Light at the End of the Valley

September 1, 2012

by Maria Fontaine

Have you ever faced something that seemed totally hopeless; you felt like there wasn’t any way out of your difficulties and everything looked lost? Or maybe you’re in one of those places right now where the situation seems impossible and it looks like this is going to go on and on, and there isn’t any hope in sight.

Maybe you seem all alone and feel like no one else is going through such intense, horrific, and painful circumstances, like you’re encircled on all sides with no place to run. You can’t seem to hear God speak to you and nothing seems to indicate that He’s there.

Maybe it would help to remember that there have been some pretty well-known people who have felt the same way—those who experienced great adversity. If you think I’m going to tell you that they slid by basically unscathed with great joy and victory in their hearts, no, I’m not, because that’s not what happened.

Here are a few examples of men in the Bible who suffered incredibly. We are given little glimpses into what they went through, but a few words on a page can scarcely convey the enormity of the struggles and battles that they had to fight.

We all know about Job. It wouldn’t hurt to go back and read the very vivid accounts of what he went through. He was in such anguish and distress that he bitterly blamed God for even letting him be born. He was at the point where he begged God to end his life.

Abraham is another one who could hardly bear the excruciating pain when God asked him to send away his firstborn son, Ishmael. It’s painful to even think about the indescribable agony he went through when he was faced with sacrificing Isaac, his son of hope, his son of promise, the one to carry on the family line, the one to support them in their old age, and the one he loved so very dearly.

I imagine Moses got pretty disheartened (to put it mildly) when the people he was giving his life to help turned against him and became vindictive and critical, constantly finding fault and barraging him with their grievances and assailing him with their verbal abuse. They leveled serious charges against him, repeatedly accusing him of bringing them into the wilderness to kill them, until at one point he cried out to God desperately, saying, “What am I going to do, Lord? These people are getting ready to stone me.”

David lost some of his sons, he lost his kingdom, he lost his health, and he lost a whole series of battles against his enemies. Try to imagine the torment and trauma he must have endured for long periods. You’re probably familiar with some of his feelings of woe and the despair in his writings in Psalms. Listen to this one: “Will the Lord turn away from us for ever? And isn’t He going to be kind to us any longer? Is His unfailing love gone permanently? Has His word come to nothing? Has He forgotten to be compassionate? Is He withholding His tender mercies because He’s angry with us?”[1] It sounds like he was at the end of his rope.

I think Jeremiah must have felt deeply discouraged. How could you have it any worse than this: Very influential people were plotting to kill him. He was rejected, he was mocked and despised, he was thrown in jail, and he was dumped into a well that had no water in it, only deep mud into which he sank.— Thank God, or that would have been the end of him! So there are always things to praise God for. But I have a feeling he must have gone through some major depression over all that, deeper than the pit he'd been thrown into and the mud he was mired in.

And Joseph! Poor Joseph! He must have faced intense discouragement and times of depression; after all, being sold into slavery by your own brothers is not something that you can lightly dismiss. But then, as soon as things began to look up, well, most of you know the story. He was unjustly thrown into prison with no hope of getting out. Hopeless. Helpless. Impossible.

Peter was evidently ready to give up his calling after he denied Jesus. Think about that for a while; what kind of feelings that must have brought with it. Having denied knowing his own Savior, how could he ever want to show his face in public again, much less be trusted as a leader of the early church?

Even Paul, who mostly tried to present his victories in his letters of encouragement to the churches, felt hopeless and despondent at times. Although in 2 Corinthians 4:8 Paul voiced the well-known verse, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed. We are perplexed, but not in despair,” this apparently was in his “good” times, or at least better times. Listen to the other side of the situation, in which Paul said, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.”[2] It just shows that we can still have faith in Jesus even when things are so bad that it seems like it would be better not to even be alive.

These men are some of God’s greats. If they passed through such terrible anguish of spirit in their lives for God, why should we think it strange that God’s children today should have their times of desolation and even despair when they can’t see anything good coming from their lives? They can’t see the rewards. They can’t see the promises. It often just looks like failure.

Everyone goes through the valley of weeping and mourning at some point. David described it as the “valley of Baca,” meaning literally weeping, lamentations—a vale of tears.[3]

The key is that we go through it, and as we do, we can, as the Bible puts it, “make it a well.” It can become a place of refreshing springs.

In the previous two verses, David states that those who are praising God find their strength in Him. In their hearts are the ways of those who, passing through this valley of tears, make it a well.[4] We can tend to equate praising God with something we do when we feel all warm and happy and content, but one thing that all these “men of faith” have in common is that they continued to praise God through their valleys of Baca, their misery and suffering. They weren’t sitting around merrily singing little praise songs. They were in agony.

Sometimes they were enduring such intense suffering or despair that all they could do was cry out for the Lord’s mercy, but even that was a praise because it was acknowledging God’s total control and their faith in His mercy and power to deliver.

Verse 6 in the original text then goes on to tell us a beautiful secret. According to Strong's Concordance, the phrase that the King James translators translated as "the rain also filleth the pools" in the original Hebrew can also be translated as "The Teacher (referring to God, the Great Teacher) overshadows with blessings." What a beautiful interpretation, and how fitting it is.

So as we pass through this valley of tears and suffering and hardships, yet still praising Him, we can make that desolate valley of suffering into a spring of refreshing, and our Teacher overshadows us with blessings.

The water that becomes a fountain of refreshing can turn our journey of life—that would otherwise be gloomy and sad—into joy; turn our mourning into dancing, and give us comfort and beauty.[5] And later when we’ve come through the valley, we can look back with gratitude, realizing that these things have given enrichment and enhancement to our lives. Our Great Teacher will have enveloped us with priceless blessings of spiritual growth and a deeper understanding of Himself, and a heart that comes to resemble His own more and more.

[1] Psalm 77:7–9.

[2] 2 Corinthians 1:8 NIV.

[3] Psalm 84:6.

[4] Psalm 84:4–5.

[5] Psalm 30:11.