This was one of the first passages of scripture that I knew mostly by heart. When I was a little girl and I was afraid – afraid of the dark or the strange sounds our house made at night or some other childish fear – I would lie in my bed and repeat these words from the 23rd Psalm. I can’t claim that I fully understood them, but I knew that they meant that God was with me.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I 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
shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
Psalm 23, The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version
This was one of the first passages of scripture that I knew mostly by heart. When I was a little girl and I was afraid – afraid of the dark or the strange sounds our house made at night or some other childish fear – I would lie in my bed and repeat these words from the 23rd Psalm. I can’t claim that I fully understood them, but I knew that they meant that God was with me. I knew that they meant that I was not alone. Whatever fears I had, whatever troubles I carried, I knew God was there next to me, caring for me, loving me. The world could be a big, scary place filled with so much that I did not understand, but from the words of this psalm I knew God was there. I trusted that God loved me.
The world still seems to be a big, scary place filled with so much that I do not understand. No matter how angry or frustrated I become with other people, I cannot understand someone being so filled with hate that the person takes weapons and kills people. I cannot understand how someone can so methodically and carefully plan the destruction of other people – even if that person considers others the enemy. I cannot understand the thought process that allows someone to believe that if another person is different or foreign or worships differently or has another faith then that means the others are less than human. I cannot understand the hatred that fills someone to the point of massacring others because they are different. I don’t get it. I do not understand. I never will understand.
But whether I understand it or not, it happens. And I know that my lack of comprehension at this much hatred does not make me immune from this kind of hatred and violence. We witnessed this terrible violence in New Zealand last week when a man walked into a mosque and began killing those who were at prayer. The youngest victim was three-years-old. Think about that; a three-year-old who had gone with his family to pray, just as I used to go with my family to church, and he was gunned down. Why?
I am sure that many, many people are asking that question right now. Why? Particularly those who lost loved ones in this senseless violent tragedy. Why? I also suspect that the answers to that question will never be satisfactory, because any answer we find can never fully address the complexities of the human condition. We don’t really know why and we may never know why. But what we do know is that God is with us. God is with those who grieve. God is with those who suffer. God is with those who mourn. And God calls us to be with them too. We are called to be compassionate and empathetic, standing side-by-side with those who mourn.
One of the most beautiful examples I have witnessed of compassion and empathy for others in this dark and terrible time is New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern. She has mourned with those who mourn, and she has grieved with those who grieve. Her compassion and care has given me hope.
Here’s the thing, our empathy and compassion for others does not prevent terrible things from happening, nor does it negate or erase the horror of senseless violence. But it can remind us of our better selves. It can remind us that we are not alone in the world, and that more people want good for others than harm. And most importantly, it can remind us that God is with us still, always and forever.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.