I Will Fear No Evil: How Psalm 23 Shapes Us as Agents of Justice

by Bishop Todd Hunter

Injustice is evil. Evil is scary. Fear stirs up a profound desire to escape, look away or avoid.

However, avoiding injustice means we cannot be agents of justice. It keeps us out of the game of justice—and keeps wrongdoing solidly in place.

Dallas Willard has a helpful thought in his book, The Allure of Gentleness:

So many of the wonderful statements in the scriptures that are meant to reflect the honest experiences of those who have learned to live in interaction with God are in fact ritualistically and magically quoted by people who don’t believe a bit of it…[because] nothing has ever happened to them that they are certain is the personal hand of God in their lives.

We must ask ourselves: Is God really our shepherd? Do we really lack nothing? Is it true that we don’t need to fear evil because of the knowledge that God is with us, even as we walk through dark moments of injustice? Or, is Psalm 23—and the life depicted in it—just pretty words to be intoned at funerals?

I was recently challenged to consider my own response to evil as I reread Anthony Ray Hinton’s autobiography, The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life, Freedom, and Justice. Anthony spent 30 years in solitary confinement on Alabama’s death row for a crime he did not commit. Any honest law enforcement officer, district attorney, or judge could have seen the truth—if they had wanted to. Instead, they overlooked a passed polygraph, a solid alibi, and contrary evidence.

Ray lived in fear of being “pulled from my cell in the middle of the night and strapped to a chair to electrocute me until I lost my bowels and my heart stopped and the smell of my burning flesh and fried organs drifted up and down the row to remind men of what was to come.”

Being confined to a small box 23 hours a day, Ray was unable to escape the stench of the electrocutions of other death row inmates. He felt like he was in a whole-life straight jacket. Ray says, “Humans were not meant to be locked up in a cage, and a man couldn’t survive in a box. It was cruel.”

His experience is unimaginable to most of us. I found reading his story to be painful and depressing. And because I sometimes struggle with claustrophobia, when my mind pictured the prison scenes, I could feel debilitating anxiety and the powerful, intuitive desire to flee the scene. I felt I could not stay close to his unjust reality.

As I struggled, I realized that such fear kills empathy that leads to action. Empathy requires close proximity to what is real. If we run away or close our eyes to make unsettling emotions go away, we simultaneously remove the possibility to make a difference. A desire grew in me that Mr. Hinson’s story might make me brave—that it might allow my heart to experience the compassion he developed for his fellow inmates.

We can get there, but it requires a state of the heart and a shape of the will that can facilitate confident interaction with wickedness and injustice. Such a heart/soul reality must be based on the experiential knowledge that:

The Lord is my shepherd…

I will fear no evil…

For you are with me…

In Psalm 23, David is not just writing nice words. He is describing, even celebrating, important elements of his life with God that began when he was a young boy. He came to know with overall certainty, though not perfectly, that he was in the care of the world’s One, True Creator God. In the words of Dallas Willard, numerous times David experienced the personal hand of God in his life in times of evil—when the rocks from David’s slingshot felled Goliath, when David was able to kill a lion and a bear who were trying to attack his beloved sheep, etc.

In these ways, David came to rely on God. He came to know that God was with him, working with him in the mundane activities of a shepherd, dealing with the daily coyotes, wolves, and foxes trying to get in among the sheep. David came to know that fear was banished by Presence.

So one day, as he led his flock through a grassy field, he came to realize that, as an analogy, he was one of God’s flock. He was cared for. He did not need to flee evil under the tyranny of his desires or fears. Perhaps, thinking along these lines, he felt a melody matching up with a lyric—

The Lord is my shepherd…

I will fear no evil…

For you are with me…

When we, too, know that reality in our bones, we will begin to be formed well as consistent agents of justice and peace.

Article originally published in The Gospel of the Kingdom, the substack of Bishop Todd Hunter. All proceeds benefit The Center for Formation, Justice and Peace.

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