“Surely goodness and mercy
will follow me all the days of my life” Psalm 23
Sure. Believe that and I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
In December of 1942, there were 1100 patients and hundreds of staff at a Jewish mental hospital outside of Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. The persecution and deportation of Dutch Jewry had begun, in earnest, months before already. In November of that year, a Dutch government official had warned Dr. Jacques Lobstein, the chief medical officer, that the Nazis had their eyes on the place. Lobstein, himself Jewish, took little action.
Why not? Perhaps because he believed a sentiment not unlike David’s in this verse: “Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. . .”
No one can know for sure, of course, but one might speculate that Dr. Lobstein, like so many hundreds and thousands, how many millions throughout Europe in those years, simply could not believe that some human beings would treat others the way he was warned the Nazis would eventually treat his wards in his hospital.
On January 21, 1943, in the middle of the night, the Nazis came. Patients, many in their nightclothes, some in straight-jackets, were jammed into lorries, taken to the railroad station, then pushed into railroad cars, children and psychopaths alike. It was brutal and unforgettable. All were taken to Auschwitz. None survived. Of the four hundred staff, only ten did.
If I were Dr. Jacques Lobstein, I don’t know that I would have acted any differently. I don’t know that I could have. There was no place in his imagination for the horror which was to take place. Daily, he’d worked with society’s most needy; he could not imagine that other human beings, many of them toting Bibles, could be so bestial.
“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. . .”
But what if it doesn’t? What if we feel, like Elie Wiesel, that God’s only answer to our earnest petitions is silence? There are no easy answers to such questions, no handy proof texts to mitigate human sadness.
And yet we have David singing “Surely, surely.” No one knows when the 23rd Psalm was written, but everyone knows that David’s own life was not without its horrors. “Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me. . .” In all likelihood, the King’s years were not without substantial tears. Was he wrong? Is this spiritual bravado?
I don’t think so. Life without hope must be unfathomably bleak, but it’s not hope itself that’s the bromide here. David’s hope in firmly placed in the God who’s filled his cup to overflowing, who’s anointed his head with oil, who’s been his shepherd, who’s satisfied his wants, who’s made him lie down in green pastures. Surely, eternally, his goodness and his mercy will follow him—and us, even through our holocausts. Surely, surely, surely.
Faith is a gift for eternity.