Here I am reflecting on that most familiar of all the Psalms, the 23rd, the shepherding psalm.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Many consider that the writer here is regarding life’s final encounter with death, wherein a healthy relationship with God erases fear for the transition.
I would suggest that our entire mortal walk is through the valley of death. We live on a fallen planet which reels from the consequences of the rebellion of Adam and Eve. Sickness. Death. Discord. Oppression. Struggle. Natural disaster. Tooth and claw. All the consequences of sin, and God will not erase them with a single stroke of His hand. They have their part to play in the program of love. (Think of the devastation caused by the nuclear melt-down at Chernobyl, and think of the lingering, life threatening, mutating radioactive fallout. God didn’t cause the disaster; careless and deceptive men did.)
Our Heavenly Father is working on the development of a family of love. He wants us to choose His will, and to stick with it no matter what. If He were to remove these challenges to dedication He would have puppets and not lovers; cream-puffs and not conditioned champions. Remember that operative word repeated so often in the Seven Letters of The Revelation – “overcome”.
The psalmist refers to the shepherd’s rod and staff. These were instruments of correction and guidance. They were persistent. Sometimes they hurt. The verse did not say that they were used to eradicate the hazard, but rather they comforted and reassured the trusting sheep that the Shepherd was present and knew of all the issues. That realization repeatedly proved sufficient for getting through that valley. And a feast of thanksgiving and heightened intimacy and mutual understanding awaited the sheep on the other side (verse 5).
Strangely enough the audacious, abiding heart often begins to rejoice and feast on delicacies before the perils are gone.