As Psalm 23 comes to a close, it contains the promise of the Psalm. That goodness and mercy will follow us, and that we will dwell with the Lord forever. Regarding this verse, I want to amplify two things from the message Sunday. First, regarding what it looks like for goodness to follow us. Second, what it means to dwell in the house of the Lord. Both parts can be easily misunderstood by focusing on a single aspect of the promise.
It's easy to see how we can get turned around regarding goodness. We all too often associate goodness with good things happening to us. Goodness is following us when fortune smiles on us. When we get what we want. When things are going well.
We have coined "prosperity gospel" for this exact ideology. For the teaching that God wants what is best for you and will give you nothing but good things. If your faith is strong you will be healthy and wealthy. Sickness, suffering, and want are symptoms of a lack of faith.
It's seductive, certainly. But it's a false gospel. We have too many passages that promise that we will suffer as followers of Christ. "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived." 2 Timothy 3:12-13. We will be provided for, yes, and we will have joy, but we will also face hardships.
How we respond in those times says a lot about what we believe about goodness and about God.
As Brandon conveyed, the goodness here reflects on the goodness of God. That God is our good shepherd. The shepherd that cares for His sheep. The faithful shepherd, that does not leave his sheep to their own destruction. But the one that ensures the sheep are healthy and productive members of the herd.
Goodness here also reflects more on the consistency of the goodness of God. That God remains good in any and every circumstance. That he is always the good shepherd. Even when the suffering comes.
In the first few years of our marriage, it seemed like Jamie and I lost a family member a year. In that time, God was still good.
Through our the two miscarriages, including the ectopic that could have killed Jamie, God was still good.
Through the job loss and the two month period of unemployment, God was still good.
Through every hurricane, storm, and strife that has affected our families, God has remained good.
He was, is, and will always be good. Past, present, and future; imperfect tense.
I like to think of goodness here referring to the grace of God. His ultimate goodness towards us. Giving us what we do not deserve. Salvation, sanctification, glorification. All the grace of God. So when paired with mercy, we have grace and mercy following us all the days of our lives. God giving us what we do not deserve (restoration), and not giving us what we do deserve (death), through the days of our lives.
The picture becomes even more beautiful when you consider the Hebrew word for follow. The word in Hebrew is radaph, and follow is perhaps too tame to accurately translate the text. Radaph indicates pursuit, to be chased after. Grace and mercy are pursuing us throughout our lives.
If that is not a picture of the Gospel, I don't know what is.
Viewing it through the metaphor of a shepherd and his sheep, you can almost picture goodness/grace and mercy as the two faithful sheepdogs of the shepherd. Continually reigning the sheep in. Guiding them, pursuing them when they stray, nipping at their heels when needed.
Such a radical departure from the mistaken idea that "only good things should happen to me now, goodness is going to follow me." And given this context, it should make us consider another consequence.
If the grace and mercy of the Lord are pursuing us, and we are following the good shepherd, then grace and mercy should be pouring out of our lives. Our cups should runneth over. Goodness and mercy should follow where we go. In this way, we should not only as sheep be receiving these blessings, we should also be about transmitting goodness and mercy. About sharing grace and mercy to those we are in contact with.
If all that is left is what we make in this world, let us make good.
Can that be said about our lives?
I think we all too often avoid our responsibilities in this area because we focus on the wrong part of the promise with regard to the second section of this verse. An improper focus on what dwelling in the house of the Lord forever means.
For most of us, I think we all view this as referring exclusively to Heaven. About our eternal life in our Heavenly home in the presence of the Lord. Forever. This section certainly does cover that. But I believe it is much broader.
In David's day, the house of the Lord was the tabernacle, the tent of meetings which was, quite literally, the dwelling of God. To dwell in the house of the Lord would be dwelling in the tabernacle with God.
In that, we see that this promise has an earthly component. It is to be near God, to be with God forever, both here and in the heavenlies.
It's the opportunity for the sheep to get to go into the master's barn. Or in certain cases, to be in the master's house. To be in the presence of the shepherd continually. And to then be led back to the green pastures in season.
As believers, the dwelling of the spirit of the Lord is in us. The temple is now each and every one of us. I don't think we emphasize that point enough. The promise is fulfilled in a seeming inverse. The Lord will dwell with us forever.
That gives us an awesome responsibility as sheep - to be about the shepherd's business.
To be messengers of goodness and mercy.
To be proclaiming the goodness of the shepherd.
To sing of the goodness of God.
"All my life you have been faithful,
All my life you have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
I will sing of the goodness of God."