In the valley of shadows

Not all of us have experience of walking through the valley of the shadow of death but we’re getting it now. There are numbers in my church who have been refugees and have fled war, violence and extreme poverty. They have lived their whole lives in this shadow. Death has been a near-constant companion in their lives. For those from richer nations (and we are a demographically young church), their experience of death or even the fear of death is almost nothing. Yet now they found themselves in a period where the society around them is gripped by fear.

The numbers of those who have died from this virus worldwide are still very small. 8,000 people worldwide is not a very large figure at present. But the fear that this number could grow massively is casting a long shadow over daily life all over the world. We are walking through the valley of a long shadow and gauging by how governments are reacting, will be for some time yet.

This will be a time of refining for our theology and our faith. There are many who expect God to keep them from the valley for as long as possible yet Psalm 23 teaches us that the valley is inevitable but to fear is not.

The world around us has a conflicted approach to death and dying. There are those that want to put it off for as long as possible and see ageing as the enemy. On the other hand, there are those that want to hurry death up when things get bad. If they think there is a heaven at all their idea of it isn’t very satisfying.

As Christians, we need to face the reality of death along with everyone else but we do not need to face it in the same way as everyone else. In fact, it should be radically different.

Our confidence starts with the empty tomb and the resurrection of Christ. As Tim Keller says, this means that the Christian hope is radically different.

“[It] doesn’t leave you to face death on your own, by holding up your life record and hoping it will suffice. Instead it gives you a champion who has defeated death, who pardons you and covers you with his love”

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/reviews/on-death-timothy-keller/

Armed with this eternal perspective we can then face the fear of death. But we can go further still and even see death as a gift that reminds us of how to live (read How cancer healed my dad as a good example of this).

There is a danger that we fall into a dualism about death that does not offer the complete hope we have. As Andrew bunt writes,

When death actually hits, it’s easy for us as Christians to fall into a dualistic view of humanity which stops short of the reality of Christian hope. When someone we love dies, we comfort ourselves and others with the fact that they are now with Jesus and that their pain and suffering have ended. For those who have suffered physically or mentally before death, we celebrate the release from that suffering as they were released from their body.

And this is right for us to do. This is the wonderful hope we have for the immediate future after death. It really is better to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23) and to be ‘at home with the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:8). But if we stop there, if that is all we say, we’re missing the really good bit, because the pinnacle of Christian hope is not release but resurrection; it is not that we would be released from the pain and suffering which comes from having a physical body, but that we would be resurrected with a physical body that will never experience pain and suffering.

https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/dualism_at_death

This confident hope has always helped Christians face death whether it is death from persecution or death from age or sickness.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
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 your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

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