The great promise of Psalm 23 is not that we will be saved from the dark valley, but that the Lord, who is our Shepherd, will remain close beside us even though the darkness might obscure Him from our view.
This June marks five years since Dave became disabled. People sometimes ask me if I know why God is allowing Dave to be incapacitated for so long. The question leaves me—well—stumped! It’s not that I can’t imagine what possible reasons God might have. God’s developing our character. God’s going to use it so Dave can be a better pastor or a better comforter. God’s going to use it to help someone else…
I believe all of those are true, and yet, without the benefit of hindsight, of seeing how God will use it—the answers fall flat. They provide hope for a season, but then days, weeks, months, years become long. Still we meet with a silent God. A God obscured by dark times. What is He doing?
"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."
In the Motherwise Bible study, Author Denise Glenn tells a story about being like that kernal of wheat—how hopeful and precious she felt in the Maker’s hand, and then how dark and lonely life became when she was "buried" in the ground. What was God doing? Why was He abandoning her?
God uses many parables to help us understand. We are building blocks, being built together into a dwelling for God, unimaginable! Built on the "Living Stone," Christ. A costly Heavenly city with walls of precious gold. Gold that is purified by fire, formed by pressure and time and painstaking craftsmanship. As are we.
Or, we are the branches, and God the heavenly gardener, cutting back what was already fruitful (and we ask, "God, this doesn’t make any sense! Wasn’t I doing what you wanted?")—so that it will be more fruitful. Pruning sounds innocuous enough until you look at the extent to which some plants are cut back. Grapevines, for example, are cut to stumps, and afterward look dead, lifeless—what could possibly grow from those? And yet by mid-summer they are filled with lush, tantalizing, abundant fruit.
This has been a year of pruning for me, of darkness, quiet, and not much writing. It’s good to be stumped—to be cut back so far as to have nothing to say, to offer, to do. To have to lie dormant in the soil. To need to be molded by pressure and by fire.
We don’t think it’s good because we look at today, we like the finer things this world has to offer—and we lose sight of God’s character. He’s good when we hurt. He’s near when we can’t hear or feel him. He protects us when darkness obscures.
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."
It feels like the waters sweep over us and the flames burn—and yet they burn only the dross of this life that we are so attached to. The pure gold, the REAL US—this will come forth, shining, beautiful, precious—worthy of being united with God—incomprehensible!
But it’s a done deal, for Jesus, in His own dark valley, said, "It is finished." God calls us holy, righteous, blameless in His sight—and we wonder and worry, how can this be? Imagine, God has us mystified! Yes, imagine, that we must do, must strive to get our minds around what the God of all time and space, of everything and nothing (for even nothing obeyed Him and became something!), is trying to communicate to us. And if we only comprehend a tiny fraction, and help a few others along the way, our time is well spent.
Fall to the ground. Walk through the fire. Be stumped. And then be filled with the rejuvenating, nourishing, incredible life of Jesus who bears fruit through ones such as us.
What is it for? His glory. That’s the easy question! Why does He allow us to partake in His glory? That’s a mystery for the ages—and yet again for His glory.