We live in a harsh world. I open up al-Jazeera or BBC News, and the headlines report a terrorist attack on tourists in Tunisia, deadly assaults in Syria, and the rising victim count from a plane crash in Indonesia. CNN headlines are hardly any better. They tell us of a killer taking a selfie with the severed head of his victim and of the senseless murder of worshippers in a church … and a mosque … and a synagogue.
In the face of news like this, how can we believe the words, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life”?
Let’s take a look at Psalm 23. Most of us know it. Many of us were introduced to it while making macaroni crafts at Vacation Bible School. But really, with YouTube videos, t-shirts, mugs, and flip-flops (I’m not kidding), Psalm 23 is about as well known as they come. Practically speaking, however, what does it mean for us?
Like any good question, this one has no easy answer.
There are two points I’d like to highlight though. The first point is verse 4, where we “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Despite our natural tendency to want to focus on the positive and ignore the rest, David was a very practical, real man with his own struggles: he knew his share of hurt and sorrow.
The trick, I would offer, is just to keep searching–to not let the Friday crucifixion be the end of the story. And I get it; I feel myself how cheesy that is to say. When I’m upset late at night or feeling alone, the first thought that comes to my mind is definitely not, “Oh well good, no worries! Give it a couple more hours, and the angels will be rolling the proverbial stone away from the tomb. Sunshine and roses will reign once more!”
And that’s just me, in my own charmed life. If you told someone who had recently lost a loved one or who struggles with depression to just hold on for Sunday, I would not blame them for wanting to punch you. Sure, as Christians we are trained to hold onto that ideal, but human instincts tend down a different path.
When we are swimming in a sea of darkness, looking for that ray of light seems like a superhuman task.
But I guess … isn’t that kind of the point? That’s where Jesus’ rod and staff to guide us come through, though in ways we might not recognize.
Jesus’ promise to us was never that we would have a charmed life, but rather that we would make it through.
Looking back on my times of struggle, I’m always comforted to note how there was always that one person who held onto me–who anchored me amidst my trials. We might not realize their role at the time, but if we just keep looking, they are there. We are, truly, never alone.
For my second point about Psalm 23 and holding onto the belief of goodness and mercy in a seemingly horrific reality: look at Paul. I might have my differences of opinion with him on some matters, but admittedly he wrote Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon all while languishing in jail for four years. And not only was he strong enough to move past his own bitter circumstances to care about others, he’s writing of joy! Joy, peace, happiness–these words occur no fewer than 16 times in Philippians. And I, personally, find that example supremely inspiring.
If Paul can write about the miracle of grace while burdened by chains, what can I do while free?
So yes, Psalm 23. We’ve all read it and heard it more times than we can count. Before we discount it to the land of childhood myth and fantasy, though, let’s read it through one more time. Sometimes these truths truly are timeless.
About Brett Beeson
Brett Beeson, officially, is an ensign (officer) in the United States Navy, currently attached to DDG54 Curtis Wilbur out of Yokosuka, Japan. She graduated in 2014 from the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in Arabic and a minor in Spanish. Unofficially, she is the “evil twin” (one of Jory’s twin daughters), that annoying-friend-who-won’t-stop-calling, perpetual questioner, ice cream enthusiast, scribbler, roarer-of-laughter, and eternal student of God’s amazing mysteries. After extensive travel in Morocco and Oman, she has become passionate about furthering her/our understanding of the Middle East and Islam. To enjoy more of Brett’s writing, please visit Randomness with Brett.