You might be wondering, "Evil? What evil? This poem is all about the good." True enough, but as the popular theological argument goes, good cannot exist without evil as its opposite. We can't conceive of one without the other. Throughout Psalm 23, every good thing has an evil associated with it: plenty is opposed to "want," restoration of the soul to abandonment, stillness to spiritual tumult, righteousness to erring, and green pastures to barren wastes. The subtext of the speaker's argument is that if he did not follow the Lord with such absolute devotion, he would stray from the path and immediately fall prey to all these things.
The speaker sounds absolutely confident that goodness will always be on his side, but how does he know he has this guarantee? One possible resolution to this problem is to say that all the "goods" in the poem are spiritual goods, not worldly goods. So, even if he were to starve and fall terribly ill, he would still have the comforts of faith, which are infinitely more valuable than the comforts of the flesh. But, we'll leave that to you to decide.
Questions About Good vs. Evil
- Does the speaker receive God's favor as a reward or consequence of being good?
- If God leads the speaker along the "paths of righteousness," then what role is left for his free will to play? Is the speaker responsible for his own goodness?
- It seems that the speaker's decision to make the Lord his shepherd has a lot to do with why "goodness and mercy" are on his side. But if that's the case, then why do some bad people (people who don't follow the Lord) seem to have such good fortune?
- What is the relationship between evil and the "valley of the shadow of death" in the psalm?
Chew on This
Psalm 23 suggests that human nature is ultimately good because it originates in God's nature, but it needs to be cultivated in order to express this goodness.
The speaker of Psalm 23 believes that his faith in the Lord is enough to protect him from both external evil and from a bad will.