Psalm 22: We Are All Afraid of The Dark

PostSecrets is a website that was started by Frank Warren in 2005. The secrets emerge from a desire to be heard - anonymously. I think some of our psalms began that way – as private expressions of the soul that found their way into circulation because the pain felt in isolation was discovered to be a common experience. 

Psalm 22 is this kind of psalm:

1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest…

23You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! 24For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but when I cried to him – he heard.

I have spent years in the psalms and a little bit of time in PostSecrets and what I have discovered is that everyone is afraid of the dark.

Everyone. Is. Afraid. Of. The. Dark.

This psalm can teach us a couple of things about the dark, things that may be quite obvious, but often forgotten. There are two truths about the dark:

1) The dark is dark.

Look at the words the psalmist used to describe the darkness around him – forsaken, far, groaning, no rest. Each one of these expressions of aloneness has thousands of echoes throughout our world. 

I have known people to cry out, “My God, why have you forsaken me,” only to have well-meaning friends rally around the lamenter and assure her or him that God has not forsaken, that God cannot forsake. While that may be a biblically founded doctrine and theologically accurate statement, it does not take into account the first observation about the dark – the dark is dark

You cannot see the obvious, there is no light. There is only pain and confusion. Get this – the psalmist hurt, felt abandoned by God, felt as though the cries of pain were here and God’s help and presence were way over there – far away. He groaned like a lion roars in the wild, but no one seemed to be able to hear him. His soul was in such pain that he found no rest. 

Forsaken, far, groaning, no rest – these are all expressions from the dark.  The dark is dark and everyone is afraid of the dark.

And yet, somehow the psalmist made it out of the darkness. In fact, the very next psalm will begin, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” How did this happen? How did the dark get defeated? This brings us to the second truth about the dark:

2) Being heard brings light into the dark.

God’s response to our fears in the darkness is found in the last word of Psalm 22:24. The word is “shema”, which translated means – He heard

I have several friends who, tragically, get Psalm 22. I have known too many young people who have died from acute depression that resulted in suicide.Their parents have had well meaning people tell them that God has not forsaken them, is not far from them, hears their groans, and gives them rest – but they cannot see that right now, because the dark is dark. Out of a sense of genuineness and a desire to bring some light into the darkness, my wife Tammy asked one of our friends, “What does help? What can we do that makes a difference?” 

The father with tears flowing down his cheeks said, “This helps. Being able to tell someone how I feel and being able to remember my son with people who knew him helps.”  ShemaHe heard.

When my children were little and I was putting them to bed, they would say the same thing to me that I said to my parents, “Leave the door open a crack.” They wanted a little light in their rooms to chase away the dark. When we are heard it brings light into our lives. The door is opened a crack. 

Frank Warren does not share his secret with his readers, but he does confess that years ago he wrote a secret, that he had carried with him since the fourth grade, on a postcard and mailed it to himself. It needed to be told and it needed to be heard. 

He had spent too long in the dark and everyone is afraid of the dark. I don’t know what the therapeutic benefits of PostSecrets are, but I do know that there are times in life that are too dark to see a single ray of light, the dark is dark, but it will not last forever.  I also know that so much of despair is lifted with just one word – ShemaHe heard.  Amen.

Rev. Kip Gilts is the Central North District Superintendant in the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (Houston, Texas area).

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