Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff--
they comfort me. Psalm 23:4
Listen to: Aretha Franklin, “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep”
This past Wednesday, a 21 year old white gunman went to a Bible study at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. An hour into the study, he stood up, and at point blank range, shot nine innocent black people dead and left three people wounded.
If this isn’t going through a valley in the shadow of death, I don’t what it is. We have all personally been in that dark place, where we don’t know what our next step is. We have all been in that dark place, due to illness, a loss of a job, a relationship or a crisis or another. Life never promised us a straight, rocky-free journey. No. In fact our psalm verse today confirms we will encounter evil in our lives. The difference is, with God we can triumph over evil and conquer our fear.
Fear is a natural reaction to danger. However too much fear can cause us to clam up, freeze, retreat or give in. Psalm 23, describing God as the Divine Shepherd, proclaims that fear does not have to control us because the Shepherd is with us as we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.” The Shepherd’s tools, the rod (used to protect, discipline, examine and count) and staff (used to guide, rescue, and keep the flock together) become a source of comfort, of consolation, the psalm declares. They don’t remove the valley from our lives. This consolation can even produce a change of heart, so we can see our trials differently; we can see somehow, God working though everything we do to turn things around for the sake of good. Moreover, Psalm 23 assures us that our God is actively walking with us as make our way through the perils of life. Through the love of God, we do not walk through the valley alone or empty-handed.
Some of us, in our pain and search for justice, ask why our Good Shepherd didn’t just keep the shooter from harming those innocent people. Each of us could ask similar questions, whether from our personal experience or our collective experience. I am afraid there are no satisfactory answers here in the short term. We only know that the God of Jesus is weeping over all the injustice and sorrow that the “Charleston 9” tragedy represents. We also know that we can take hope that God is actively walking through this valley with us. God is using the rod and staff of the Word. God uses the long hand of Justice, his of divine Love and mercy to guide us to the vision of the Kingdom of God Jesus taught us about and gave his life for.
Not matter what your valley is today, whether it is the condition of our world, a life circumstance, a spiritual trial, or even a combination of all of these, our Psalm verse confirms we have a God who is equipped, who equips us, and who not leave us to fight our battles alone. Evil cannot conquer us with the Shepherd at our side. Fear does not have the final say.
Today, whenever we feel fear, anger or dismay, let us affirm with the Psalmist: “You are with me.”
Prayer: God who Walks the Darkest Valley: “Stand with us in the dark places in our hearts, and in the dark places in our world where evil and fear are roaming. Lead the way through to the other side. Bring comfort and show us how to be your disciples in the Valley times of our lives. Amen.”