I grew up loving the 23rd Psalm. Most people know it..."The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want". I heard it many places, but no hearing made a bigger impression on me than hearing it at a funeral. I thought that the beautiful lines, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil," were the psalmist considering his own death. And maybe they were. But they have a different meaning to me today.
Having lost people I love, including grandparents, parents-in-law, a sister-in-law, and many friends, I find myself drawing comfort from those lines as a survivor. I see how the shadow of death touches all of us, from the time we are born. And the shadow of death darkens each day that I hear about a tragedy like killer tornadoes or fire fighters lost in an apartment blaze. The shadow chills the bones, and not just with the human-nature reaction of realizing I am going to die. But with the grief of the people who don't die, but lose the ones they love. The shadow falls on those who are living with disease, with the loss of their health, and those who love them.
Living in the shadow without fearing evil--that seems like an impossible task sometimes. Sometimes we are simply overcome with grief at the loss, the incredible loss, to be endured. I understand that grief is not evil. It is the emotion that must be felt keenly and completely in order to move on with living. Yet there is evil, very real evil at work in the world, and that is what strikes fear into my heart. Hearing of child abuse, torture of prisoners, injustice and racism and oppression...the ability of mankind to become monsters whose compassion and decency has disappeared strikes fear into my heart.
So, how to live in the shadowlands without fearing evil? The phrase I left out of the 4th verse is the key, for me. "...for Thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me." I have to admit I have no idea why a rod and staff would work--I'm sure Bible scholars could tell me exactly-- but I certainly get the gist of it. God lives in the shadowlands with us. There is no tragedy, no death, no atrocity that occurs apart from God. The age old question of why bad things happen to good people is a difficult one to address. But I do believe that God walks beside us in our grief, and in our fear.
Life in this world is life in the valley of the shadow of death. So I am grateful for a God who "leads me beside still waters," who "restores my soul". I can feel God beside me sometimes, and sometimes I just have to take it on faith because I don't feel it. I draw comfort from that nearness, and from the memory of it. And comfort lets light into the valley.