“Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Psalms 23:4
“I had never known,” said Martin Luther’s wife, “what such and such things meant, in such and such psalms, such complaints and workings of spirit; I had never understood the practice of Christian duties, had not God brought me under some affliction.” It is very true that God’s rod is as the schoolmaster’s pointer to the child, pointing out the letter, that he may the better take notice of it; thus He pointeth out to us many good lessons which we should never otherwise have learned. (Streams in the Desert)
The harsh part for some is relinquishing the fantasy. Some never quite get over the shock of it, holding on to the bitter end wondering why they did not live happily-ever-after. The crux of our burden is found just there—we have swallowed the lie that following God’s way guarantees a life of ease and plenty. It is high time to push past the fairy tale. As the Good Shepherd, our Lord carries both rod and staff; a rod in order to defend, and a staff to rescue or discipline, as the situation merits. If this were not so, suffering and hardship would void the goodness of God, and we would be left Fatherless. Fortunately for us, God uses everything for our eventual good, regardless the discomfort or confusion of the moment.
The Gospel admittedly contains all the elements of a remarkable fairy tale. The King gives his Son up for his subjects. The Son endures an epic death at the hands of merciless villains. Angels weep and men despair until the Son turns the world right-side-up again in triumph over the tomb. But the Good News is not a fairy tale. It is history, but it is more than history; it is, in the best of ways, personal. Push past the story line and engage the Person of Christ. Converse with Him, speak and listen to Him. Long for Him. Touch Him. Bathe your dialogue in honesty—dishonesty serves no purpose but to drive us farther apart. The Father may not numb your pain, but He will tend your wounds. The Incarnate God of rod and staff knows firsthand the harsh reality of this world, and loves us all the more for it.