Is there any such thing as individual salvation?
Psalm Reading: Psalm 23
For Sunday, April 29, 2012—Easter 4
There are some scriptures that will for ever be in the King James translation in the minds of the world.
There is John 3:16 with its, who so ever beliveth and there is Psalm 23. Any other translation seems to weaken it. The Lord is my shepherd so I don’t need anything else is not the same as The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.
The pastoral imagery of Psalm 23 in the KJV seems so—medieval. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
I have always pictured an English banquet in a castle type thing—like with goblets. I am holding a goblet and toasting the Lord. But the strange thing is when I picture me at the banquet table with the goblet I am alone.
This psalm is so weirdly narcissistic. “The Lord is my shepherd.” Why not, the Lord is our shepherd?
I have this crazy image of a Sunday school filmstrip that plays every time I read this psalm. The Lord (picture Jesus the good shepherd—I know, what is Jesus doing in the psalms) is walking beside a little blonde haired kid with short pants and a cap.
Then he gestures to the green grass and the kid lays down on it for a nap. The kid gets up and the shepherd takes him down by the still waters, he has his rod and his staff to protect the kid.
But when I stop the filmstrip and think about it, I am perplexed. Why do I want to sleep in the grass? What is so great about being beside still water? What is the difference between a rod and a staff? Does the Lord need both? Is, like, one in each hand? What does he do with them when he is preparest-ing the banquet for me?
The image of this personal Lord following an individual around, attending to their needs—a place to sleep, food, water, protection—seems more like a dog than God. More like a servant than a shepherd.
This idea of a personal assistant Lord is clearly the result of recontextulizing the interpretation. The result of hundreds of years of cultural conditioning, making it nearly impossible to recover anything close to what the original audience heard.
What is as interesting as how our culture has read this text is the way this text reads us. It reflects back to us our self-obsession that would paint God as our Valet.
The Hardest Question
What does it say about our culture that we would find the notion of a personal attendant Lord even appealing?