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When the Valley is the Answer

By Michael Roop

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” How many times have I read these words in my years following Jesus? Too many to count. The picture is clear: David imagines a life circumstance so grave, so dangerous, so scary that only death compares. And without any light, the fear only intensifies as we fail to discover the way out.

As we know, David is confident that he need not feel fear in the darkest valley, or at least not give into it. He anticipates courage in the darkest valley, not because everything’s going to work out (sometimes it doesn’t), or because a way out will present itself (it might not), or because he’ll find courage within himself (he won’t). David knows courage will find him in the darkest valley because God will be with him, to guide and protect him when he cannot guide or protect himself.

But I wonder if David knows something deeper than just the comforting presence of God in the darkest valley? Just a few lines prior, David speaks of God as a Shepherd who guides David to green pastures, still waters, and right paths - in short, places where David’s soul is restored. I wonder if David knew, or even experienced, that sometimes the places of soul restoration are the valley of the shadow of death?

I wonder if David knew that God leads us into the darkest valley as His answer to our prayers to know Him and cherish Him more. I wonder if taking all other external pleasures and joys from before us isn’t the very means by which He answers our prayers. We cling to God in the darkest valley because we have nothing else. I wonder if David knew that, in God’s presence and plan, the darkest valley is not a circumstance to escape but a grace from our loving Father who disciplines His children out of love.

We know that the “finish line” of our faith, perfect holiness that flows from perfect satisfaction in God’s love, will not be crossed this side of our death (Philippians 1:6). This must mean that, as our pursuit of holiness is concerned, God is concerned as much with the process as He is the product. God must cherish the darkest valleys, for in our weakness, He is made strong. 

James must have known this, too. Why else would he say, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…”? Sometimes the valley is the answer. Sometimes we suffer pain because we wouldn’t cry out for help without it. Sometimes we tremble in fear to desire more deeply the loving arms of our Father. Sometimes we are lost so we can be found. After all, as the song says, “the calm will be better for the storms we endure.”

It is good for me that I was afflicted,
    that I might learn your statutes. 
The law of your mouth is better to me
    than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

(Psalm 119:71-72)
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