of lament. It is his pain-filled prayer when things seem hopeless; when it feels as though he has been abandoned and left to suffer and die alone. It is also the song that Jesus himself cries from the cross in his dying moments, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46) But long before it was Jesus’ cry, it was David’s psalm…it was the song of the people of Israel in exile. And for many people today it is still a constant, agonizing question. Where is God…when I am suffering physically, when I am devastated emotionally, when I am “left for dead” with no one to help?
But amazingly, David’s song doesn’t end with the conclusion that he is all alone; it doesn’t wallow in this feeling of abandonment. Even though things seem impossible, even though fear and pain are his constant companion, even though this path may lead him to death—God is with him, and God is good. He ends the song with an extended praise:
“I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” (vs. 22-24)
“God has not hidden His face.” David’s psalm isn’t a song of resignation that God has abandoned him; it isn’t simply a lament that God seems too distant; it is also a prayer and a plea that God will come closer, “for trouble is near.” As a child of God, I am never alone, even when I am lonely. I am never without hope; never without help; never without my loving Father.
God never promised that our life—even our life in Christ—would be easy, but he has promised that we will never be alone in the pain. It was true for David, it was true for Jesus, and it is true for me. The Apostle Paul described a disciple’s life this way:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Maybe my words don’t do much to ease the pain…maybe even David’s words fall short for you. But there is One who is always close by who understands your suffering, One who suffered on a cross while all his friends ran away and left him for dead. Jesus wasn’t alone then, and he won’t leave you alone now. When God seems far off, don’t despair. You are not abandoned and you are not alone. Hope is on the way. God is with us, and God is good. Stay thirsty for him!