Summary: When there is no way out but through, go through; it's the only way to the higher ground of home.
“Go in Peace: Courage for the Way”
In the Peanuts comic strips, Snoopy often tries to be an author. In one particular strip He’s shown on his doghouse typing a novel. He begins his story with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” That’s the way he always begins his stories. Lucy comes and bluntly shouts, “You stupid dog! That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. Who ever heard of such a silly way to begin a story? Don’t you know that all good stories begin, ‘Once upon a time’?” So the last frame shows Snoopy starting over. This time he types: “Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night.”
Snoopy is close to the truth about life. David agrees with him: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...” David knew of dark and stormy nights. He knew that there are times when there simply is no shortcut through life. He lifts up a basic truth of Scripture and life: there is AN INEVITABLE DARKNESS.
The most literal translation of this verse is “through the darkest valley.” It refers to deep gloom, the death like experiences of life. Job 10:21 uses it to describe the black hole that is the abode of death, and Job 28:3 uses the word in describing a mine shaft. If you’ve ever toured a cave and the tour guide turned out the lights you know what it’s like - total, eerie, steely, thick darkness; blacker than black. David says there are times in life like just like that.
He’s speaking, of course, from the context of a shepherd. In order to move the sheep up to the mountain heights – to the wonderful, lush pasture - the shepherd had to walk them through valleys. These valleys were cut so deeply between the hills and into the walls that even when the sun was shining it was still dark. These valleys were an inevitable part of the journey upward.
So it is, claims David, with life. Darkness is inevitable. IT IS NOT WHETHER BUT WHEN the dark valleys will appear. Isaiah the 43rd chapter makes the same claim: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah does not say “If” or “Should you” but “When you” go through the rivers, the waters, and the fires. These penetrating images are metaphors for all of those uncontrollable events that sweep over human life. When the waters rain and pour in torrents, when the rivers flood and surge over their banks, when the fires crackle and burn - WHEN - life is dark. There are times when there is no shortcut. So David utilized a word for darkness that represents a vast array of disastrous possibilities. He could have used the Hebrew word for death or the place of death, but he did not. He could have used the words for darkness like night, but he did not. He could have used a word meaning trouble, evil, pain, persecution or affliction, but he did not. He used a word which portrays the precise moment when life is at its worst - when we are in the darkest valley.
And certainly David could speak not only from the experience of a shepherd with his sheep, but from the rest of his life as well. He knew the dark times and the fear - as a young boy tending sheep at night, fending off the enemy animals; as a teenager squaring off against Goliath when no one else dared face him; battling the pesky and overwhelming Philistines even though He was God’s chosen king; running and hiding from Saul who unjustly sought his life; dealing, at the height of his reign, with his failure and sin; mourning, fasting, praying, and pleading at the death of his son - David painfully endured the agonizing dark valleys of life.
It is inevitable. THERE IS NO SHORTCUT. We’ve been there and will be there again. I still feel the horror of many of my darkest valleys - observing the pain of my parents when my sister was killed; the heartache of rejection when the older boys in the neighborhood wouldn’t choose me to play ball with them; the desolation of the stupid argument which forever separated me from my best friend; the humiliation of not being able to find a date and hearing those words, “No.”; missing the fly ball and dying inside as the coach verbally undressed me in front of the team; struggling, questioning, agonizing through the never ending year when our son suffered constant headaches of undetermined origin; the heartache of slowly watching my parents die and struggling to release them.