From the soldier on patrol in an active war zone to the timid individual “afraid of his own shadow,” we all face dark valleys in some parts of our lives – even if they are only in our memories. King David’s words in Psalm 23 have been a help to those going into the dark valleys for thousands of years, but we can sometimes miss their point.
If you have ever seen devotionals or other religious writings urging us to “take God with you into the valley,” you will perhaps know what I mean. Well intentioned as this approach is, it can have the unintended consequence of reducing God in our minds to a kind of spiritual good luck charm – a token we feel we must have with us for the sake of survival. But the truth is, of course, we don’t need to take God into the dark valley – the One who is everywhere is already there. We see this in the words of David:
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:7-12).
These verses from Psalm 139 dovetail perfectly with those from Psalm 23. David is not saying “Where can I hide from your spirit?” He is asking, rhetorically, “Where can I possibly go where you are not already there?” In the same way, “Surely the darkness will hide me” does not mean “I can hide from you in darkness,” but an honest admitting of anxiety in the form of “What if God does not see me in the dark valley?”
David knew the answers to these rhetorical questions. He had been in the dark valley – numerous times. He had cried out from the darkness around him enough times that he knew he would be heard. We can learn the same trust, too. We needn’t ever feel we are trying to contact a distant God – like someone radioing or calling from a signal-dead spot. God is there in the dark valley as much as anywhere. Notice David’s words again: “In my alarm I said, 'I am cut off from your sight!' Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help” (Psalm 31:22). All we have to do to establish contact is to speak to Him, and if we do, He will respond.
So we need not think that we have to take God with us into the dark valleys of our lives. The good news is, He is waiting to hear from us there, waiting to be with us there just as much as He is anywhere. And, as David wrote, there is no valley dark enough to hide us from Him, no valley dark enough to block Him from helping us. We need not feel we must somehow take Him into the valley – He is already there.