“Though I should pass through the valley of the shadow of death”
In these dark times under the dangerous action of Covid-19 a mantle of fear and anguish extends over our lives.
In these dark times under the dangerous action of Covid-19 a mantle of fear and anguish extends over our lives. We live existentially weary, because of the loved ones we have lost, because of the threats of being contaminated, and even more because we don’t see when it will all end. What will come next?
A pious Israelite went through the anguish table and left us a picture of his situation in the famous Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” In it there is a verse that well expresses our situation: “Though I should pass through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear nothing, for you go with me”.
Biblically, death is to be understood not only as the end of life, but existentially as the experience of profound crises such as severe life-threatening, fierce persecution by enemies, humiliation, exclusion, and devastating loneliness. It speaks then, of descending into the hells of the human condition.
When we say in the Christian creed that Jesus descended into hell, we mean that he experienced extreme loneliness and absolute abandonment, even by his Father (cf. Mk 15:34). He effectively passed through the valley of the shadow of death, the hell of the human condition. It is consoling, then, to hear the words of the Good Shepherd: “Fear not, I am with you”.
Our great novelist João Guimarães Rosa in Grande Sertão:Veredas observed well: “living is dangerous”. We feel expelled from the garden of Eden. We are always trying to build a possible paradise. We live making risky journeys. Threats lurk everywhere. And at this moment with the virus, like never before.
No matter how hard we try, and how well societies organize themselves, we can never control all the risk factors. Covid-19 has shown us the unpredictability and our vulnerability That is why the human journey is dramatic and sometimes tragic. In the end, when it comes to securing our lives, we are forced to entrust ourselves, beyond medicine and technology, to a Greater One who can lead us “to green pastures and quiet springs,” to the Good Shepherd God. This trust overcomes hopelessness.
Let’s widen the horizon a little: great drama weighs upon the future of life and the biosphere. Thousands of species are disappearing because of human greed and negligence. The increasing warming of the planet together with the scarcity of drinking water may confront us with a dramatic food crisis. Millions of people may be displaced in search of survival, threatening the already fragile political and social balance of nations.
Here we must invoke once again the Shepherd of the universe, the One who has power over the course of time and climate to create opportune situations and arouse a sense of solidarity and responsibility in the peoples and heads of state.
Today what destroys our joy of living is fear. It is the consequence of a type of society that has been built in the last centuries based on competition and not on cooperation, on the will to accumulate material goods, on consumerism, and on the use of violence as a way to solve personal and social problems.
What invalidates fear and its sequels is the care for each other, especially now, so as not to be contaminated by the virus and not to contaminate others. Care is fundamental for us to understand life and the relationships between all beings. Without care, life is not born or reproduced. Caring for someone is more than managing their interests, it is getting affectively involved with them, caring for their well-being, and feeling co-responsible for their destiny. For this reason, everything we love we also care for and everything we care for we also love.
Caring is also the anticipator of behaviors so that their effects are good and strengthen coexistence.
A society that is governed by care for the Common House, the Earth, care for the ecosystems that guarantee the conditions of the biosphere and of our life, care for the food security of every single human being, care for fresh water, nature’s most chosen good, care for people’s health, especially for the most deprived, care, caring for the spiritual environment of culture, so that everyone can live a meaningful life, experience and welcome limitations, aging, and the passing of death without major drama, this caring society will enjoy the peace and harmony necessary for human coexistence.
It is comforting, in the midst of our current tribulations, threatened by Covid-19, to hear the One who whispers to us: “Do not be afraid, I am with you” (Psalm 23) and through Isaiah assures us: “Do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, yes, I will support you in the palm of my hand” (Is 41:10).
In this way, our personal life takes on a certain lightness and, even in the midst of risks and threats, it retains a serene youthfulness as we feel that we are never alone. God walks in our own walk as the Good Shepherd who takes care that “we lack nothing”.
- Leonardo Boff is a theologian and philosopher: The Lord is my shepherd: divine consolation for human helplessness, Orbis Books, 2013.
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