Psalm and Antipsalm by David Powlison
I found this excerpt from notes provided from a counseling class David Powlison was teaching here. It is quite profound and I thought I would pass it on. - JS
The antipsalm tells what life feels like and looks like whenever God vanishes from sight: the "I'm-all-alone-in-the-universe" experience. The antipsalm captures the drivenness and pointlessness of life-purposes that become petty, and thus self-defeating. It expresses the fears and silent despair that cannot find a voice. Thereâ€™s no one to really talk to, no one who really cares. Something bad gets last say, when whatever I live for is not God, when how Iâ€™m living forgets whatâ€™s so.
Iâ€™m on my own.
No one looks out for me or protects me.
I'm always restless. Iâ€™m easily frustrated and often disappointed.
Itâ€™s a jungle â€“ I feel overwhelmed. Itâ€™s a desert â€“ Iâ€™m thirsty.
My soul feels broken, twisted, and stuck. I can't fix myself.
I stumble down some dark paths.
Still, I insist: I want to do what I want, when I want, how I want.
But life's confusing. Why donâ€™t things ever really work out?
I'm haunted by emptiness and futility â€“ shadows of death.
I fear the big hurt and final loss.
Death is waiting for me at the end of every road,
but I'd rather not think about that.
I spend my life protecting myself. Bad things can happen.
I find no lasting comfort.
I'm aloneâ€¦ facing everything that could hurt me.
Are my friends really friends?
Other people use me for their own ends.
I canâ€™t really trust anyone. No one has my back.
No one is really for me â€“ except me.
And I'm so much all about ME, sometimes it's sickening.
I belong to no one except myself.
My cup is never quite full enough. Iâ€™m left empty.
Disappointment follows me all the days of my life.
Will I just be obliterated into nothingness?
Will I be alone forever, homeless, free-falling into void?
Sartre said, "Hell is other people."
I have to add, "Hell is also myself."
Itâ€™s a living death, and then I die.
But the antipsalm doesnâ€™t tell the final story...
It only becomes my reality when I construct my reality from a lie. In reality, someone else is the center of the story. Nobody can make Jesus go away. The I AM was, is and will be, whether or not people acknowledge. When we awaken, as we see who Jesus actually is, everything changes. You see the person whose care and ability you can trust. You experience his care. You see the person whose glory you are meant to worship. You love him who loves you. The real Psalm 23 captures what life feels like and looks like when Jesus Christ takes you in hand, when he puts his hand on your shoulder, when he takes your hand.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Can you taste the difference?
You might want to read both antipsalm and psalm again, slowly. Maybe even read out loud. The Psalm is sweet, not bitter. It's full, not empty. You aren't trying to grab the wind with your bare hands. Someone else takes you in his hands. You are not alone. Jesus Christ actually plays both roles in this most tender psalm. First, he walked this himself. He is a man who needed and looked to the Lord. He said these very words, and means what he says. He enters our predicament. He walks the valley of the shadow of death. He faces every evil. He feels the threat of the antipsalm, of our soul's need to be restored. He looked to his Father's care when he was cast down â€“ for us â€“ into the darkest shadow of death. And God's goodness and mercy followed him and carried him. Life won.
Second, Jesus is also this Lord to whom we look. He is the living shepherd to whom we call. He restores your soul. He leads you in paths of righteousness. Why? Because of who he is: â€œfor his nameâ€™s sake.â€ You, too, can walk Psalm 23. You can say these words and mean what you say. God's goodness and mercy is true, and all he promises will come true. The King is at home in his universe. Jesus puts it this way, â€œIt is your Fatherâ€™s good pleasure to give you the kingdomâ€ (Luke 12:32). He delights to walk with you.