I had the privilege of preaching through Psalm 84 this past Sunday with my faith family at Westwood. A significant portion of the Psalm offers the perspective of the people of God making what many believe to be a festive pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. The completion of this journey offered the opportunity for the people of God to gather together in the courts of the Temple to worship God in his presence. The beautiful language of this Psalm causes the reader to consider the loveliness of God’s presence, as well as the incredible privilege it is to abide in it.
This journey was not an easy one for the pilgrims to make, which is made clear by v. 5-7:
Blessed are those who strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.Psalm 84:5-7
Along the way the pilgrims must travel through “the Valley of Baca.” Commentators are divided on whether this is an actual place or intended as a word picture. The Hebrew term baca refers to the Balsam Tree, one that grows in desolate places and oozed a resin that resembled tears. The term is also close to the Hebrew verb meaning “to weep.” Either way, the image is of a difficult passage through a desolate place.
As the pilgrims travel through the Valley of Baca, the Scripture tells us that because their strength is found in the Lord, they make those desolate places of weeping a “place of springs” as they go “from strength to strength” with the confidence that they will complete their journey and appear before God in Zion.
This Psalm presents the deepest longing of every human heart, the very reason we were created: the abiding enjoyment of the presence of God with the people of God.
The Temple as the symbolic place of God’s presence in the Old Testament foreshadows how humanity would experience God’s presence as his grand story unfolds. It prefigures God making his dwelling place with sinful man as the God-man, the Word became flesh. It prefigures the Church as the dwelling place of God, both individually and corporately. Finally, it prefigures the new city that will be established upon Christ’s triumphant return and his once-for-all eradication of sin, where God’s presence will dwell with his people in unfettered communion for eternity.
This Psalm also prefigures the journey of present-day pilgrims as we march through the reality of this broken life with our hope fixed on that end. As we journey, we are well acquainted with the Valley of Baca, or the valley of weeping. But we also know what it is like to move from strength to strength with the confidence of God’s abiding presence and of the promises in his Word. He continues to supply the nourishment we need as we face each valley.
As I have watched the events unfold over the last week in the wake of the death of George Floyd, I have thought a lot about this passage, but within that context. Here are some of those thoughts, laced with some questions that I must admit remain unanswered.
Although we all experience the valley of weeping in our lives, our experiences are not all the same.
I have experience in the valley. I know what it is to hurt, to grieve, to mourn. That is a human experience. But I am reminded this week that those around me whose skin has a darker shade than my own have experienced life differently than I have. They have and continue to experience a valley that I simply cannot understand. Although we all have felt pain and faced difficulty, I must not presume to understand someone else’s valley(s) based only on the ones from my own life.
This is why the people of God should be willing to listen. I am trying to learn how.
One of the refreshing aspects of the believer’s experience in the valley is the comfort of others.
I love how the Psalm says that the pilgrims “make it a place of springs.” What a beautiful picture of the presence of God in the lives of the people of God. When I am in the valley I need brothers and sisters there with me. I need to know that they are there. I need to know that they are going to battle with me–for me. They do this by speaking God’s Word into my life, reminding me of the promises therein. They do this by praying for me, truly interceding for me. They do this by just being present and letting me know I am not alone.
This is why the people of God must be present. We must be willing to enter into the valley that others are experiencing. We must work to make the local church a welcoming place for all weary pilgrims.
The only hope for persevering through the valley is the hope that is anchored in the end that Jesus will bring.
No matter what I do I can never truly and fully know the experience of the valley that darker skinned folks know first-hand. But Jesus knows. He is a faithful High Priest who is able to sympathize fully with every single one of us. He sees you. He hasn’t only experienced what you face, he has taken all of the ugliness, hatefulness, and evil of racism upon himself on the cross. And he drank every drop of God’s wrath for it and all other sin in making atonement for us there. His resurrection from the dead offers the exclamation point to racism’s–and all of sin’s–ultimate demise. Racism’s days are numbered.
One of the truths that grieves my heart is that racism will never be completely erased here in this life. This world is broken. But that shouldn’t keep us from working toward that end. And we can do that because we as believers know what THE end that Christ will bring will be. Even in saying that, though, I confess that I do not know all of the solutions. I do, however, know the remedy.