For several years I was part of a small company that helped people with large delinquent medical bills apply for and receive Medicaid. These were people who either had no clue they would qualify for assistance or they lacked the motivation to apply. However, they did have an extremely good clue that creditors and collectors were in pursuit, which turned our skip-tracing into detective work. Some of these folks were experts at covering their trail, but the couple I worked with had a nose for working out trails. It was always a little awkward (and occasionally a little dicey) to catch up with people and initiate a conversation about their bill, so our opening line was strategically crafted for their peace of mind and for our safety.
“We are not here to collect; we are here to help you pay your bill.”
When the individual accepted that we had caught up with them in order to help them and bless them, they usually became more cooperative, even grateful. I met some remarkable people during those years.
This is my fourth article about Psalm 23, and it covers the last verse. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In verse 1 we learned that God our Shepherd is in front of us, ahead of the action. In verses 2-5 we learned that God is also alongside us, leading and nurturing and restoring and comforting and protecting and correcting and sustaining and blessing us. In verse 6 we learn that God is also behind us, pursuing us with goodness and with loyal and merciful loving kindness.
Theologians use a massive technical term to describe this divine character trait – omnipresence. Omnipresence means God is everywhere. Carla and I once owned a Dodge Omni, but I doubt it’s the same thing, and besides, that car only lasted a year. We can generally know God is everywhere without that realization making any difference to us. I mean, air seems to be everywhere, but how often do we think about air, much less appreciate air? But once we grasp that God is generally everywhere AND that God is specifically ahead of us and with us and behind us, we are making spiritual progress.
If your image of God tells you God is a stern and punitive Judge who is out to get you, then Psalm 23:6 makes you paranoid and jumpy. If God is all over the place, and you believe God is out to get you, then you will probably keep your head down, like those people we were skip-tracing. But once we come alive to the reality that God pursues us in order to bless us, it can change everything. Who can’t benefit from divine goodness and loyal and merciful loving kindness? Sure thing, God is after you. But you might want to slow down or even stop, because God wants to love on you.
Here’s another window into the same truth – “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him and entrusts themselves to Him shall never perish, but shall have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him could be saved.” (John 3:16-17) Isn’t this passage saying something similar to Psalm 23:6? Maybe Psalm 23 and John 3:16 are the most popular scriptures in the Bible because something in us is hungry to welcome God in Christ as good news, not bad news.
When I officiate memorial services for people, they nearly always request Psalm 23, oftentimes because of this last line – “…and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Of course the grieving family wants Psalm 23 at the memorial service! There is a sudden raw gaping hole in their lives, and they desperately want to hear that the hole is more temporary than permanent, that a reunion is ahead. But let’s not stop there. Yes, it is a promise about heaven. But it’s more. From the Hebrew language, we can legitimately translate Psalm 23:6 like this – “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” This divine pursuit is not ONLY for the afterlife; it applies to the beforelife too! Our God has the there-and-then covered AND our God has the here-and-now covered!
Again John’s gospel sheds light on Psalm 23. In John 10:10 (where Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep), Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that they (human sheep) might have life, and have it more abundantly.” This abundant life in union with Christ is ours here and hereafter.
Where, in your life and in your relationships, do you need the goodness of God to catch up with you and drench you? Where, in your life and in your relationships, do you need the loyal and merciful lovingkindness of God to catch up with you and saturate you? God is trustworthy. God in Christ has more for us than we are currently experiencing.
Surely God’s goodness and mercy to you,
Rick Jordan (www.rickcarlajordan.com, firstname.lastname@example.org)