Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…
We tend to quote this line from Psalm 23 during times of distress–when a loved one is gravely ill, or when someone has passed away–but the phrase is more broad: it’s a way of describing the ‘normal’ course of life. Replace the even though with since and you get the idea: life unrolls for all of us in this valley. Because of that, what follows is critical–I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
It’s that last bit we want to hear, need to believe; it’s the presence of God while we’re in that valley that makes the journey possible.
The question of ‘why do we have to go through this?’ isn’t often raised in Scripture–that question has a more modern ring to it. Rather, we hear over and again the recognition that this is where we are–and that while here, we are not alone.
When Paul speaks about living ‘in Christ’ as he so often does, it is in part a way to push back against the darkness of life in the shadow of death. Peter does something similar as his letter winds down: he reminds readers that in the midst of their experience with suffering, God is near.
Who is this God? The God of all grace–the One in whom love and mercy reside, and for whom love and mercy dominate all else.
What does this God do? God calls His own to eternal glory–that is, not ‘eternity’ in the sense of a distant heaven that requires one’s death prior to entrance, but into glory that exists now and lasts forever. In other words, aligning with God in this life means entering God’s glory while still on this planet (though what that means will have to wait for another day).
What else does God do? Here Peter piles up words–verbs, to stress God’s actions. They are set in the future tense not so much to indicate that God’s action is still to occur, but to affirm that what God has promised, God will do. Is doing, even now. These piled up verbs describe the strength God pours into those who suffer. Strength for restoration, so that they can be mended like nets (the first verb shows up in Matthew 4:21 and Mark 1:19). Strength so that they can be established (see Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 1:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:3) as members of a particular family, and not cut off or bereft.
The Psalmists teach us that ‘crying out to God’ is a normal response from those being pressed by life. The apostles remind us that the God on whom we call is the One who called us, the One who pours strength into us so that we can continue to move forward. Why doesn’t God simply take us away, so that we don’t have to bear this? Because there is much to do; because God has a body on this earth through whom He yet intends to act.
Each day we rise, and part of that day’s early routine is to eat. The previous day’s activity has worn us down, but nourishment will restore us for this new one. It’s not just pancakes or oatmeal or bacon and OJ we need, however, but God’s strengthening, too, as we embark on this day’s adventure. Difficulties? Check. Stresses? Check. Discoveries? Check. Threats, pressure, temptation subtle and outrageous? Check, check, check.
But: the God of all grace is here; the glory of God is available for us to see, feel. So, we can say with David (and with Peter, too, I’d warrant), with my God I can scale a wall (Psalm 18:29).