Bart Millard penned a megahit in 2001 when he wrote, “I Can Only Imagine.” The song pictures how amazing it will be to be in Christ’s presence. Millard’s lyrics offered comfort to our family that next year when our seventeen-year-old daughter, Melissa, died in a car accident and we imagined what it was like for her to be in God’s presence.
But imagine spoke to me in a different way in the days following Mell’s death. As fathers of Melissa’s friends approached me, full of concern and pain, they said, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
Their expressions were helpful, showing that they were grappling with our loss in an empathetic way—finding it unimaginable.
David pinpointed the depth of great loss when he described walking through “the darkest valley” (Psalm 23:4). The death of a loved one certainly is that, and we sometimes have no idea how we’re going to navigate the darkness. We can’t imagine ever being able to come out on the other side.
But as God promised to be with us in our darkest valley now, He also provides great hope for the future by assuring us that beyond the valley we’ll be in His presence. For the believer, to be “away from the body” means being present with Him (2 Corinthians 5:8). That can help us navigate the unimaginable as we imagine our future reunion with Him and others.
For hope, read Life After Loss at discoveryseries.org/cb131.
David isn’t the first to use the shepherd-sheep metaphor. Hundreds of years before, Jacob referred to God as his shepherd (Genesis 48:15). Later, the prophets too used this metaphor (Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:12, 31).
Psalm 23 is undeniably the best-known psalm. We traditionally view it with the assuring and comforting picture of the Lord as the Shepherd-Pastor. But in the ancient Near East, the shepherd metaphor is also used to denote the Shepherd–King who provides for (vv. 1–3) and protects His people (vv. 4–6). Other psalms also speak of God as a shepherd leading His people (28:9; 78:52–53; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3).