The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
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.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
If you know anything about my life, you’ll know I’ve had a rough go of it for some time. (I’m keeping it vague on purpose, don’t worry).
If you don’t know anything about my life . . . well, there’s your disclaimer.
Understandably – I hope – the above Psalm has oft been the song that has put me to sleep at night. It’s a message of hope and peace, a reminder that God is, in fact, a gentle Guardian who actively seeks to lead us into settings of tranquility and security. I’ve read it more times than I can count in my life, especially in the last two years.
In light of more recent anxieties, I’ve also read it a number of times in the last 48 hours.
Because, honestly, is this not the best chunk of scripture ever for someone who is naturally anxious?
I read it, and I long for those green pastures, still waters.
I cry for that restoration.
I so desperately search for that promised comfort.
I’ll take the full table too, but that’s mostly because I’m a poor college student.
But recently, as I’ve been reading this (arguable) directive on resting in the promise of coming rest, a new view of David’s ideas has been growing on me. And it’s not one that fits the usual paradigm.
Here’s the thought that disturbs me. The Psalmist says God’s going to lead us on paths of righteousness.
The valley. An image of a trek through a valley of darkness. What in the world?
Immediately after being told God’s going to lead us on some sort of path, we find ourselves walking through a valley. And God’s with us. Do with that what you will. But do you see what I’m getting at?
I’ve always understood the valley to be some sort of ill-advised setting in which to find oneself. We aren’t supposed to be there. And if we do find ourselves there, clearly God’s going to lead us out of it. Because we aren’t supposed to be there.
That God leads us out of valleys isn’t false. That’s not at all what I’m arguing.
But have we ever thought God to be the one who leads us into the valleys of darkness. Intentionally. On purpose. Because we are supposed to be there.
The comfort isn’t primarily that God’s going to lead us out. Although, that’s true too.
The comfort is that God brings us into darkness. And he does so because he’s there with us. Because, as David reminds us 126 Psalms later, even darkness is like light to Jesus. Because God intends for us to find the very righteousness for which we’re headed for in our darkest hours.
Please understand that this argument ought not be boiled down to the adages that “God has a plan” and “all things happen for a reason.”
(Regardless of the validity of those statements, they are the two biggest cop-out excuses for why shit exists in the world).
Evil does not have God’s stamp of ownership on it. The valley is dark not because God created darkness in order to teach us some sort of lesson or because we’re supposed to accept it as some trivial experience in a larger plan of perfection and meaning.
Shit is shit and it’s shitty to experience because there’s an enemy who wants us to think we’re better off on our own than with a God who supposedly loves us but gives us trouble because it’s part of his plan.
Friends. The valley is real.
But the darkness does not belong to God. Period.
And God leads us into it because he’s saying, “alright Satan, you can create pits of deep anguish. But watch me drive my righteousness straight through those pits. Watch me prove that not even your deepest darkness can contain me. Watch me walk into the darkness too and stand by my beloved no matter how much pain I take. Because the shit to them is the same shit to me. And I hurt just the same. And I love my beloved enough to take your shit the whole length of the valley. Watch me. Watch me stand here over and over and over again and prove that I am stronger. And so too is my beloved. Watch her grow because of the very thing you intended to crush her spirit. Watch him stand in the midst of what you intended to make him crumble. Watch them become more like me.
Watch your darkness make them righteous.
Till the day that you no longer hold reign over any of this.
Friends, I am increasingly more convinced that Psalm 23 is less about a God who helps us avoid trouble, and more about and God who intentionally guides us into stormy waters because he knows that it’s in the rough that we’re supposed to find the diamond.
It’s IN the valley we’re supposed to find righteousness.
The righteousness isn’t in the pastures. Or the calm waters.
It’s the in the rocky pits and the stormy gales.
It’s embedded in the very things the enemy tries to use to get us to think righteousness doesn’t exist.
So go. Go into the valleys. And fear not, because God is with you. Truly.
And you will find righteousness if you allow yourself to see it.
And most thankfully, I believe, you’ll recognize God will have led you to a much more beautiful pasture than you could have imagined.
Peace to you.