The Valley of Baka
We are like pilgrims, and the coronavirus pandemic is our Valley of Baka, our valley of tears (though there will be others). What does it mean to respond in a Christlike manner? By Colin Sedgwick
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:5-7
Do you ever think of your life as a pilgrimage? Some Christians, of course, make a lot of the idea; they even go on literal journeys to places regarded as sacred.
But if life itself is a journey – cradle to grave – then there is a sense in which all of us are on pilgrimage: walking with God through life and looking forward to the day when we will “see Jesus as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Psalm 84 is a song of pilgrimage: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage” (verse 5). We can picture a group of faithful Israelites walking the stony road to “Zion” (that’s a poetic name for Jerusalem) in order to worship God and offer sacrifice in the temple built by King Solomon.
They may have come a long distance, and the journey may have been hard. In particular, they have had to pass through “the Valley of Baka” (verse 6), which seems to be an especially dry and arid place.
Nobody knows whether Baka was a literal physical location, or if it is a poetic reference to the barren experiences of life – the name could be translated “Valley of Tears”, and we can picture those pilgrims perhaps running short of water, perhaps even losing heart and wanting to go back home.
But see what the psalmist tells us: “As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs”. That’s a striking statement! Their experience may be hard; but because of who they are, it seems that they are able to transform the circumstances which are causing such trouble.
One commentator says that they have the kind of faith “which dares to dig blessings out of hardships”. I like that! We who have water at the turn of a tap find it hard to imagine that there are times and places when water has to be dug for. These people don’t give up; they keep going; indeed, “they go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (verse 7).
You will probably see where I’m heading… We are like pilgrims. This coronavirus pandemic is our Valley of Baka (there have been, and of course will be, others). And the question is: Do we have the kind of faith that makes Baka “a place of springs”?
It’s easier said than done. For me as a retired person it’s tempting to see this time as basically a matter of hunkering down and hoping to get through to the end. I can only imagine, almost with a shudder, what it’s like for the front-line health workers, for parents looking after small children, for people living in high-rise flats and unable to get out, for workers whose everyday responsibilities put them in danger, for those who are frail or sick, for business people who cannot see how they can survive economically…
But however severe our situation, God can help us to “dig blessings out of hardships”.
How can we do that, when all around us people are frightened and anxious?
First and foremost, of course, is to renew our faith in God day by day. Through simple, even childlike, prayer we can pour out our hearts to him and plead for the strength we need to tackle whatever the day may bring – to take away our fear and anxiety, and to give us opportunities to bring hope and calm to those we come in contact with.
Beyond that, for most of us the old saying is true: it’s the little things that count. People most in the front line testify how much it means to them if someone takes the trouble to offer just a word of thanks. It costs so little, and it can mean so much!
As my wife and I go out for our daily walk it’s heartening to receive a greeting from strangers we meet. And in this modern world there are so many ways to keep in touch with others we cannot physically meet. Whatever method we use, it’s something simply to do – a few minutes spent in touch could be a life-saver for someone.
If like us you’re retired, the cancelling of normal things frees up time which either we can dribble away or turn to some good use. And what better use could there be than to pray? So is God calling us to develop a ministry of intercession? I suspect that if church buildings were still open, people would be gathering in large numbers simply to pray. Well, we can’t to do that. But God sees and hears even when we are scattered in our homes. We can never calculate the effect of prayer.
This Valley of Baka is grim, no doubt about that. But if we tackle it like those pilgrims of Psalm 84 – if we tackle it in a Christlike way – there is every reason to hope that we will end up better people, our society a better society, our world a better world.
Lord God help us to hold fast to you, to trust even in the face of fear, and to bring the light and love of Jesus to everyone we have contact with. Amen.
Colin Sedgwick is a Baptist minister with many years’ experience in the ministry.
He is also a freelance journalist, and has written for The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, and various Christian publications. He blogs at sedgonline.wordpress.com
Image | Photo by Kristina Tripkovic | Unsplash
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