The fourth verse of Psalm 23 is very popular and has been quoted by people from different walks of life. Not just by Christians either. It is a very relatable verse. However, this flippant usage of this verse underlies a more damaging notion. It is an approach called moral therapeutic deism. What does that mean? Let’s break it down:
- Moral – This is not Biblically founded morality but rather a humanistic morality. IT is the idea that people are good and all are on their way to heaven, except for those deemed to be thoroughly evil. Just be a good “ol’ boy or girl,” and everything will be alright in the end.
- Therapeutic – Christianity is therapeutic and good for guidance in this sense. It can help teach morality and how to cope with stressful life issues in a self-help book approach. All you need is a daily verse of inspiration, and anything more would be like fanaticism.
- Deism – As this perspective goes on, it approaches a type of deism where God is distant and unneeded, except when needed. Classic Deism taught that God created and sustained the universe but since then has remained distant and left the world to naturalistic movements. However, moral therapeutic deism, there are times of crisis when this god will react and help. However, whenever there is no crisis, he’s not around.
Does this help explain many of those in who claim Christ but are none of His? I believe it does and with moral therapeutic deism as a backdrop, we can understand why Psalm 23:4 is therapeutic.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4
Albert Barnes wrote, “The idea is that of death casting his gloomy shadow over that valley – the valley of the dead. Hence, the word applies to any path of gloom or sadness; any scene of trouble or sorrow; any dark and dangerous way. Thus understood, it is applicable not merely to death itself – though it embraces that – but to any or all the dark, the dangerous, and the gloomy paths which we tread in life: to ways of sadness, solitude, and sorrow.”
The Scripture is no stranger to grief and is one of many reasons for its undeniable relevance. Passage after passage paints the picture of reality we live in:
“Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.” – Job 10:21-22,
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” Isaiah 9:2
However, Psalm 23:4 is not a lament but praise. Notice it says, “Though…I will fear no evil.” Just as much as Scripture paints our grim reality, it is also using a backdrop of God’s majesty. Let’s sample some of these passages that remind us not to fear because God is with us:
“But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” – Psalm 3:6,
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.” – Psalm 27:1-4.
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” – Isaiah 41:10,
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:55-57
Why can we have this confidence? Because “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” The staff is a symbol the shepherd guiding his flock, and the rod is a symbol for protection. However, there is a greater implication that goes against the idea of God be afar off. These symbols are of tools that had to be used nearby. Again, remember the verse says, “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” God is near His people. We exclaim that, “he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” What a great comfort this is to us.
When we are in trouble, He is already by our side. Yes, and when we pray, He is already there. However, the implication is that He never leaves. Even in the good times, God is right there by our side. He is offering us guidance, correction, and protection, at every moment of our existence. The Lord is not distant, but truly “God with us.”