We are living in the unknown—a time of sickness, death, endangered jobs, strained relationships, and cancelled plans. Of line-waiting and mask-wearing. Of porch drop-offs and Facetime conversations. For some, these changes disrupt a comfortable and predictable life. For others, they painfully compound existing difficulties in work and family life. For all of us, David’s words in Psalm 23 provide comfort and fuel to help us put one foot in front of the other as we seek to walk in faithful obedience along the unexpected paths God sets before us.
Psalm 23 is likely very familiar to those of us who have been around the church for any length of time. It’s a classic portion of Scripture, one that eighty-year-old saints know by heart and one that we too were coached to memorize as young children. Like many familiar things, however, the beauty and wonder of these six verses can be easily lost and we can fail to experience the comfort and confidence that can be derived from them.
The Lord put this Psalm, and one verse in particular, in my mind and heart last year as I read a book by a young woman who chose to marry someone with significant physical and mental disabilities. The author drew my attention to Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This verse greatly strengthened her confidence in God’s constant love, care, and provision in her life, even as she walked into a very unknown future with many possible trials and sufferings.
As the author drew out the implications of this verse in the context of her situation, the truth it proclaims sprung to new life for me. My circumstances were very different, but I was profoundly comforted by the reminder that God’s goodness and mercy follow me wherever I go. In my case, God was asking my husband and I to pack up our life (and toddler) and move from Louisville, Kentucky, to Southern California. From our seminary and church family of six years, to no existing community. From a place within driving distance of our families in Canada, to a place requiring flights for any visits. From a climate similar to Southern Ontario, to the desert. It is an understatement to say that this felt like a difficult path to walk.
But Psalm 23 spoke
In the first half of verse six, David expresses his conviction of the surety of God’s blessing upon his daily, earthly life. He reminds us that God’s goodness and mercy is with us wherever we go—the doctor’s office, grocery store, a season of unemployment, a quiet Saturday with family, a cross-country move—
David unpacks this reality throughout the rest of the Psalm, as he testifies of God’s loving leading to quiet, restful places, as well as God’s steadfast presence and help in fearful, dangerous places. In short, David says that there is nowhere we can go where God is not with us—a truth he similarly proclaims in Psalm 139:7: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” Truthfully, there is no life-altering change that we will ever walk through alone. God is with us in the joy-filled moments, as well as tear-filled ones. His goodness and mercy follow us anywhere we go.
In the second half of verse six, David reminds us that even if the path we walk is so difficult that we lose our earthly lives, our eternal destination is safe and secure: “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” These words address the question that many of us have after pondering God’s goodness and mercy: how can we find comfort in God’s goodness and mercy if we have seen beloved family members, friends, and fellow saints suffer or even die? Those experiences certainly don’t feel like the gifts of a good and merciful God.
What Do Goodness And Mercy Look Like?
Perhaps our struggle with this question is that we expect God’s goodness and mercy to look a particular way: good health, no loss, no pain, a secure job, full bank account, and family harmony. We expect Eden. But ever since Adam and Eve’s rebellion, every person ever born has lived in a sin-ridden world with trials and heartaches. And yet, in the midst of this broken world, Scripture upholds the reality of God’s goodness and mercy. For Joseph, God’s goodness and mercy included betrayal and slavery in a foreign land. For Naomi and Ruth, God’s goodness and mercy included the loss of their husbands. Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth saw God’s goodness and mercy throughout years of painful infertility.
In his sovereignty, God often seems to display his goodness and mercy in the midst of, or in the wake of, suffering and loss. God also delights in redeeming our sufferings with blessings either here on earth, or in eternity future. Even if our lives are filled with pain and loss here on earth and we see his goodness and mercy dimly, we can know that we will see and experience the fullness of God’s blessings in the eternal home he promises to us in heaven.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me. I believe these words are true. Do you?
Surely Goodness And Mercy Will Follow Me
Last year, God brought this Psalm to my attention and through it, assured me that while I never desired to move across the continent from family and friends and start life over again, I could walk this path in obedience and trust, expecting God to continue to be constant in his good and merciful character towards me. And He was. Though we had to pack up our belongings several times before moving into a long-term home, He provided all the energy we needed. Though my husband’s first semester of teaching was wildly demanding, God sustained our health and preserved our marriage. Though we spent many weeks alone, He provided friends.
This year, God calls me to cling to these same truths as I release my desire to have certainty in what today and tomorrow hold during this pandemic. He calls you to do the same.
Today, in the midst of home isolation, lost jobs, social isolation, a plummeting economy, food shortages, an ever-present threat to our health, God calls us all to trust Him. Even if we lose our jobs, our homes, our loved ones—even then, He will still be good and will still show us mercy because that is His character and He never changes. God’s provision may look like a friend sharing a bag of flour, the government offering financial assistance, the church coordinating emergency housing solutions, social interaction via Facetime, or the persistent care of doctors and nurses as you or someone you love struggles to take their final breaths. No matter what form God’s provision takes, He promises to carry His own to the end, and His saints will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
If you are in Christ, God’s goodness and mercy are present in the midst of your difficult circumstances. His goodness and mercy have been poured out to you at the cross and continue to be poured out to you daily, even in the seemingly insignificant details of your life. Will you rejoice in this truth and cling to it hour by hour? If you will, you may just discover that you have greater joy in your struggle than you did in your prosperity.