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.

Psalm 23: 4

Death is an unspoken participant in all birth. In fact, it is there with us from the moment of conception, and its hour continues to get closer and its pull progressively stronger as the days of our life move along. So, that ever-present shadow just gets bigger and its darkness deeper while the sun of life gains degree by degree on its setting beyond the horizon. We all live in the presence of death’s shadow, and there is nothing that we can do to escape that fact. However, we can do something about the effects of the darkness on our minds, hearts, and souls. God has provided us with opportunity and resource for entering into those shadow lands without the fear and concern that naturally accompany that journey.

We were designed and created by God to have a form of vitality and a drive to engage with life that comes from our likeness to Him. The better I know God, the more that His constant engagement with my world is apparent. God walked through the day with my ancestors Adam and Eve, and He walks with me in intimate fellowship each and every moment of my life. This drive to live takes on the form of planning, designing, and dreaming for the future. God’s imparting of His image into us people also finds expression in our desire for relationships, and it is expressed as we enter into community with others. All of this makes the idea of a permanent end hard for us to accept. When our drive for life and for all that living involves collides with the uncertainty that death and dying bring, our natural and very human fears are brought to the surface.

It is these very fears that Satan attempts to use to break us down. He wants people to doubt the truth of God’s Word. He seeks to get us to question God’s goodness, mercy, hope, and especially His promise of eternity. We all live with the results of the damage that sin has done and is doing to the world where we live. Disease, natural disasters, and machines that fail were not a part of the creation plan. However, evil’s deception and humanity’s selfish desires were not even remotely sufficient in their attempt to derail God’s desire for eternal relationship and communion with us. Death will always be painful. There is no easy way to lose the people who are significant to us. Their absence will always leave an emptiness that is inexpressibly hard to comprehend or to fill. Yet, Christ grants us His comfort. He brings us an answer to the future that demonstrates the temporary state of our separation from those we love and care about. Christ also grants us His presence and the purpose of His will for the remainder of our journey. He is our shepherd as we travel through our own valley of deepening shadows, and it is His glory that will light the way through it and into the unending daylight of eternity.      

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, who loves us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.

2 Thessalonians 2: 16, 17

 

There are days when pain surrounds the heart. The losses that this world forces on us rub us raw, and any outer layer of protection that we might have nurtured and developed to surround that sensitive organ is removed, often in an instant. We are left speechless, breathless, and with nothing to hold onto or to bite into in order to relieve the aching in our heart. This is the unrelenting reality of life, and everyone faces it. No one escapes the circle of pain that loss draws tight and tighter around us. Yet, this is the place where God is also most present. This is the very place where Christ entered into our world at its most impassioned and painful peak.

 

Christ engaged the greatest form of earthly loss, which is death, directly, totally, and absolutely. He granted to people the Father’s assurance of life that extends through all of eternity and that eclipses anything that this earthly existence promises. In Christ, life is something that begins here and now, but it finds its full freedom and greatest expression in the glory to come as we dwell in the presence of God. However, we still live in this world, and we are faced with the challenges that come with the life that we have in the here and the now.

 

So God grants us certain assurances. He has defeated the ability of death to rule over us. Everyone who knows Christ is alive both in this world and especially after being freed from it. When we are assaulted by the grief and the suffering of loss, God is with us. His presence is real, tangible, and unending. He sits in vigil with us through all of the long hours of that night of sorrow. God pours out His love and His mercy on our wounded hearts. Then He leads us into worship; that is into personal and public sharing of the truth of His presence. Words that speak about our faith and of God’s working in our lives bring healing to the heart of the speaker and to those of the hearers. Christ also leads us into acts of care and expressions of love, for these good works serve to bring Christ’s body together in a manner that provides mutual protection and opportunity for healing for our wounded hearts.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 7

 

We want to think of peace as the total cessation of all conflict. Our minds imagine this ideal status and apply it to every area of stress and struggle that we encounter during our days. Much like the voices of optimism that shout out “Peace in our time!” at the end of a large-scale war, we would like to be able to actually claim that the end of all conflict and pain is at hand, and that our efforts and sacrifice have made this dream-peace into reality. However, peace in our world will remain illusive, and conflict, pain, and death are our companions for the journey through our days on earth.

 

Yet, there is peace to be known in this world. Christ brought it into our atmosphere with Him, and He granted the gift of it to His people. In knowing Christ we have a form of hope that goes far beyond anything that human treaty or scientific discovery can provide. We possess a calm that is greater than any earthly storm. We can enter into faith in the loving grace and mercy of the Creator of all. His care and concern for our hearts, minds, and souls is tangible. Even when there is body-numbing pain present in and around me, God’s presence is real and His comfort deeply reassuring.

 

The broken nature of this world is very active in its attempts to draw our eyes away from the source of our confidence and strength in Christ. Circumstances and times of global violence, racial and ethnic hatred, relational discord, and personal suffering and loss will seek to gain the center of our focus and primacy in our hearts. These are difficult situations and seemingly unbearable circumstances that everyone will encounter. Yet, it is in these times that Christ makes the most sense as He provides both the wisdom to grasp the reality of what it means to live in a world that is perishing beneath the weight of sin, and He grants to His followers a hope for now and for the eternal future that makes all of the strife and struggle of this life into nothing more than a momentary episode in an unending story of existence in the presence of the Lord.

 

In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the Father who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence.

Hebrews 5: 7

 

When pain’s corrosive substance is eating its way through the heart, how do I pray? As fear shuts off oxygen from my brain and paralysis binds my limbs, where will I find the words to cry out to God for life? There is so much that comes our way in this world that is hard to handle and even much more challenging to understand. Loss and grief, illness and pain, and injustice and defeat are all around us. They take over the lives of our friends, family, and ourselves in a manner that can place the pall of mourning on our entire community.

 

Jesus seems to have lived in much the same world as we do. He prayed frequently, and many of His prayers were spoken with tears and with other forms of great emotion. Although He was God, He was not spared from feeling as we all do. He felt what we feel, and despite His understanding of God’s redemptive plan, He still endured the grief of loss and its mourning. Jesus needed to turn to the Father for comfort, perspective, and strength. He poured out His deepest emotions to God with full expectation that His tears would be cherished and that His heart pain would be accepted as the expression of who God had made Him to be.

 

If we are truly made in the image of God, why should we think that the full range and expression of our feelings and emotions are somehow not a part of that very image? According to scripture God expresses deep emotions, Jesus was clearly an openly feeling person, and we are designed and intended by God to do likewise. In fact, I think that our openness and willingness to expose how we are feeling is a sign of trust and faith in God. In part, this is the reverence that the writer here is talking about. God wants to hear our true heart-felt pleas. He takes our agony and distress and wraps them in His love and grace so that mercy and compassion serve to bind our wounds. The Father grants to us the understanding that is faith, and He brings us into life when all around is the dark cloud of death.