*Published in the Advertiser today.*
One of the most famous passages of Scripture is found in Psalm 23. It is often used by pastors and lay people alike to comfort those who are going through a difficult time. As a pastor I have used this section of the scriptures to help those who are suffering understand that God really is with them and that they can trust in this reality. But why is it that we ask the question, “Where is God?” And even worse sometimes, “Why do I feel so disconnected from him?”
Let’s be honest for a minute: the reason you feel disconnected is not because God has left on a cosmic vacation. The reason you feel disconnected is because you’ve shoved him aside. At best we forget that God is omnipresent (meaning that his presence is everywhere); at worst we worship false idols (e.g., money, sex, power, fame, ourselves, etc.) and ignore God completely.
Psalm 23 teaches us a deeper truth. It teaches us that God, like a shepherd who cares for his sheep 24/7, is intimately involved in our everyday lives. He makes us rest (vs. 1-2), and restores and guides us (vs. 3). He does that, not us in our own effort. Sheep, the dumbest of all animals, are prone to wander and leave their shepherd. They are prone to walk out on safety and unknowingly leave what is best for them. As the Bible makes clear over and over again (Isaiah 53:6, etc.), we are like sheep. Without the guidance and direction of our shepherd, we wander off into danger and easily forget where our safety is.
But notice what happens in the next verse. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” the writer says. The green pastures of comfort are just as much a path as the valley of the shadow of death. And let’s be honest: we are never so conscious of God’s presence in our lives than when we go through trials and times of fear. When things do not go our way we immediately react against God, questioning why he would do or allow this. This is because we simply have not cultivated his presence in our lives when things are good. And why would we? Things are good, “We don’t need God…” We may never say this, but our actions certainly prove it to be true.
Nonetheless, the psalm finishes out in confidence. The threat in verse four is survived and God has defeated the enemies and thrown you a banquet (vs. 5-6). Celebration can happen because God has won the victory. He has thwarted off the enemy animals that attack us. He has defended us with his rod, and guided us with his staff (vs. 4). And now we enter the house of the LORD and enjoy his presence forevermore (vs. 6).
Let us not overlook one major person here. Jesus says in John 10:1-18 that he is the Good Shepherd. He is the one who has gone before us, laying down his life so that we can walk in his ways. Jesus is the one who has disarmed the powers that be and is currently putting all his enemies under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:25). Jesus is present, through his Spirit, walking before us and beside us, patiently enduring our wanderings for the Glory of God. The LORD is my Shepherd: do you believe it?