From Jesus’ point of view, there are two fundamentally different ways of doing life.
One way, you’re connected to a God who’s involved in your life. Psalm 23 is all about this: “The LORD is my shepherd . . . and his goodness and mercy surely follow me all the days of my life.”
The other way, you’re pretty much on your own and disconnected. Let’s call this the antipsalm 23: “I’m on my own . . . and disappointment follows me all the days of my life.”
We’ll look first at the antipsalm way of doing life.
I’m on my own. No one looks out for me or protects me. I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing’s quite right. I’m always restless. I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed. It’s a jungle—I feel overwhelmed. It’s a desert—I’m thirsty. My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can’t fix myself. I stumble down some dark paths. Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want. But life’s confusing. Why don’t things ever really work out? I’m haunted by emptiness and futility—shadows of death. I fear the big hurt and final loss. Death is waiting for me at the end of every road, but I’d rather not think about that. I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen. I find no lasting comfort. I’m alone . . . facing everything that could hurt me. Are my friends really friends? Other people use me for their own ends. I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back. No one is really for me—except me. And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening. I belong to no one except myself. My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty. Disappointment follows me all the days of my life. Will I just be obliterated into nothingness? Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void? Sartre said, “Hell is other people.” I have to add, “Hell is also myself.” It’s a living death,
and then I die.
The antipsalm tells what life feels like and looks like whenever God vanishes from sight. . . . The antipsalm captures the drivenness and pointlessness of life-purposes that are petty and self-defeating. It expresses the fears and silent despair that cannot find a voice because there’s no one to really talk to. . . . Something bad gets last say, when whatever you live for is not God.
And when you’re caught up in the antipsalm, it doesn’t help when you’re labeled a “disorder,” a “syndrome,” or a “case.” The problem is much more serious. The disorder is “my life.” The syndrome is “I’m on my own.” The case is “Who am I and what am I living for?,” when too clearly I am the center of my story.
But the antipsalm doesn’t need to tell the final story. It only becomes your reality when you construct your reality from a lie. In reality, someone else is the center of the story. Nobody can make Jesus go away. The I AM was, is and will be, whether or not people acknowledge.
When you awaken, when you see who Jesus actually is, everything changes. You see the person whose care and ability you can trust. You experience his care. You see the person whose glory you are meant to worship. You love him who loves you. The real Psalm 23 captures what life feels like and looks like when Jesus Christ puts his hand on your shoulder.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Can you taste the difference?
You might want to read both antipsalm and psalm again, slowly. Maybe even read out loud. The Psalm is sweet, not bitter. It’s full, not empty. You aren’t trying to grab the wind with your bare hands. Someone else takes you in his hands. You are not alone.
Jesus Christ actually plays two roles in this most tender psalm.
First, he walked this himself. He is a man who looked to the Lord. He said these very words, and means what he says. He entered our predicament. He walked the valley of the shadow of death. He faced every evil. He felt the threat of the antipsalm, of our soul’s need to be restored. He looked to his Father’s care when he was cast down—for us—into the darkest shadow of death. And God’s goodness and mercy followed him and carried him. Life won.
Second, Jesus is also this Lord to whom we look. He is the living shepherd to whom we call. He restores your soul. He leads you in paths of righteousness. Why? Because of who he is: “for his name’s sake.” You, too, can walk Psalm 23. You can say these words and mean what you say. God’s goodness and mercy is true, and all he promises will come true. The King is at home in his universe. Jesus puts it this way, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). He delights to walk with you.