By Mark A. Taylor
I’ve been pondering that oft-quoted phrase in the 23rd Psalm, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. . . .”
I used to think the phrase described only certain people at certain stages of life. When faced with a terminal illness, you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death. When you’ve lost your mother or a good friend, you must walk through that lonely valley. When comforting someone in that valley, you’re in the presence of the shadow of death.
But I’ve decided the phrase really applies to everyone alive on this earth. Because, from the moment we’re born, we’re in the shadow of death.
Nurses in the delivery room scurry to check vital signs to discover if there’s any imminent threat to the infant’s new life.
Mothers read books about childhood illnesses and pester the pediatrician about symptoms they can’t understand.
Fathers worry when they finally hand the car keys to the new teen driver.
Young adults monitor their diets and plan their exercise regimens—all in pursuit of sure ways to delay an early death.
And older adults laugh about their aches and pains and pills and prescriptions, because they don’t want to discuss how the shadow is getting darker and larger as the reality it represents grows closer.
But I don’t mean to be morbid. It’s just that I’ve been forced to think again about death after three golden saints, living nearby but with a worldwide influence, finished their journey through the valley in the last few days.
Alice Wiener died January 17, ending a lifetime of service as a church secretary, youth worker, Bible teacher, and editor. She had been married to Christian minister and Christian benevolent home administrator Paul Weiner for 62 years.
Not long after that, Sherwood Smith, beloved longtime New Testament professor at Cincinnati Christian University, died at age 90.
And then we received word that our friend Marjorie Reeves Miller died after several years of lingering weakness, first at Mason (Ohio) Christian Village and then at two other nursing homes. I had served with her throughout much of her career at Standard Publishing, and I respected her not only for her vigor and leadership but also for her unfailingly positive Christian spirit.
At her funeral service January 30, her family shared personal memories that challenged everyone in the congregation to greater commitment. Just two will tell the story:
Years ago one of her grandsons, a Bible college freshman intimidated by his Introduction to Evangelism class, asked Marge, “How do you share your faith?”
She responded matter-of-factly, “Is there any other way to live?
More recently when she was introduced to an aide who would become her full-time caregiver, Marge asked the woman “Do you know Jesus? He’s my best friend.”
The woman replied, “I talk to him everyday.”
“Then we’ll get along just fine,” Marge beamed.
At Sherwood Smith’s funeral January 28 Jon Weatherly said, “Now Professor Smith is in the presence of the Lord. That, for him I think, is no big adjustment. He had been living so very vigorously in the Lord’s presence for all these many years.”
There’s a goal for any of us living in the shadow. Actually, the shadow is not a bad place. It provides shade and rest, the perfect place for a clear vision of the light. And none of us has seen that light any clearer than when we encountered the witness of these three who have just closed the door on the darkness forever.