Living In The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death

(This article was originally part of a larger exegesis on Psalm 23. I also gave it as a Chapel message at Emmaus Bible College.) 


The Lord As Shepherd Means: The Lord Comforts.

Psalm 23:4

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.

Walk through the Dark Forest before your world fades to black.


My Resplendent Bride, Danielle, was a sister who suffered well in the face of death. I wouldn’t believe how joyful and kind she was in the midst of her suffering had I not known her. I wouldn’t believe it had I not witnessed it.

She was the best person I’ve ever known.

She did not fear meeting God because she believed God’s promises. She was sad about the pain of leaving behind the life she had built. She wondered what the process of dying would feel like, which is natural. None of us has ever died before.


She was probably worried about what I would do with myself.


It is not good for a man to be alone. The other day I hung up a RAGBRAI poster in my kitchen. There was nobody in The Hermitage with the common sense to stop me. I asked my dog, Professor Frank, if he thought it looked good there. He was all about it.


It is awe inspiring, you know, how a woman turns a house into a home.


But Danielle did not fear her final destination, because Jesus was her shepherd, and to know Jesus is to know comfort. Sadness over the pain caused by evil is not the same thing as fear of evil. We Christians are to mourn with the mourning: we’re not to be insensitive to pain. Trust in the sovereignty of God is not designed to make us rude, cold, or callous toward those in the grip of pain.


Yet we do know who is in charge, and more importantly: we are known by Him.


We are comforted by God’s presence.

We are comforted by His Rod & Staff for God is not powerless.


God as your Shepherd frees you from the stupidity of being angry with God.


In 1997 Robert Duvall starred in a movie titled, “The Apostle”.


Sometimes after school I’d watch “Oprah” with my Mom. One day Oprah was interviewing Robert Duvall. The movie is about this Pentecostal health and wealth prosperity preacher man whose wife leaves him for the youth pastor and steals the leadership of the church from him. Duvall responds by cracking the youth pastor over the head with a baseball bat at a little league game and then hits the road. He re-baptizes himself in a river and plants a church in a small town in Louisiana. The Church becomes a home for all the misfits and does some good work.

Believe it or not, despite re-baptizing himself the police did not view him as a new man. At the end of the movie they catch up to him and place him under arrest.


Oprah played a clip showing Duvall in his mother’s attic during a late night rant directed at God. Duvall’s character yells, “I love you Lord, but I’m mad at you!”


The clip ends and Oprah goes bananas.

The audience goes bananas.

And I as a teenage atheist clad in black from head to toe said to myself,

 “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of!”


If there were a God who had created everything and redeemed everything with the life of His only Son… I had a hard time believing such a God would be okay with a lippy creation.


God in His providence saved me and called me into the ministry.


Years later I found myself at my own Resplendent Bride’s funeral.


Many well-intentioned brothers and sisters grabbed me by the arm and told me it was okay to be mad at God. They said God would be okay with me yelling at Him. I wanted to tell them, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of!” but restraint got the better of me.


I understand they meant well.


People don’t know what to say.


That’s okay.

Besides, no one really owes you anything in this life, let alone the most difficult of things. Knowing the right thing to say is certainly one of those more difficult things.

As I take stock of my life I am reminded of Eric Clapton’s “Presence of the Lord” wherein he sings, “Everybody knows the score.”

I wish everyone knew the score.

People act as though God didn’t do enough.

God created me. That’s all.

God forgave my sins. That’s all.

God created Danielle. That’s all.

God forgave her. That’s all.

God gave her to me to be my Resplendent Bride. That’s all.


And when her body could bear the Cancer’s onslaught no more: it was God that brought her home to paradise.


That’s all.


I’m not mad at Him.


It’s like Rich Mullins used to say, “It doesn’t do to be angry with God. He bloodies your nose and then gives you a ride home on His bike.”

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