The Pain of Comfort
“He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:3-4
I’ve been thinking through Psalm 23 lately and something struck me about this part that hadn’t before. I have heard it explained that the rod and staff give comfort because they are used to defend the sheep. If a lion or bear attacked, it was up to the shepherd to beat these animals off until they left (or until they were killed in David’s case). And that is a great comfort. That our God walks with us through the temptations and the dark places in life and defends us from being completely devoured by them.
But I think there’s another way that the rod and staff give comfort too. I’m no shepherd, but my guess is that they could also be employed to strongly encourage a sheep to stay with the pack who wanted to wander off the path. And in this case the paths we are led into are paths of righteousness. Perhaps akin to the narrow path Jesus refers to that leads to life. If we’re not all that interested in staying on that path then we would find little comfort in a God who would use gentle, but firm force to keep us on it. But if we have fully given ourselves to God and want to stay on the path that leads to life then the rod and staff that might be employed on us are truly a comfort. We can find comfort in a God who cares enough about us not to let us wander onto the wide path that leads to destruction. It may not always feel good, but it is comforting.