the negative condition of humanity: lost

If there’s one word I would use to sum up the condition humanity is in, I might say lost. Like most things in life it’s more complicated than that. There’s something wonderfully good about humankind. Each person is indeed a gift. But not all is well. There’s something fundamentally wrong.

Lost is the condition humanity is in biblically speaking due to sin. Sin is that which is in violation of God’s will, contrary to God himself, and actually against humanity itself, since we humans are made in God’s image. Because of that, we’re lost from God’s good intention for us.

We remember the biblical account of Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden into a condition where life would be hard. The ground would be cursed because of sin, everything cursed actually, including humankind itself. Curse in Scripture is the opposite of bless. Its end result is condemnation and death, whereas blessing comes through redemption which brings life.

We are lost on our own. Being made in God’s image, we are left to thinking that there must be more, much more. But we’re at a loss to find it, indeed we can’t find it ourselves. That is why the Bible speaks of the Good Shepherd finding the lost sheep, the woman finding the lost coin, the father rejoicing over the return of his lost, wayward son. We are lost, pure and simple. No rocket science. That’s just the way it is, and the sooner we come to acknowledge that, the better off we’ll be.

God seeks us before we seek God. In fact it’s only because God seeks us in God’s grace in Christ that we would ever turn a glance his way, and hopefully surrender and come running into the arms of the Father. It’s because Jesus himself was willing to be cursed, and lost for us so to speak, feeling forsaken of God on the cross, that we can be found in him, through simple faith in him, and God’s word: that good news. In and through Jesus.

God will wipe away every tear from our eyes

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

Revelation 7:14b-17

Revelation is symbolic of truth in God’s final judgment and salvation. In the New Testament we’re in the last days, so something of much of Revelation could be present, as well as telling us the forever ending.

So those who have come out of the great tribulation could especially mean those who have suffered for their faith and witness. In a certain sense it might include all of us who name the name of Christ and by faith remain among the faithful.

The thought of the Lamb being our shepherd is touching, and that this shepherding will be forever, wonderful. We are sheep forever, redeemed, made perfect in a sense, yet still sheep in need of the Good Shepherd.

What is especially moving to me is the thought that God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. There is so much in this life to be sorry and sorrowful about. There’s no end. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, a lifetime of such. That God will wipe away all tears is the way this promise and blessing ends. Somehow there will be a resolution to everything. All in God’s good wisdom and will. To unfold in time in and through Jesus.

 

 

the good’s shepherd’s presence in the midst of danger (or threatening circumstances)

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

We live in a time of upheaval when people for one reason or another feel threatened. And there’s no seclusion or real safety from the dangers of this world. Darkness threatens us in one way or another, the absence of light.

What is likely pictured here is evil in terms of life threatening enemies (see Psalm 23:5). The rod and the staff comforting the sheep with the awareness that the shepherd is present to protect them (see NET Bible footnotes).

Maybe we’re not faced with actual life threatening enemies. Darkness can still overtake us for many reasons. As Christians we know we’re up “against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-20). What is called “the dark night of the soul,” is a part of life. And there can be struggles with mental illness which from what I’ve read can be a choking deep darkness.

Whatever darkness or lack of light we face, we can know by faith and be assured that the good shepherd is present with us. That our experience is not what’s definitive, but God’s promise to us in Jesus. That God in Christ experienced the deepest darkness to help us through our dark places and bring us into his wondrous light.

Life and certain seasons of life can seem threatening, certainly not for the faint of heart. But our dependence is not to be on ourselves and what courage we might be able to muster. But on God, who promises to see us through everything, whatever it is. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

the good shepherd guides us along the right paths

He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3b

Do we think the good shepherd, the Lord guides us, or do we think we’re more or less on our own, in need of the shepherd only when we’re in trouble? Of course we would answer the former, yes, we believe the shepherd guides us always, or that we need his guidance always. And yet do we really act like it? It seems to me that by and large we operate more in the latter, we cry out for help when we’ve messed up or are lost. We pay lip service to the idea that we need the Lord’s guidance always, but we really rely on ourselves, maybe asking for some wisdom from God along the way, which is good and a start, but not enough.

Instead we need to seek to be guided by the Lord throughout the entire day, even every moment. I don’t think the Lord deletes our inclinations, but rather changes them over time. It’s hard to break away from inclinations which may not be all that helpful. For example we might spend too much time on social media, or checking out the news, sports, entertainment, politics, whatever. It’s easy to get lost in any number of things.

