“I shall not want” Psalm 23:1
My friend Diet Eman, who spent horrifying months in a prison camp during the German occupation of Holland, remembers a time every day when the job description of the guards changed significantly: instead of beating on the inmates, the guards had to keep inmates from beating on themselves.
Food. There was so little of it, that when what little there was emerged, the guards stood by closely. She describes those moments in Things We Couldn’t Say:
The only time they watched us closely was when we got our bread because resentments could grow and tempers flare. If you were assigned the duty of cutting margarine, you had to be very careful that all the lumps were exactly the same size. Margarine was all we had—no jam, no marmalade, no nothing—just bread and a little pad of margarine. You had to be very careful slicing it because the others would watch very closely to be sure that no one’s pad was any thicker than the other’s. If one slice would have been a bit thicker chunk of margarine, there would be bickering for sure; when you’re hungry, such bickering comes up easily.I don’t need to document the extremes to which good human beings will go when hungry. Reason gets tossed in the face of real human need.I’ve never been that hungry. Neither have my parents, although, during the Great Depression, they came closer than I ever did. My mother remembers my grandfather, a big-shouldered blacksmith, crying at supper because neither he nor his farmer customers had any money and he didn’t know where his next dollar was coming from. My father, whose father was a preacher, remembers his parent’s cupboards being stacked only by the largesse of his congregation.
In my life, “I shall not want” seems a given. I don’t need God, after all—I’ve got money. In the many years of our marriage, our economic problems have arisen not because of lack of money but because of too much: if our kids need something, even as adults—should we buy it for them, or make sure they learn some basic lessons in economics? Sometimes—often—our hearts lean one way, our heads the other. That still happens. Most the time we don’t know what to do.
Of course, I just now misspoke horribly. We have money all right, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need God. We can have the nation’s finest filet mignon (we live in beef country, after all) every weekend if we’d like; what’s more, Sioux County has the finest pork loin in the world. Food is no problem, great food no burden.
But we want—good Lord, do we want. We want our kids happy. We want an end of the dying in Fallujah and Baghdad. We want to ease into the pratfalls of old age. We want a fireplace in that new house we’re building, heated floors in the basement, a huge deck, a buffalo rug for my study. We want all right. No problem there.
“I shall not want” may be the most audacious profession in all of scripture because, good Lord, do we ever.
Good Lord, do what you can to help us not to.