~ Darkness Isn't Always A Bad Thing ~
Throughout the Scriptures, and other genres of literature, the metaphor of light is typically associated with goodness, wisdom, and enlightenment. Darkness usually connotes evil, ignorance, and death.
But not always. Light may shine from evil, as we are warned that “Satan masquerades as an angel of light.” A spirit of darkness may present as a kind purveyor of enlightened wisdom. The darkness of those who have been spiritually reborn is different than that of those who have not.
To be aware of that opens ourselves to be watchful for the sacred core of some kinds of darkness. Then rather being plunged into fear and despair, we may find hope, encouragement and holy wisdom. King David asserted he would not sleep or go home until he found a dwelling place for the Lord. (Ps. 132:3-5). While most interpretations apply this to the building of the temple, we could pledge the same when we find ourselves groping in oppressive personal, emotional and spiritual darkness.
The Psalter is rich in observations that teach us about the sacredness of the dark. There is the pondering of the night: “When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted” (77:2, NIV). In 81:7, God tells His people He rescued them from their distress and answered them out of the darkness of a thundercloud.
In response to another (of many) distress calls, this remarkable image of God is presented: “He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet… He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him – the dark rain clouds of the sky” (18:9,11, NIV).
The darkest of conditions is hell itself. Yet “if I make my bed in the depths [of Sheol, Hebrew for hell], you [God] are there” (139:8b, NIV). Then the profound proclamation: “for darkness is as light to you [God]” (139:12b, NIV).
Now we are taught to see as God does, having “The mind of Christ.” Our dark times are precious and sacred enough to be recorded in the heart of God: “Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” (56:8, NIV).
So when is darkness seemingly but not really evil? David describes an experience most of us share: “When I felt secure, I said, ‘I will never be shaken.’ O Lord, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed” (30:6-7, NIV). David was “on top of the world,” as we could put it, feeling invulnerable, unshakable. Bad, though common, mistake. Our security lies only in God, not ourselves. God didn’t leave David. He just hid His face in the shadows, to David’s dismay. Elsewhere in the Psalter is the reason for divine darkness: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees” (119:71, NIV). “You, O God, tested us, you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance” (66:10-12, NIV).
Using fire and water, the biblical refiner of silver ore must keep a precise vigil to extract pure silver without destroying it by oxidation. A clear reflection from the silver was the test for its purity. We are to be clear reflections of God’s face. The refiner’s face is hidden by impurities. Thus Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
“Even in the darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man [person] (112:4, NIV). And what brings on this dawning of light from the core of darkness? As noted earlier, our watchfulness for God: “Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn” (57:8, NIV). By awakening our souls to the presence of God in the darkness of hell, we awaken the dawn of His light, clouded by the dark storm clouds. Purified from our ego dross, we can reflect the divine light and truly understand “darkness is as light.” By “pondering in the night,” we can further see that dark and light are opposites only in the grammar of human language, not in the realms of spiritual wisdom and mystery. Elihu tells the dark shrouded, suffering Job, “There is no dark place, no deep shadow, where evildoers can hide” (Job 34:22, NIV).
Going back to David’s shattered security on his mountain when God hid His face (30:7), he prays, “Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me; O Lord, be my help” (30:10, NIV). David’s ecstatic response is, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth [of mourning] and clothed me with joy, that my heart [literally “glory”] may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever” (30:11-12, NIV). Notice the shift from the joy of a “mountain top experience” to a joy and gratitude that extends into eternity, passing from a temporary earth-bound security and happiness to an everlasting heavenly joy. This suggests the light previously experienced from the mountain pales to the light of God’s hidden face emerging from David’s darkness.
Emerging from our dark times doesn’t necessarily mean restoring to our eyes the light we once knew. Knowing God is in that darkness enables us to navigate through it in a manner that Christ promised, stepping on creatures of the night that sting us fatally, scorpions of pride, self-reliance, and illusionary security. As our awakened souls “wake up the dawn,” the after glow of emerging light is not familiar but new and different. We joyfully blink through it recognizing the expanse of the eternal in its brilliance. And we know we will be giving thanks for it eternally.
This grace requires "new wine skins" and those dark nights are times to make bigger ones in anticipation of the dawn when "all things are made new." Just as our "temptations shall not exceed our ability to endure them," the graces cannot exceed our capacity to receive them. "Let it be done according to your faith," and "faith is the substance of the unseen" that will be revealed. Faith is not invoked in the security of the mountain top. When our souls "cry out of the depths," and our yearnings grow strong and consuming, faith then shines like a beacon in our "valley of the shadow of death." Our hearts are then prepared to receive what they previously could not hold or even imagine.
It is a response to our prayer, “May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as in heaven.”
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © May 10, 2003
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