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~ Shadows of Death ~

You are probably acquainted with Charles Dickens’ classic, The Christmas Carol. Recall how Scrooge pleaded with the spirit of his future, asking, “Tell me. Are these events to come, or are they shadows of what might be?”

We do not appreciate how much of our perceived reality are truly shadows of what is not perceived by our physical senses. The shadow of a large truck cast over my vehicle as we both travel down a highway is not threatening so long as the truck and my vehicle maintain their space. The truck’s shadow may cover me before I see the reality that causes the shadow. I may never see the truck, but I know it’s just behind me.

We live in a world of shadows. All we see and feel as reality, the sunlight bathing the forest, winds caressing tree branches, or the rumbling of thunder are only shadows of their sources that are not perceivable without the vision of faith.

How interesting that the popular Psalm 23 speaks of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” rather than “walking through the valley of death.”

The popular saying, “He’s scared of his own shadow” has some validity in the lives of many. Shadows, however, have no power once we see them for what they are. Some of us, however, see shadows as reality. To those that do, the shadows of death are equivalent to death itself.

Jesus proclaimed His people to be “the light of the world.” Turn your back to that light and you will see only your shadow at your feet. Don’t mistake it for you! (Some do, just as they mistake their mirror reflections as reality.) The shadow testifies to the light and owes its existence to that light. Should the light grow dim, so does the shadow.

God bathes us in sacred shadows:
“How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 36:7).

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).

“I have put words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand” (Isaiah 51:16).

“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me” (Psalm 17:8-9).

And what about the duties of our priests and ministers? “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven” (Hebrews 8:5a).

Shadows of death and of life abound. As Psalm 23 declares, we need not fear the shadows of death. We are to embrace the shadows of life.

As a child, my friends and I would play with our shadows. We would stomp on them, try to escape them, and have fun trying to capture each other’s shadows by holding one another down. Of course, such play was possible only with the sun beaming its radiance upon us.

Death cannot cast a shadow unless it possessed some light. The light it possesses calls our attention to our mortality and our faith in living beyond that. Indeed, we need not fear its shadow, however intimidating its presentation.

Shadows sometimes scare some people. But shadows cannot harm us. We are called to look beyond the shadows towards what generates them. “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Colossians 2:17).

Thus we have reality versus the shadows of reality, the two not to be confused. Reality is “found in Christ.” I am not surprised. I am delighted, consoled, and energized by both the reality and the shadows of reality. Furthermore, I am challenged with the discipline of turning my back to the shadows and toward the light that generates them. When I do that, I stare right into the eyes of Christ. Upon that gaze, I can only fall prostrate before Him and pray over and over, “Be merciful to me, a sinner.” He has and will continue to be.

And so we walk through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.

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