Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In the film adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins and his companions are on a quest to defeat the dragon Smaug. On the journey to his lair they must travel through a dark and sinister forest where they lose their way and become lost in the tangled woods and oppressive gloom. Before long the group is wandering in circles, frightened, and fighting among themselves. At last they decide to send Bilbo to climb up in the highest tree so that he can get their bearings. As soon as he rises above the murky shadows and fetid air of the forest floor, Bilbo breathes freely, and in the bright sunshine, he easily orients himself. He can see the way forward and that their destination is much closer than they thought.
As I’m writing this, COVID-19 still dominates my newsfeed. Only there is less emphasis on the virus itself and more debate over the rightness of the country’s response to it. Have we over-reacted or under-reacted? Are infection and death rates being over-counted or under-counted? In the long term, which will be worse, the effects or the virus or the economic fall-out from trying to mitigate it. These questions are discussed around dinner tables and debated with ferocity on social media. But the truth is, we’re still in the thick of the woods. There is no use fighting among ourselves when the whole world is stumbling around in the dark.
Psalm 23 won’t settle the debates over COVID-19, but it is a tree we can climb up and emerge out of the gloom. This Psalm shows us the trajectory of our journey, and assures us that there is a destination worth continuing on towards. We are on a journey that will ultimately lead us home where we will dwell with the Lord forever, and where we will be welcomed and accepted in love. Psalm 23 reminds us that the Lord is our Shepherd who leads us and is with us on every step of the way through this world. We may not be able to see the route, but he knows it well. We can rest assured that goodness and love will be our ever-present companion, even when the valley is dark.
As we stumble around in the shadowy unknown of this current crisis or the next one that’s sure to come, let’s not lose sight of where we’re headed. Fear can not only plague our thoughts, it can tempt us to lash out at others. Yet it’s during the dark valleys that the presence of our flock can mean the most. Also, in the shadow of the steepest cliffs, the Shepherd is busy bringing back the lost sheep. People are responding to the gospel during this time. If we’re distracted by our fears or fighting with the flock, we will miss the opportunity to invite in the newest arrivals. Psalm 23 tells us that God’s goodness and love follow us all the days of our lives, and not just the ones where we walk in bright sunshine. God will do a work in us and through us if we’re willing to lift our gaze to him and respond to the Spirit’s prompting.
Whenever frustrations or anxieties threaten us, let’s join Bilbo in scurrying to the top of the nearest tree that God’s Word provides. Psalm 23 allows us to get above the gloom, take a deep breath, and take in the view. It’s stunning from up here.
How has Psalm 23 allowed you to gain a different perspective on the difficulties you face?
In prayer, thank God for the assurances he provides in his Word. Admit your doubts, frustrations and fears. Be honest with God. Ask the Spirit to give you a better view.