It was one of the first passages of Scripture that was hammered into my skull at a young age (thank you, Bible drills at church). It was one of the first passages of Scripture that I was required to memorize. It is one of the most-quoted passages in movies, TV shows, and at funerals. And in the King James Version translation, no less.
And it's due in no small part to that valley. Of the shadow of death (KJV). The darkest valley (NLT). Death Valley (MSG). The one we all, at times, have felt like we walk through.
Here's what's a little amazing about valleys: at the time David wrote this passage, and even as recently as the period of the settling of the American West, valleys were typically a place of comfort. It was where one went to find shade, water, food, or even protection from the elements.
Valleys are usually formed from water running through them or the rushing of the wind. And valleys tend to come in one of two shapes: U or V, which means that they all have an entry point...and an exit point.
We tend to interpret this passage from Psalm 23 (verse 4) about being in the Valley of the Shadow of Death as an allegory for a struggle we have to go through, a burden we have to bear. We (rightfully) see this as a promise from God to see us through whatever is pressing down on us. And sadly, that's about as far as we sometimes let our interpretation take us.
What if we tried to see the valley as something helping to shape us? What if we allowed the Spirit to rush through us (Acts 2:2) to help form us while we are walking in this valley? What if that river in the valley was meant to be "a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Revelation 22:1 NLT), and not something which could drown us?
I'm not advocating that we celebrate the struggle, because - let's be honest - at the time, who REALLY feels like rejoicing? However, for as damaging and painful as we might think the time in the valley might be to us, we can draw what strength we can in the promise that our valley was "intended to harm, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people." (Genesis 50:20 NLT)
Shadows pass. And shadows do not and can not exist without the presence of the sun. So for as much as we are under that shadow, we are also under the Son.