Through the Darkest Valley

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My late brother Thomas was a Reformed Presbyterian pastor in Singapore. He died many years ago in his early 50s from nasal cancer, leaving a wife and four children. When Thomas was still alive and suffering from cancer, some insensitive person asked if he still believed that God could heal him. I will never forget Thomas’ reply: “I believe God can heal, but God doesn’t have to.”

My brother taught me that our faith and trust in God is not dependent on God’s bounty or “blessings” (as popularly understood). We do not trust God only when things are going well. The flip side of that is trusting God does not necessarily bring us material blessings, either.

Psalm 23 is a beloved psalm for many. We love the promise of how we will lack nothing if the Lord is our shepherd. We want God to lead us to those green pastures and quiet waters. We long to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, enjoying God’s goodness and love all the days of our lives.

Yet sandwiched right in the middle of this psalm is walking through the valley of the shadow of death (v. 4). The God who guides us along the right paths (v. 3) also guides us through the darkest valleys. Following God’s paths does not ensure we avoid trials, suffering, or pain. But it does ensure that God is with us, even in the dark valleys. Therefore, we always have hope that the darkness will end when we eventually climb out of the valley.

In these difficult times with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us may feel like we are in the darkest valley. Due to restrictions, many have lost jobs and financial security. Thousands have lost loved ones to the virus. Front-line health workers are overwhelmed and exhausted, risking their lives daily. Most of us are grieving. Doing the right thing does not mean we won’t suffer in the process. But God will help us get through the valley.

My father died about 10 days after my brother’s death. I think the heartbreak of burying one of his sons was too much for Dad. Those were dark days of grief for my family, especially for Mom. And unfortunately, at the time I was half a world apart in Canada while my family was grieving in Singapore. It didn’t work out for me to travel then, and I would have been too late for the funerals anyway. I visited all of my family and the gravesites months later. But it was difficult to process grief alone. My wife discovered me in my study one evening sobbing uncontrollably.

God knows many have suffered far worse than I have. I know I am privileged and blessed, and I thank God for those blessings. But when I do suffer and walk through the dark valleys, I will still trust Jesus, the man of sorrows acquainted with grief. In Jesus Christ, God knows our suffering intimately. But Jesus also triumphed over death, ensuring that life—God’s resurrection life—has the last word.

Hence, I will confess that God is good, all the time. As one of my favorite worship songs reminds me, “on the road marked with suffering; / though there’s pain in the offering, / blessed be your name. … When the darkness closes in, Lord, / still I will say, / ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Matt Redman, “Blessed Be Your Name”).

About the Author

Shiao Chong is editor-in-chief of The Banner. He attends Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont.

Shiao Chong es el redactor jefe de The Banner. El asiste a Iglesia Comunidad Cristiana Reformada en Toronto, Ont. 

시아오 총은 더 배너 (The Banner)의 편집장이다. 온타리오 주 토론토의 펠로우쉽 CRC에 출석한다.

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Comments

Thanks, Shiao, for sharing your personal experience of tragic hardship and how you survived in spite of intense suffering. I’m hesitant to comment on, especially criticize, a person’s personal experience. But seeing as you took your experience to be a teaching moment for people of our denomination by writing this article, I felt a person is justified to respond.

Your experience of God’s involvement in the Christian’s time of hardship seems rather weak. What I hear you suggesting is that God is under no obligation to react one way or another in times of Christian despair. He can move heaven and earth to come to the aid of someone but is under no obligation to do anything and often doesn’t. Using Covid-19 as an example, you point out the terrible pain that many, even thousands upon thousands, have experienced, with loss of jobs, homes, family members, life and more. Individuals cry out to God, as well as nearly every Christian church on a weekly basis. And yet what do we hear from God? “I’ll be with you in spirit.” That’s a pretty hollow comfort. God has the power to instantly respond to our individual and collective prayers, and even says he will, but doesn’t. He’s under no obligation. That’s not the God of the Bible who in a multitude of instances responds favorably to the prayers of his chosen people, whether in the Old or New Testament.

If your response in this article, Shiao, to objective suffering, is part of your Christian witness, it is no wonder that Christianity is not doing well in our Western society. I think the world’s response to such thinking is to smile behind your back and continue to work on and to develop a vaccine and simply leave God out of the picture. To them, he never was in the picture. And the objective circumstances of people today confirm that. Thanks, Shiao, for trying to make sense of what really doesn’t make objective sense to the human experience.

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