Later that summer, I was spending time with my grandparents and I was at their pool. As I was enjoying a ride down their slide, a horsefly bit me in the eye socket. In the exact same spot.
Not only did this one hurt, my whole eye and most of the left side of my face swelled up.
30 years later, I can still picture both of those things.
And for years and years after that summer, I had a fear of bees. But not only bees. I didn’t like anything that buzzed and flew. Didn’t matter if I knew that it couldn’t hurt me. When one came near, a feeling welled up in my stomach that told me that I needed to be afraid. It was an emotional and physical reaction.
Fear is a very real thing that each of us encounter in our lives. In a lot of ways, it can define our lives. How do we deal with fear? Do we let fear rule our values and therefore control actions or is there another way?
David in Psalm 23 was telling us something about fear.
David knew, through personal experience, that we all eventually walk through our very own valley of fear. Probably many times more than once. It’s not really even a matter of if but of when.
So you have been there. You will certainly be there. You might be in your valley of fear right now.
So what are you going to do?
So many of us decide that it is too much for us, that it is too hard to do anything other than set up camp right there in that valley.
The valley becomes, not a place of transition and trial, but our home. After enough time, it is amazing what can begin to feel like home to us.
How many of us cower in the presence of our enemies as we wallow in our valley?
How many of our enemies—sorrow, hurt, loss, greed, pride, anger—have we let rule our little fear empire?
How many of us still think that our enemies are people, people usually camped out in their own little valleys of fear?
And it’s during these times that we usually think that we are most alone. Sure, maybe we do some praying for God to magically escape us from this terrible place but what if that is not what is best for us.
Can God really be so cruel as let us languish in this place?
Even worse, can God be so short-sided to maybe even have led us here?
And yet, it is the rod and the staff that guide us. It is the rod and the staff that guide us to the green pastures. They lead us to the still waters.
Could they not have led us to the valley of the shadow of death?
And if they have, if God has, then why? For what reason?
In the story of the Good Samaritan, we are challenged to ask ourselves who our enemies are. But even more than that, what is our responsibility towards people who we must now consider our neighbors no matter what we thought of them before.
As we treat them as God treats them, we notice their suffering. We bind their wounds. We make arraignments for their continued well-being because that is who our Father is and what he requires of us.
We feed them. And here in the Psalm we see a table.
In Christ’s story of the Great Banquet, we are told of another table that is prepared. A table overflowing with good and wonderful things. A table that is eventually surrounded by those, who at first and maybe even second and third glance, we would never expect to be invited to such a place.
A table at which we find the empty seats of those whom we would have been certain to see.
The table in Psalm prepared for us in the presence of our enemies. Why? What sense does that make? A table that we are supposed to sit at and relax at smack dab in the middle of this horrible rotten valley.
Do we feast at the table in their presence so that we can scoff at them or make fun of them? To taunt our enemies with our abundance?
Doesn’t sound much like the God I know.
I think that as much as we would like to think of ourselves sometimes as having a special “in” with the Big Guy so that he’ll hook us up with the good stuff, this is not a table for privilege. It is a table for purpose.
It is a valley where we can begin thinking of our enemies as our neighbors. A place to not simply take pity on people trapped in their fears but to stand next to them. A place where we are able to invite them to this table and share with them the overflowing goodness and mercy that will follow them the rest of their lives.
So go back to why we are lying in this valley in the first place.
I think it’s because God isn’t afraid of the valley. And if the shepherd isn’t afraid of it, why should his sheep be?
All fear is just the corruption of something good. God tells us not to worry about what we are to eat or drink but we don’t believe it, so we fear that we will not have enough. God tells us that the last enemy has been conquered but we don’t believe it, so we fear our death and the loss of those we care about. God tells us that he is love but we don’t believe it, so we fear.
1 John tells us that perfect love drives out fear. In perfect love, there can be no corruption, there can be no fear. Because fear involves punishment.
I wonder if we fear things like loss of security, ill-health, abandonment, worthlessness, because we think those things are punishments from God.
But again, perfect love drives out fear. Love, true love, not fluffy storybook love, is what sustains us in the valley. It is what lets us sit at the table and offer people a place next to us. It is what lets us travel through the valley of the shadow of death with the same confidence we would have if we were lying beside still waters.
Because our shepherd leads us there. And he is not afraid.