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I have been young and now I am old; but I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. (Psalm 37:25)

One wonders where the Psalmist lived all his life if he had never seen the righteous forsaken. Did he never see the utter hopelessness of people trapped in abject poverty; the indiscriminate suffering that goes with nationwide famine; the cruelty of war in general, and genocide in particular; the corruption of police torture; and the harsh reality of martyrdom under regimes that have sought to wipe out faith in God? There can be no doubt that the righteous suffer and that their children usually suffer with them.

But to fully understand this verse, we need to look more closely at what it is actually saying. To begin with it is neither a promise nor a command from God, just an observation which may or may not be true for everyone. Certainly Christ himself, the most righteous of all people, cried out before his death that God had forsaken him. (Mark 15:34)

But we must also consider what it means to be righteous and what it means to be forsaken. Romans 8:28 has been a great comfort to many people through all sorts of hard times, because it promises that "all things work together for good to those who love God and who are called according to his purpose."

Purpose makes all the difference. For the righteous, suffering has purpose. It is part of a bigger plan. Someone has said that when you don't know where you are sailing, all winds are bad winds. But when you have a purpose in your life, then hardships become the very things that help you to measure your progress.

No pain, no gain. The trial is a prelude to the triumph. The cross is but a step to the crown.

The greatest agony of the cross for Jesus was that he really was forsaken; and he really was forsaken because he really was "unrighteous". He had taken upon himself the sins of the world, and he took with it the full punishment. God could not look on sin, and so he turned his back on his own Son.

It is almost certain that Christ's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-39) was not over concern about the pain that he would face, nor concern about facing death; but it was concern about being forsaken by God for that one brief moment of time. Yet, when we know that we have been called by God to go through a thing, then our suffering brings purpose. As a result, there is not the horror of rejection that the unrighteous must learn to live with day after day.

But by the same token, when we forsake God's call on our lives, then we forsake that purpose which brings meaning to even the worst situations. The Bible refers several times to the fact that God's people had forsaken him, and when they did, he forsook them. You cannot insist on calling the shots and not pay for it in the end. You reap what you sow; and if you are not prepared to play the game by God's rules, then come what may, your life is going to have less purpose, and a lot more despair... regardless of how comfortable you may be able to make the circumstances around you.

The Psalmist had never seen the children of the righteous "begging bread." (Psalm 37:25)

Along with St. Francis, we have referred to ourselves as "God's beggars". We ask people for donations to support our work, and we use these donations to feed ourselves and our children. But is this "begging" in the sense that the forsaken must endure?

For those who have no faith in God's provision, begging is borne of desperation. It seems to us that people racing off to work each day are suffering from more desperation about their daily bread than what we experience. "Begging" is only a game to us by comparison. Because we have forsaken all for God, we know that he will not forsake us.

In short, we have been called according to God's purpose; and because of that, we are neither forsaken nor beggars, even in the face of death.

(See also Why Did My Father Die?)

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