Anti-Psalm 23

Sep 24, 2022

We are taking a closer look at Psalm 23 over several blog posts. In Part 1, we considered two specific questions:

  • In your life, how do you know you need a shepherd?
  • Who or what shepherd do you follow?

One of the ways we consider and walk out the life-changing truths of Psalm 23 is to consider it’s opposite. Dr. David Powlison was one of my seminary professors who has profoundly shaped my understanding of God, people, our problems, and what makes right what goes wrong.  He has written an “Anti-Psalm 23”* as a way of emphasizing two distinct ways of doing life. Dr. Powlison writes:

From Jesus’ point of view, there are two fundamentally different ways of doing life. One way, you’re connected to a God who’s involved in your life. Psalm 23 is all about this: “The Lord is my shepherd… and his goodness and mercy surely follow me all the days of my life.” The other way, you’re pretty much on your own and disconnected. Let’s call this the antipsalm 23: “I’m on my own… and disappointment follows me all the days of my life.” We’ll look first at the antipsalm way of doing life.

Antipsalm 23

I’m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I experience a continual sense of need. Nothing’s quite right.
I’m always restless. I’m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
It’s a jungle—I feel overwhelmed. It’s a desert—I’m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can’t fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
But life’s confusing. Why don’t things ever really work out?
I’m haunted by emptiness and futility—shadows of death.
I fear the big hurt and final loss.
Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
but I’d rather not think about that.
I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
I find no lasting comfort.
I’m alone… facing everything that could hurt me.
Are my friends really friends?
Other people use me for their own ends.
I can’t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me—except me.
And I’m so much all about ME, sometimes it’s sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. I’m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
Sartre said, “Hell is other people.”
I have to add, “Hell is also myself.”
It’s a living death, and then I die.

But the antipsalm doesn’t need to tell the final story. It only becomes your reality when you construct your reality from a lie. In reality, someone else is the center of the story. Nobody can make Jesus go away. The I AM was, is and will be, whether or not people acknowledge.

When you awaken, when you see who Jesus actually is, everything changes. You see the person whose care and ability you can trust. You experience his care. You see the person whose glory you are meant to worship. You love him who loves you. The real Psalm 23 captures what life feels like and looks like when Jesus Christ puts his hand on your shoulder.

I would encourage you to read the Dr. Powlison’s whole article here. His consideration of an anti-Psalm 23 is helpful to reorient us to the Great Shepherd of Psalm 23.

In Part 3, we are going to look more closely at the character of the Shepherd, the promises made, and the provisions given, in order that we would “awaken” to who this Shepherd is, and all he wants to give to each one of us for the particular troubles we face in our lives.

As you consider the anti-Psalm 23, what stood out to you? Was there anything that grabbed your attention where you stopped and said, “Ah, that’s me….that’s how I tend to navigate life?” If so, take a moment to confess to the Lord the way(s) your life tends to mirror the antipsalm more than Psalm 23. And thank God that the antipsalm is never the end of the story.