A wagon train reached the top of a mountain pass, and was prepared to descend into the valley below. One man of the party turned for one last look at the valley they had just left, and waving his hand with a gesture of great relief, cried, “Goodbye Death Valley.” This wagon train was composed of the now famed “49ers” who, with their families, had sought a short-cut to the alluring gold fields of California, and had wandered into the now famed Death Valley where they endured terrible hardships in that barren desert of unendurable heat. This was how Death Valley got its name. The group that was able to escape from that furnace of heat were much fewer in number than those who entered, for that valley was dotted with the graves of many who perished under the searing, merciless rays of the sun that sometimes raises the temperature to 134 degrees Fahrenheit, and no person can long remain in that heat without damage to his system. There is no available information as to how many persons have lost their lives in that area.
On a recent trip to California, circumstances permitted me to visit that valley. Of course I did not go during the summer months. It was early December, and the weather at that time of the year was reasonably comfortable, and a trip at that time of the year involved no risks. The scenery was amazing! It would be difficult to describe the grandeur of the varicolored hills and mountains, and the weird and fascinating views all but impoverish one’s vocabulary, if a description was attempted orally. Fortunately, my 35MM camera with a roll of colored film pictured it far better than speech could do.
At one point called Bad Water, we reached the lowest point on the North American continent, 274 feet below the sea level, and from that point on a clear day one can see towering, snow-capped Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental United States. My first view of the valley greatly deceived me, as the alkali flats presented the appearance of a shallow lake. This appearance rapidly dissipated as we descended lower into the valley. One ghost town, Rhyolite, presented a scene of utter desolation. Men consumed with a thirst for gold, braved the terrible heat of this desert, and recklessly built houses and even a railroad that, in a few years was abandoned to the mercy of the elements.
After a tasty and nourishing meal at Furnace Creek Ranch, we had a couple of hour’s leisure to examine the museum, and the immediately surrounding country. Of particular interest were the famed “Twenty Mule Team Borax” wagons that were used to haul borax to points where it could be shipped to factories.
While there I meditated much as to the application of the scenery to the facts of Life, Death and the Hereafter. Since Adam’s grievous sin in Eden all of his posterity have been faced with the grim reality of death. The stern sentence of an offended God was “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return”—Genesis 3: 19. Four thousand years later, the apostle Paul stated the solemn, undeniable truth, “And as it is appointed unto man to die, but after this the judgment”—Hebrews 9:27. Today every son and daughter of Adam’s lost and fallen race faces the inevitable experience of death. “Wherefore as by one man (Adam) sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”—Romans 5:12. It has been estimated that at least 60 billion people have lived on earth up to the present. All of them physically sleep in the dust of the centuries that are forever past. How many unnumbered billions may yet enter the dark tombs of death we cannot know; but this old world which we call “the land of the living” is in reality, the land of death. Satan once stated “all that a man hath will he give for his life”—Job 2:4, and in so stating he expressed the common desire of every normal person to maintain life at any cost. Man’s tenacious hold on life, even amid the most unfavorable circumstances, has been the wonder of the ages. Old age with its cruel infirmities does not lessen man’s desire to remain in the land of the living. Few indeed are those who willingly and gladly relinquish their hold upon the cords of life, and yet all face the grim reality that “death is the lot of all.” No question ever penetrated the mind of man that held greater interest than the question as to what will death bring. Even though man knows that death is inevitable, yet instinctively he shudders at the thought of leaving this world to try the realities of that which is to come. The valley of death, for many centuries, had been shrouded with the dark curtain of uncertainty. To the untaught and unsaved, Death’s valley is filled with unnamed, inexpressible terrors. The agnostic tries to comfort himself that he faces only “the dreamless silence of the tongueless dust.” or that death is an eternal sleep. But even the prospect of what he believes to be “eternal oblivion” does not dim the fact that they would gladly avoid death’s dark shadows.
