By, Joe Worsham
I read Psalm 8, Psalm 88 and Psalm 23 in rapid succession and I think this is a really powerful illustration of the maturing of a believer’s faith.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! – Psalm 8:9
In Psalm 8, at first, it is all unweighted, unblemished awe in God’s power and wonder. We see God from a perspective of creation – a newborn. Everything feels new, undefiled, full of hope, joy, and wonderful possibilities. We’re overcome by the glory of God. We sing His praises. Everything in creation points us to Him.
However, as we step forward, into Psalm 88, we are now found in complete despair.
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
in the regions dark and deep. – Psalm 88:6
The Psalmist knows God is there, knows God hears his cry and yet feels so far away from Him. He pleads for miracles in the dark but would rather die than go on. This is the valley of the shadow of death. This feels kind of like the equivalent of the anxiety of our teenage years in terms of growing in our faith. We often feel overwhelmed and hopeless as we discover that life is not always fair, people do not always fulfill their promises, and we do not always live up to our own expectations.
Psalm 23 shows the wisdom and insight that can only come after the valley of the shadow of death.
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. – Psalm 23:4
Psalm 23 would not be possible if the Psalmist had not already walked alongside the Lord through the valley. He knows God’s goodness and he is now less naive than he was in Psalm 8. He has been physically scarred by the world but matured spiritually from experiencing the comfort found by leaning on God’s rod and staff through the dark times.
The perspective the Psalmist takes away from looking back on the valley of the shadow of death is that “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” This is akin to the wise elder who has seen troubles and whose praise is all the stronger. An inspiration to those who are younger in their faith.
Not every christian has walked through a valley of the shadow of death. I know I haven’t yet. But to see how the trials lead to a mature, seasoned faith (vs my naive faith) inspires me to go after God all the more. The valley of the shadow of death looks different when you know what lies on the other side of it.