Christianity 201

January 16, 2011

Psalm 23 Continues to Comfort

Doug Koop is the editorial director of Christian Week, Canada’s national Christian newspaper.  This appeared at his blog under the title, Why Psalm 23 Comforts Christian Souls

Psalm 23 is often on my mind. This is partly because the well-known shepherd’s psalm is source of great comfort to many. Partly it’s because as a boy I memorized it in old-fashioned King James English. And it stuck. I can still recite the words by heart. They come quickly to mind especially during hard times, especially in the dark watches of the night when sleep is elusive and the cares of life weigh heavily.

To repeat a psalm like this verbatim is not the same as saying that I know it by heart. I like that phrase, “by heart.” It somehow imbues a mere collection of words with great meaning and significance. It implies deeper understanding and more profound belief.

Psalm 23 has a powerful reassuring effect on many people, myself included. And although it is the Scripture of choice for funerals, it’s really about life in this world. It describes a perfect, pastoral setting and speaks to the yearning of every human heart. We all want our every need provided. Everyone wants to be protected. Everyone wants a soul at perfect peace. Everyone wants to live well.

But everyone also knows that the world we inhabit is rarely this hospitable. Many people lack even their daily bread. Hostility harries both innocents and aggressors. Those who live in great comfort and safety are still at risk for distressed spirits. There are very few truly righteous people in this world, which can be a very hard and lonely place.

Perhaps the reason why this psalm is so comforting is precisely because it speaks a strong message of hope in full awareness of the harsh realities of our deeply troubled world. It acknowledges want. It embraces the vexatious presence of enemies. It admits death.

The key to its comfort is that Psalm 23 confronts these situations with the mighty hope of a loving God. Its core message bombards the power of evil with images of bounteous provision, total protection, glorious honor and a soul at peace amidst even the most severe of circumstances.

Sustenance, deliverance and restoration speak to our most basic human needs, addressing the deepest desires of our heart and the yearnings of our very beings. It satisfies them with good things.

The psalm ends on a note of casual confidence—calm assurance—in the benefits of knowing God and living according to His will and ways. I like that word “surely.” The psalmist concludes with shameless certainty that the pathway of those who put their trust in the Good Shepherd leads to eternity in His loving presence, and that their legacy will be heartening to others.

“Surely,” writes the psalmist, those who follow the Lord leave a trail of goodness and mercy in their wake. They are harbingers of comfort and joy. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

~Doug Koop, Winnipeg, Canada