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. [Psalm 23:4 (AKJV)]
I have an elderly friend who tells me Psalm 23 is her favorite psalm but, when reciting it, she omits one troubling sentence. “You know the one,” she added, “the one about death!” In actuality, a better translation for the original Hebrew would be “darkest valley” but she learned “valley of…death” as a girl and it remains that way for her. Whatever translation is used, those words should be ones of comfort rather than fear.
I thought of our exchange when another friend shared the last days of her uncle’s life. An avid outdoorsman and lover of nature, he’d been by defeated heart disease. Two days before he died, he was resting in his hospital bed and surrounded by family. A three-point buck emerged from the woods and slowly approached his house. The magnificent creature stood by the window and stared in at him. Eventually, it lay down beneath the window and, like the rest of his family, kept him company as he awaited death’s arrival.
My elderly friend is a woman of faith but even the most devout believers have moments they fear death. It is our final surrender and there is absolutely nothing we can do to defeat it; that loss of control is frightening. Nevertheless, death is inevitable and as much a part of life as birth! Even though Scripture assures us that death take us home to the Lord, the moment of death remains a mystery. Will there be a flash of light, a heavenly chorus, or a dark tunnel? Lazarus didn’t say and neither Trip Advisor nor Yelp have posted any reviews.
I wonder why my elderly friend seems so afraid of what, at her advanced age, is right around the corner (more likely, in the next room). If she has unfinished business, it’s too late; by now she’s forgotten whatever it was. Is it fear of leaving family and friends behind? God loves our loved ones far more than we ever could and He’ll continue to watch over them in our absence. Has she forgotten that we are only temporary residents here? There’s a great deal wrong with our present home but everything is absolutely perfect in the future one. Death, however, is necessary for entrance to it. If she’s afraid of losing her earthly possessions, she should remember that, rather than losing anything when we depart, we gain everything when we’re gone.
The actual moment of death is probably the most terrible and yet the most beautiful moment of our lives. Perhaps my friend’s fear of it is because she chooses to omit that one sentence from her favorite psalm. Whether it’s the valley of death or merely a dark valley, those encouraging words tell us we are under God’s care and safe in His presence when we enter that shadowy valley.
Was the buck’s extraordinary extended visit just a coincidence or was it a gift from God? We’ll never know. It is my understanding, however, that its presence assured both the dying man and his family that the God who knows when every sparrow falls was with him; he would not be making that final journey alone.
Death is not the end of the road; it is only a bend in the road. The road winds only through those paths through which Christ Himself has gone. This Travel Agent does not expect us to discover the trail for ourselves. Often we say that Christ will meet us on the other side. That is true, of course, but misleading. Let us never forget that He walks with us on this side of the curtain and then guides us through the opening. We will meet Him there, because we have met Him here. [Erwin Lutzer]