Summary: This passage is unquestionably one of the most favorite sections of the entire Bible. For one-reason: it speaks to the heart. It’s marvelous poetic word pictures connect with us where we live, and hurt, whether we know anything about sheep and shepherds
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
This passage is unquestionably one of the most favorite sections of the entire Bible. For one-reason: it speaks to the heart. It’s marvelous poetic word pictures connect with us where we live, and hurt, whether we know anything about sheep and shepherds or not.
Henry Ward Beecher, famous American preacher of another generation, said of this passage, “This psalm has flown like a bird up and down the earth, singing the sweetest song ever heard. It has charmed more griefs to rest than all the philosophers of the world. It will go on singing to your children, and to my children, and to their children till the end of time. And when its work is done, it will fly back to the bosom of God, fold its wings and sing on forever in the happy chorus of those it had helped to bring there.”
Of all the striking images in the Psalm, one is stands out. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . .”
I am a flat-lander by birth and upbringing. I know very little about mountains and valleys except from a few trips through the Rockies and the Great Smokies. That limited experienced has taught me a few lessons that may be in the back of this phrase.
The decent into a valley can be pretty scary. I remember driving up Mt. Evans west of Denver several years. I thought the trip up was bad, but down was worse. I rode the breaks the entire descent. Not the best thing to do. I felt out of control.
That what times like this often feel like. I am sure the last few days have rushed by. It has all been a dizzying blur. It feels like everything is out of control. Valleys are like that.
But one of the big problems about a valley for a flat-lander is the limited vision. In the valley, you can’t see much. I grew on the prairie where you could see for miles on a clear day. In the valley, the mountains surround you. Your vision is limited at best. Of course, the valley is also the place where the fog collects first. The deeper the valley, the denser the fog. And then there are the shadows. The sun rises late and sets early on the valley floor.
This is the valley of the shadow of death. On the valley floor the shadows are deep and the light limited. Two weeks ago you could imagine lots of things that will never happen now. The shadow has quickly fallen across the future you thought would be there. Right now, on the valley floor its hard to see, to imagine, what the future will be like. Valleys are like that, especially the valley of the shadow of death.
There is a another fact. The climb out of a valley can be hard work. The quick descent can be scary, but the trip back up is hard work and a lot slower. The next days and weeks will likely just as slow as the last few days have been fast. Grief and sorrow is natural. We all experience at times like this. Even when you know that the passing of your loved one is coming, you are still not prepared for it when it comes. Grief is hard. There is no way around that. It wears you down emotionally and physically.
There are a couple of unnecesssary burdens at times like this. Some may try to tell that there is something wrong with tears of grief. That only adds the weight of guilt to our sorrow. Of course that is nonsense. People of faith hurt just like everyone else when times like these come. Remember Jesus wept at the graveside of his friend Lazarus. Grief is normal and natural. Nothing about it is unfaithful.
We may also burden ourselves with the expectation that our grief is supposed to be just like somebody else’s. We are unique individuals. None of us feel or express our emotions, good or bad, just like anyone else. We must allow ourselves and others the freedom to labor through the hard work of grieving the way that is best for them. At the same time, we must always be there for one another, as friends, as family, as good neighbors.
It will take work and effort, time, and the help of friends and family to climb out of this valley, but you will climb out. Valleys can be deep and dark, but do they end. Ultimately, a valley is passage way to somewhere else. That is true of this valley.
For all of the negative things we can say about a mountain valley, there is another side. In the valley is where things grow. Mountains provide beautiful vistas and a sense of freedom, but that’s not where the tallest trees and the best fruit grows. The valley, even this one, can make you stronger and better. Valleys are like that.