(I’m blogging on one of the six verses of the 23rd Psalm each day this week . . . you can start at the beginning with Verse One here.)
Psalm 23:3: “. . .he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”
A questionable translation of this verse provided perhaps my greatest epiphany when I prepared to preach this Psalm last week.
Usually I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s earthy, fresh rendering of Scripture in The Message. But in the portion of verse three typically translated “He guides me along right paths,” Peterson chose, “You . . . send me in the right direction.”
The subtle difference between guiding and sending opens up the central message of the Psalm.
Years ago I worked as a retail manager. At the record store I managed, I trained employees to be guides, not senders. When a customer entered the store and asked where they could find the Cure’s latest album, Disintegration (like I said, it was years ago . . . but wasn’t the music great!), staff members were not supposed to point in the general direction of the New Wave section. They were not supposed to send them in the right direction.
Instead, employees escorted customers to the music they were looking for. They guided them along, uh, right paths. (The metaphor does break down a little, but stick with me.) Therefore the Cure-seeking customer would feel a glimmer of happiness before descending into the dreary abyss of Robert Smith’s compositions. (I maybe should have saved The Cure for “dark valleys” in tomorrows verse. But I digress . . .)
Of course in the record store we guided rather than sent folks because they bought more stuff when they felt welcome. A friendly escort is certainly more hospitable than impersonal pointing.
Which is why the more precise translation of verse three where God is a guide is superior to The Message’s sending shepherd.
It’s an amazing thing, really, that God is our guide, with us and in us. God even became one of us.
For many Christians, the Bible is unfortunately misperceived as primarily a book of rules and regulations. God gives us the guidebook for living, and if we follow it God will love us and let us into heaven.
The Bible most certainly contains much about how to live as God’s people in the world. But more than that, and more central than that, is the Good News that we don’t experience life’s journey on our own. God doesn’t give us directions and send us on our way.
No, God walks with us, guiding us every step of the way.
When we get off the “right pathways,” God promises to always bring us back, over and over again.
Like the Lost Sheep in Jesus’ John 15 parable. (The link is to The Message version of the parable . . . I still love you Eugene Peterson!) The Good Shepherd brings back the one lost sheep even though he has 99 others. When the Shepherd finds the sheep, he doesn’t gesture toward the flock and say, “That way, sheep!”
No! The Shepherd puts the sheep across his shoulders and carries that wayward woolly ungulate back to the right path.
In that way He “restores my soul.” (Did you think I was going to forget the first part of the verse?) The original Hebrew more exactly means “restores my life,” or “restores my being.” Everything that I am is renewed and restored and even resurrected by my relationship with the Good Shepherd.
Or, perhaps more pointedly, I am restored to who I was created to be.
No matter how I have screwed things up, no matter how far I have strayed from the right path, no matter how messed up I have become, the Good Shepherd never gives up on me and continually guides me back on the “right path” toward living out my call as a child of God in the world.
I am restored even – perhaps especially – when I walk through the dark valleys of life . . . But that’s tomorrow’s verse . . .