“I shall not want” Psalm 23:1
My friend Diet Eman, who spent more than anyone’s fair share of time in a concentration camp in the occupied
during World II, won’t forget, too, more than anyone’s share of
atrocities. She remembers a time every
day when the job description of the guards in the prison camp at Vught changed
significantly: instead of beating up on
the inmates, the guards had to keep inmates from beating on each other. Netherlands
Food. There was so little of it, that when what little of it 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 pad was any thicker than the other. 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 like cheap wrapping paper in the face of real human need.
Truthfully, I’ve never been hungry. Neither have my parents, although, during the Great Depression, they came much closer than I ever did. My mother told me about my grandfather, a squat big-shouldered blacksmith, crying at supper because during the Depression neither he nor his farmer customers had any money. There were times when he didn’t know where his next dollar was coming from. My father, whose father was a preacher, remembers his parent’s cupboards being filled only by the largesse of his congregation. There was no money for a salary.
In my life, “I shall not want” seems a given. I don’t need a God--I’ve got an Amazon Rewards Card. 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—our adult kids—should we buy it for them, or make sure they learn some basic lessons in economics? Sometimes—often—our hearts lean a direction our heads tells us isn't smart. That still happens. Most the time our toughest questions concern what to do with extra.
I just now horribly misspoke, of course. We have money all right, but our cushioned pocketbooks don’t mean we don’t need God. If we'd like, every week we can eat the America's finest steak (we live in beef country, after all); what’s more, Sioux County has the finest pork loin in the world. Food is no problem.
But we want—good Lord, do we want. We want our kids happy. We want a deeply fractured nation healed somehow.
We want to ease into old age. We want another good year for ourselves, a good life for our kids and grandkids, strength and patience and grace for our dad who's 99 years old.
“I shall not want” may be the most audacious claim in all of scripture because, good Lord, do we ever.
Good Lord, do what you can to help us not to.