As a soccer fan, it has been exciting these past few days to watch the kickoff of Euro 2012, arguably the top soccer event in the world after the World Cup. National teams from all over Europe played down to the top 16 teams, and then those 16 teams were put into four groups for tourney action. For those who don’t follow international football, when national teams gather for international soccer tournaments, the groupings are done in a blind draw and, inevitably, there is always one group that is heavily stacked from top to bottom. One group where any of the four teams would easily be the favorites in any other group, but are now forced to wage a war of attrition to survive the group stage and get into the knockout stage. This group is referred to as the “Group of Death.”
This year’s Group of Death is Group B, boasting four of the best teams in the world—Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, and Portugal. Someone will survive the Group of Death, the question is whether or not they will have anything left for the rest of the tournament.
In the midst of the normal challenges of living life in a fallen world, all of us will, at times, also face challenges that are not normal. The mountains that seem too hard to climb. The challenges that seem to be overwhelming, unfair, and impossible. When facing those “Group of Death” situations, the first understanding we must embrace is that we simply are not adequate for the trials we are confronting. The good news, however, is that, whether the challenges of life are great or small, we do not face them alone. We have a Shepherd who cares for us, loves us, and lifts us in the dark days of life. As the most beloved psalm in the Hebrew hymnbook says: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).
“Group of Death” may be journalistic hyperbole, but the “valley of the shadow of death” is very, very real. Because death is inevitable, along with the overwhelming pains and heartaches that accompany it, it is marvelous to know that even in that valley of death we are not alone. In the darkest moments of life and death, the Shepherd of our hearts never leaves us, never forsakes, and never forgets us. We need not fear . . . ever. He is with us.
Bill Crowder, Sports Spectrum Chaplain