Summary: When the bottom falls out of our world, God is closer to us than we think.
Psalm 23:1-6 “Discover God in Perilous Times”
Our year of discovery continues as we discover God in the perilous times of life. Like times of trials and struggles, perilous times are periods in our lives when we have difficulty perceiving God’s presence, power, or love. We are often offended by the injustice and unfairness of these times. We are also angered and humbled at our inability to change the course of these events and their effect upon our lives.
Perilous times differ from trials and struggles in their intensity and depth of loss. The loss of a job, the deterioration of health, or the death of a family member are a few common perilous times that we face.
Last week we meditated upon Psalm 22 and reflected on how the Psalmist, David, perceived God in the trials that he experienced at the hands of King Saul, or his son, Absolom. This week we will turn to Psalm 23 a Psalm that has be recited by countless millions of Christians and Jews as they have faced perilous times.
A GOD WHO CARES
We are not certain what specific situation David faced when he penned Psalm 23. The reason for this is simple. David did not focus on the situation, rather he focused on God and his relationship with God.
The relationship that most closely matched his relationship with God, for David, was that of a shepherd and a sheep. Of course David was particularly aware of the nuances of such a relationship because he had spent years with his father’s sheep, as a shepherd.
For David, the distinguishing characteristic of a good shepherd was that of the shepherd’s care for his sheep. The shepherd leading the sheep to green pastures and still waters demonstrated that care. David understood that God’s care was a constant, even though he was not experiencing green pastures and still waters at all times in his life.
The love and care of God, the good shepherd overwhelmed David. Meditating on that love restored his soul and renewed his strength in perilous times.
A GOD WHO IS PRESENT
A good shepherd not only cared for his sheep he was also present with his sheep. The shepherd did not care from afar, nor did the shepherd allow the threats of predators to separate him from his sheep. He guarded his sheep and protected them. David understood that God was present in his struggles and in his suffering. God did not care from some distant throne in heaven. God was intimately involved in David’s life in ways that David at times could not perceive, but still clung to its reality.
Hanging around the cancer wards when our son was going through his radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Faye and I often heard people exclaim that they could not understand how anyone could go through that hell on earth without a faith in God. They were sharing how important God’s care and presence was to them. I’ve heard the same words sitting with families as they experienced the trauma of the death of a mother or father, brother or sister, son or daughter.
Karl Marx criticized the Christian faith saying that it was only a crutch for the weak. His criticism is just if the limit of our Christian faith is to run to God every time the going gets rough, rather than to live in the lordship and love of God every moment of our lives. Images of sacrifice, a cross, armor, rock, and boat are more fitting pictures of the Christian life and faith. There are times, when we need a crutch—something to bear our bruised and battered spirits, bodies and souls. At those times, God does become our crutch. A crutch is not useful across the room. It must be placed place under one’s arm and close to one’s body in order to work. God is present in our perilous times.
RESURRECTION AND NEW LIFE
David writes about walking through the valley of the shadow of death and of being comforted by the shepherd’s rod and staff. He then shares a vision that he has of God preparing a feast for him and filling his cup so full that it overflows. His words appear to refer not only to earthly blessings, but also to the heavenly feast awaited by all.
Death is a part of life. We struggle monumentally against this reality, because we want life without death. This is not to be, indeed it cannot be this side of heaven. We see this struggle reflected in the life of a generations’ greatest bad guy, Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader. Listen to his conversation with Yoda has he struggles with the impending death of his wife.
Yoda counsels a pagan detachment to life. While living with a light grasp on the things of this world is perhaps a wise practice for Christians, when pursued with vigor, it leads to a life of isolation and loneliness. We are tempted not to reinvest ourselves after a loss because we want to guard ourselves against pain. The walls that we build only prolong the death. We can only live again if we allow God to breathe into us the breath of life.