Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Valley of the Shadow of Death

If you have ever walked alone in the dark, or on an isolated road, then you know that feeling of impending doom. There's an anxious tension that pulses through you as every leaf rustles. The sight of someone coming toward you brings on a sweat and palpitations. In those moments, we feel as though we are in the scene from To Kill a Mockingbird where Scout and her brother, Jem, are walking home from the school play.

When we walk through dark, lonely places we are conspicuous and vulnerable, and we fear the worst.

That is precisely the feeling David speaks into in Psalm 23:4. He says, 

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.

David knew very well the dangers on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. The Valley of the Shadow of Death (see image, top) was a real place—a dangerous passage between the high cliffs where robbers and assailants could lay in wait and attack. It may well have been the image Jesus was invoking when he told the parable of the good Samaritan. 

The man walking on the road—through The Valley of the Shadow of Death—was beaten, robbed, stripped, and left for dead. That is just what we fear when we walk alone, and it is also how we feel (beaten, robbed, stripped, and left for dead) when we grieve. Grief is nothing if it isn't a lonely walk through a valley that is made fearsome and dark by Death's shadow.

But isn't it comforting to know that even amid all of the feelings of grief that leave us stripped bare, empty, and bruised all over we can walk through the valley fearlessly? Just as a shepherd has his crook to keep his sheep both on the path and safe from danger, we have God walking with us, in Spirit and in Truth. 

If we have a personal, saving relationship with Jesus, then His spirit goes with us everywhere. His Truth—the Word of God...the Bible—speaks back to fear and reminds us that God is walking with us all the way through this life and into the next. Throughout Scripture we are told, at least 365 times, not to fear. Yet, grief is so powerful because it is often the realization and aftermath of our fear(s). 

Even as people of faith, grief makes our hearts cry out to God in pain and confusion saying, "I thought you were with me! I thought your rod and staff were there to protect me from <fill in the blank>." Grief calls up emotions that rehearse our pain and trauma over and over again, each time wondering where the rescuer was, and why we were abandoned.

Dear one, this life is filled with sin and death. No one escapes such things this side of heaven. There are times and experiences in life that may literally leave us beaten, robbed, stripped, and left for dead. Ask anyone who has ever been sexually assaulted. Rape is violent and sometimes deadly. We cannot always understand where God was when something like that happens. We cannot easily explain God's seeming absence when tragedies occur like the Newtown, CT shooting. These are the valley experiences that demand our faith in God's sovereignty and wisdom that are beyond our understanding. That kind of faith only comes from living a life that is steeped in God's Truth, which we receive through his Word.

Our fearlessness does not come from our emotions. It does not come from our experiences. It comes from deep faith in the Truth, that the Lord is our shepherd.

As you encounter the griefs of this life that come from sin and death, remember that you do not walk through them alone. Our fearlessness comes not from an assurance that bad things won't happen to us, but from the hope that we have that when our walk through this life and its trials is complete we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23

New King James Version (NKJV)

The Lord the Shepherd of His People

A Psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, 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 runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

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