In the very center of California’s Death Valley the traveler finds accommodations either at Furnace Creek Ranch or Furnace Creek Inn. The latter place caters to the wishes of the wealthy. Every luxurious convenience and means of physical pleasure and comfort is found there.
At the Ranch any ordinary traveler or tourist can be refreshed, and sheltered with a maximum of comfort. Man has wrought wonders in making that arid, barren place habitable. The Valley has, in a large measure been robbed of its terrors: especially is this true in the late fall and winter seasons of the year. Instead of a valley of death, it has through man’s ingenuity become a place of pleasure and comfort.
Since Christ passed through the Valley of Death, it too has been robbed of its terrors. Jesus conquered death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Instead of the valley of death being a place of terror, it has now become a beautiful avenue that leads to endless light and eternal pleasures. Truly Jesus has “delivered them who through fear of death were all their life- time subject to bondage.” because he tasted death for every man”—Hebrews 2:14, 15. What a wonderful change!
The blanched cheek that once faced death with the fear of the unknown, is now rosy with a glorious hope of the future. The terrors of death have been turned into the hope of Tomorrow. Instead of shrinking from Death’s cold hand, we lovingly grasp it to walk through the temporary darkness into the eternal light of Heaven’s glory. This is the hope of the Christian. We may often be called upon to stand by an open grave, and watch with tear-dimmed eyes as the earthly form of a loved one is laid gently to rest in the bosom of Mother earth. We say not “Goodbye, forever,” but “Good- night ’till the Morning breaks, and the shadows flee away.” For we sorrow not as others which have no hope, but believing with positive assurance that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him”—I Thessalonians 4:13,14.
Once I was in a vast crowd that filled to capacity a large church building. That crowd was hushed and tearful as before us was a flower covered casket containing the form of a lovely young woman. Most regretfully her life ended while yet it was noon, and her large family of heart- broken relatives wept unashamedly as the services opened. Sweet-voiced singers in muted tones gave utterance in song to those most beautiful words– There’s a land that is fairer than day; and by faith we may see it afar- for the Father waits over the way, to prepare us a dwelling place there.” This was a scene that in general has transpired so many times in every community; but this one was much different. As the singers began their song of spiritual comfort, the grey haired Mother of the deceased lifted up her voice, and in calm tones sang the song to its melodious end. That mother’s sorrow was as deep and poignant as any mother’s could be, yet the welling up in her heart of the glorious hope of the resurrection dried her tears and calmed her grief-stricken heart! What a wonderful hope! Listen! “Let not your heart be troubled: Ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. . . I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may be also”—Jesus. With an unshakable faith in Christ, who for us walked gladly and willingly through Death’s dark valley, we can say with the Psalmist “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
We write these things to you because it would grieve us deeply if you should be required to go down to the grave “having no hope, and without God in the world.” In Christ Jesus, who is our hope, we can have the full assurance of faith as the evening shadows swiftly lengthen over the fields of life, and the chilling winds of death blow toward us from that cold shore of eternity. Be prepared for the certain call of death by surrendering your life in humble obedience to Christ. This is the desire, the hope and the prayer of one who cares for your soul. A soul that has entrusted it’s future into the hands of the sin-forgiving Christ, will find no fears on the brink of the grave, nor will there be any terrors in the valley.
Christ is reigning upon the throne in the highest heavens, and no power in earth or Hades can dethrone this all-conquering Prince of Peace. His reign shall continue till every foe is conquered, and “the last enemy to be destroyed is death”—I Corinthians 15:25. When death and hades have surrendered its very last victims, then the unnumbered redeemed of all ages of the past can sing in rapture, “Death is swallowed up in victory! O death where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”—I Corinthians 15:54-55.
The lost Eden will be more than restored, for that Old Serpent, the devil who was responsible for the entrance of death into the world, will be eternally removed from all contact with the creatures of God; and then forever, through the unending ages of eternal bliss, the ransomed of the Lord shall dwell in perfect peace and joy. “Goodbye, Death Valley!”
~ Roy Loney