In the classic allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, we follow the life of Christian as he makes his long and difficult journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Allegorically, the story is about a follower of Jesus and their spiritual life. This connection allows the reader to enjoy a novel while they learn about themself and gain a bit of understanding.
Perhaps the most significant trial Christian faces on his quest is in the valleys: the Valley of Humiliation, and the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
As Christian enters the first valley, he fears for his life and wonders if he should turn back– until he remembers there is no armor on his back. His armor will only protect him if he continues to move forward. This is a hidden reminder for us: we are safe as long as we keep seeking Jesus and do not run farther away from Him.
Christian’s fear is not irrational, for when he is a little ways through the Valley of Humiliation he meets Apollyon, the evil ruler of the City of Destruction. Apollyon tries to convince Christian to turn back, but when Christian refuses, Apollyon begins to scream and yell and remind Christian of all the mistakes he’s made on his journey so far. A battle ensues, and while Apollyon wounds Christian many times, he can not kill him. Christian is finally able to use his sword and Scripture so that Apollyon flees from him. Christian then praises God because he is alive, and he is sent leaves from the tree of life which heal him immediately. We can remember this scene when we are being attacked by the enemy: he wants us to turn back. When we don’t, he discourages us and reminds us of all our failures. If we still stand firm, he will hurt us as much as he possibly can. However– he cannot destroy us. If we believe in and declare Scripture, he will leave us. Scripture wounds him. Keep praising God, and He will heal you.
Sadly, the pain is not over yet. There is still the Valley of the Shadow of Death, a worse place than the Valley of Humiliation, darker, narrower, close to hell, solitary; but Christian must walk through it, because the way to the Celestial City is through it. Christian continues to walk, but barely. He hears whispers of blasphemies, thinking they sprung from his own mind; he can’t sway to the right or left or he will fall; he can barely see. Christian has almost perished from sheer pain, when he hears the voice of another in the valley declaring a promise, Scripture. This voice is Christian’s encouragement, and he survives the valley. Looking at it from a distance after he clears it, he sees that his imagination had nothing to do with the danger: it was real, all of it. This is a place we will all walk, as well, if we do not turn back. We must walk through it, because Heaven is on the other side. It’s painful and dark, and it’s all dangerously real, but take comfort! You are not the only one to walk there. Claim Scripture and you will make it through the valley.
This experience, for Christian, was not simply necessary but faith-building. Whenever he endured more hardship on his journey, he would remember the valleys and say, “I survived that. Jesus kept me safe there. He’ll save me here, too.” The valley is a painful place we have no choice but to walk through, but we will survive and gain strength for the rest of our lives. Keep walking, keep declaring, keep hoping.