• 22 January 2024

Chapter 16 – Light in the Valley of Shadows

The Psalms are not in a random order. They have been carefully arranged. We must go through the suffering of Psalm 22 to get to the peace and rest of Psalm 23. Not our suffering, but his – Jesus’s. Psalm 22 opens with the cry of Jesus on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Ps. 22:1). He may have recited the entire Psalm for it ends with the last words ‘He has done it’ or, ‘It is finished’.

This is, indeed, holy ground and we can only look on in awe. Martin Luther rightly said, ‘God forsaken by God – who can understand it?’ Why is He forsaken, alone, His communion with His Father (as to His humanity) interrupted? Because God is too pure to look on evil. He sees the sin that the Son takes and he turns away. That is our sin. We rightly deserve the consequences of sin and even though our suffering is often not the direct consequences of our sin, nonetheless the wages of sin is death.

But there is also amazing balm here for the suffering and fearful. Jesus has stood in our place, rejected and abandoned. If we are in his family then we have a way out of suffering.

In Psalm 22 we see that Jesus, still in his utter abandonment, says twice, ‘My God’ (Ps. 22:1). Even in His suffering, even when God appears humanly to be far away, He is still our God and He is still mighty to save. He asks questions of God in suffering and so can we. We may often not know why something terrible is happening, but we know that Jesus was abandoned by God so that we will never be abandoned. The cross towers over us casting a mighty light on our way. And where are we going? We are going home.

It’s helpful to look at Psalm 23 through the lens of Psalm 22. The entry to our safety is the cross. ‘That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life’ (Ps. 27:4). This life is often a dry desert in which we wander, but the Lord has gone ahead to make a home for us. What a place that will be!

The martyr John Bradford, who was burnt at the stake during the reign of Queen Mary, was reported to have said to the trembling young man being burned with him, ‘Be of good comfort brother; for we shall have a merry supper with the Lord this night!’

We are on our way to something mind-blowingly good. While the journey may be hard we can find comfort in God’s Word, ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me’ (Ps. 23:4). When I am at a medical low that verse has repeatedly impressed itself on my mind like a burning light in the valley of the shadow of death.

Each of us must walk through that valley and it is a valley of shadow. It is dark and I know that. There is evil. But in order for there to be a shadow, there must be a light. That light is streaming from the face of Christ. It leads us on and He, the Good Shepherd, is not just ahead holding the door open or behind on the cross having suffering in our place but, perhaps most amazingly of all, He is with us right now. He is walking with us, talking with us, and He has, if you like, two divine sheepdogs with Him called Mercy and Goodness. Evil has to slink away. So the little party, a limping sufferer, a Saviour and two ministering angels struggle on towards glory.

Remember it is ‘all the days of my life’ (Ps. 27:4). The evil days and the good days; the days of suffering and the days of joy. God in His goodness supplies everything we need in suffering and His mercy on the cross means we don’t get what we deserve – eternal suffering and separation from God. Amazingly, rather, we daily receive a free gift – the presence of the Lord God Almighty all the way home.

Excerpt from Hope in the face of suffering – 20 devotions for tough times by Jeremy Marshall

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