The Shadow of Death

Through the virus outbreak the last couple weeks we have all become aware of something. This awareness is there any time we see numbered statistics about the pandemic. It is there in the background of every photo of health care workers or first responders in their protective gear. It is there as we wait in line to get into a grocery store. It is like a faint specter that drifts across the scenes of our lives. We know it is there, but we often refuse to make eye contact with it. The specter is death. It is always there and it has cast its shadow across every aspect of our lives during this time.

We often try to ignore its existence, but the longer the threat remains, the greater the odds are that we will all come into contact with it somehow. It might come to a friend, a family member or working colleague. We may not personally feel its touch, but most of us will feel its presence as it passes close by. It is an enemy and it is real.

As people of faith how are we to respond to death? We cannot just deny it is there. We are to have faith, and yet how do we balance faith with reality without denying either? Our success in facing our enemy comes by joining two things together. These two are the Word of God and knowledge. The Scriptures give us a lot of information. This information becomes the basis of our faith (Rom 10:17). If we believe the information in the Bible then it can impact us and become the basis for our faith. That does not mean we will like everything the Scriptures say, but it does mean that if we trust God’s Word, then it can become a secure place from which we face this difficult situation. The Bible talks about death and what it says can help us face this specter with confidence. 

What does the Bible say? It says that humans are mortal (James 1:11; 4:14). Our mortality is the result of sin (Gen 2:17; Rom 5:12-14). Death has spread to us all and is an enemy that we have to face (1Cor 15:26). It will one day be overcome (1Cor 15:54), but knowing this does not mean that some people will not still live in fear of its shadow (Heb 2:15). Jesus became human and suffered death. He also came back to life to show that death had no control over the final outcome of His life. Death touched Him but did not control Him. This knowledge can bring us all great comfort. Our lives are limited in their own strength. We are only temporary occupants on this planet for now (1Pet 111-17; Php 3:20). The lifespan of each person here may vary (Ps 90:10). Ultimately how long we each live is in God’s control (Ps 31:15), but there is a future.

A challenge that we face in this season is that we do not know how each of us will be affected by the virus. We lack specific knowledge that helps us anticipate our own future. It is this unknown that can be overwhelming at times, but Jesus came to bring truth to us that can help set us free from the grip of the unknown (John 8:32). This is the knowledge that when joined with our faith can have a positive stabilizing effect on us. Here are some simple words of truth that help bring perspective through this time.

  1. By far the majority of people will make it through this time. The current percentages support that fact, as was also true for previous pandemics.
  2. The health care officials have given us information about how to minimize our chances of contracting the virus. Follow their advice. These are people who are genuinely concerned for our wellbeing.
  3. Don’t take unnecessary risks. True faith does not reside in stupidity. Remember that even Jesus was tempted to recklessly expose His body to dangerous behavior under the deception that God was required to always protect Him. If Jesus could be tempted with this so can we.
  4. Keep your eyes open to what is going on around you (Eph 5:15-16).  This is not a time to go to sleep with our minds and hearts.
  5. We do not know all that lies in the future, but that does not mean we can’t move ahead. The study of Eschatology tells us an important truth. There are things about the future we do not know like the day and hour of Jesus’ return. There are things, however, that we do know like what He wants us to do until that time. Proceed with what we know and leave the rest up to Him.
  6. Don’t let the attraction to this life on earth be the most important thing to you (Matt 10:39; James 4:4).
  7. The lives of God’s people are precious to Him (Zech 2:8; Deut 7:6; 14:2; Ps 135:4). Their deaths are also precious to Him (Ps 116:15). Nothing gets past His eye.
  8. Whether we live or die in this life we can do it for the Lord (Rom14:8).
  9. It is possible that no matter what happens, that we can honor God in both life and death (Php 1:20).
  10. When all our efforts have been expended, and we have done all we can, in the end, we must  commit our lives to the gracious God who will make things work out in eternity (1Pet 4:19). This is our hope even if we don’t see now what will happen. We hope for what is not seen (Rom 8:24-25).

Ps 23:4 says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”  We are surrounded by glimpses of that shadow daily. It discourages many and it could also be disturbing to us as well, except for a very important truth. Our Lord is with us. He has been through this valley before and He knows the way through it for us as well. This is the Shepherd of our souls. He is the one who guides us in this season.