The paths of righteousness is the traditional rendering, but along the right paths for our good and for God’s reputation is probably more the thought here (see NET Bible footnote). Certainly learning to do righteousness is part of it. But along the right paths includes much else, such as keeping us away from what would be harmful to us, and close to the shepherd, hopefully along with other sheep.

So each day we need to ask the Lord to keep us on the right path. We are moving, life changes along the way, new challenges, new opportunities. So it’s not like we know, having been there, done that. Age with wisdom can help one know what and what not to do more and more as one gets older. But a huge part of that is to remain dependent on and close to the good shepherd. To depend on God in Jesus to guide us in ways to help us know God’s goodness in all of life.

 

the rest the Lord gives

He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3a

It’s interesting that the Lord takes the initiative here. I’m reminded of Jesus’s words, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31b). I think the main meaning is what we might call soul rest, but surely there’s physical rest as well as spiritual rest (Psalm 127:2). Certainly Jesus’s words to his disciples were for their physical rest, as well as spiritual.

Quietness is also a part of the picture here. We’re off somewhere without all the noise of a busy world, even without what noise we like, music or whatever it might be. And we’re off some place where in the silence we can hear God’s voice (1 Kings 19:12). I like music playing most all the time, if I don’t have something else on. At least I like less volume than especially in my younger years, but silence, no. But even I find silence valuable because it seems to awaken in me more of a sensitivity to and appreciation for the Lord’s voice. It’s not like we can never hear God’s voice above all the noise. And music might actually help us that way (2 Kings 3:15-16, and note that the psalms are often set to music along with other passages in Scripture). But being silent and finding quiet can help us hear God’s voice, and is also restful in itself.

And the Lord refreshes our soul. That probably means something like renewing our strength (see NET Bible footnote and parallel versions). The Hebrew word translated “soul” in the NIV means “life” or an individual person or persons. Times of rest should be times of refreshment when our strength is renewed. A kind of restoration to face life again with anticipation, ready for the long haul or whatever awaits us is surely in the cards here. We can see from the rest of Psalm 23 that all of life is pictured. So that this blessing is meant to prepare us for such, as we continue under the leading and care of the good shepherd. In and through Jesus.

 

 

lack nothing?

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
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 your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23

In the topsy-turvy existence in which we live, we hardly ever see ourselves not in need of something. Or what the world tells us we need through advertising, or even what the state requires by law. On top of that, we have our own expectations for ourselves, our wishes, even dreams.

Then there’s this psalm telling us that with the Lord as our shepherd, we indeed lack nothing. Of course to know what the psalm means, we have to read on. Lacking nothing is described in terms of God’s provision and protection. So it’s beyond just feeling alright. There are actual reasons given as to why the psalmist, said to be David in the inscription, lacks nothing. It is in terms of having all we need, but still there’s a sense of abundance. Not “the good life” the world projects, but more like the abundant or full life the Lord promises (John 10). Again, we have to read the entire psalm to understand just what the psalmist means when they say that with the Lord being their shepherd, they lack nothing.

So we have to find and learn to dwell in the abundant, overflowing life for us in Christ (John 10). Spelled out for us here in Psalm 23 in real, down-to-earth terms for life in the topsy-turvy existence in which we live. In and through Jesus.

 

the Lord is my shepherd

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Psalm 23:1

Yesterday for a time I was simply quoting to myself, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Sometimes it’s good to just stay on one thought so that hopefully it can sink in. It needs to be put in context for sure, but it needs to be held, as well.

“I lack nothing” along with the rest of this great, well known psalm is helpful. But we might want to jump to that without sufficiently appreciating the simple thought that God is our shepherd. The rest of the psalm does flesh out what that means, but still it’s good just to rest on one thought for a time. Again, to let it sink in, and with fresh applications for one’s life in a way which actually helps one know in experience the Lord’s shepherding.

I believe in the church, and I know being in this together in Jesus is at the heart of what our faith is all about. But we are also individuals on our separate, unique journeys. This psalm is for each of us as individuals. And to get back to the main point, the thought that the Lord is our shepherd, we need to just sit back with that for awhile. Let its truth and light expose our error and penetrate our darkness. In and through Jesus.