When the writer of the 27th Psalm was about to step into the abject darkness of personal adversity, he put on night-vision goggles and encouraged himself with this thought: "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)
When the writer of the 139th Psalm reflected on the nature of his transparent life before God, he spoke as if God had night-vision goggles:
"Whither shall I go from thy spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in hell, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning and
dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, "let only darkness cover me and the light about me be night,"
even the darkness is not dark to thou, the night is as bright as day;
for darkness is as light with thee." (Psalm 139:7-12)
And, when the Apostle Paul considered how he had survived the dark experiences in his own life, and lived to preach the Gospel, it is quite clear to him who turned on the light, and who held his hand:
"For the same God who said "out of darkness, let light shine"
has caused his light to shine within us, to give the light of the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We are no better than pots of earthenware to contain this treasure, and this proves that such transcendent power does not come from us, but is God?s alone. Hard-pressed on every side, we are never hemmed in;
bewildered we are never abandoned to our fate; struck down,
we are not left to die." (2 Corinthians 4:6-9)
Our salvation is in the God who said: "out of darkness let light shine."
In life there is about as much darkness as there is light. As in nature, darkness and light are fairly equally divided. Why are we always surprised, and sometimes dismayed, when our world goes dark? Why are we shocked when life becomes difficult? Our idealized image of life is that it is problem-free, with no dark spots at all. But that is a myth, a universal myth, but a myth no less.
Colors have symbolic meanings in all cultures. For the Romans, white was the symbol of happiness and black of misfortune. In a trial a vote for acquittal was cast with a white stone, for condemnation, a black one. A happy day was marked with a white stone, and an unhappy day with a black stone. According to Pliny the younger, many Romans kept an urn at the door. At the end of a day the Roman would judge his day to have been good or bad. Once decided, the Roman would drop a stone of the appropriate color into the urn. At the end of a year he would empty the urn and sort the stones by color and count them to determine whether his year had been good or bad.
How would the white and dark stones add up in your life if your emptied the urn right now? Most of us would consider ourselves fortunate to have a equal count! The truth is that darkness is a normal as light, and, unless we learn to live creatively with the dark places in life, we are going to be frustrated at least half of the time. We may bridle at Shakespeare?s reminder that the "uses of adversity are sweet", and we may not be able to control what happens to us in life, but thank God, we can be in control of how we respond to what happens to us. When life puts you through a tumbler, basically, you decide whether you come out crushed or polished. The darkness is as normal as the light.
There are some things you will never understand until you see them in the dark. Some of the most treasured wisdom we have come out of some of the darkest places in our lives. Ask anyone to tell you about the most important lessons they have learned, and chances are they will begin to recite a story of sorrow, tragedy, hardship, loss, brokenness, hurt, or confusion. Most of the good things that we know we learned from the darkest days of our lives. I am always shocked when I realize the extent to which almost everything important that I know, I learned from the most tragic and trying experiences of my life. Most of the light in my life came from the darkness.
Over a hundred years ago there was a child by the name of Louis who one day was blinded by a sharp leather working tool while playing in his father?s shop. As Louis grew up, he brooded over the tragic loss of his precious vision. One day, as he sat at a table in that same shop, he was almost overcome with anger and frustration over his blindness. He felt around on the table and took one of the leather tools and a piece of leather; and, in his anger, he began to stab the piece of leather. Louis stabbed and wept until he was exhausted. When he laid the tool down and picked up the piece of leather on which he had been taking out his anger, he discovered that there was a piece of paper under it. He ran his fingers over the piece of paper and found that there were bumps on the paper where he had stabbed, and a light came on behind the blind eyes of Louis Braille. Out of the darkness something dawned on Louis Braille that has benefited every blind person since then. You never really see some things until you see them in the dark ~ until you see them through tears or feel them with your anger and frustration.
Life is difficult for us all. Darkness is a standard part of normal life. Pain is a normal part of life. You will never see some things clearly until you see them in the dark.
The most enlightening experience in all human history came out of the darkest event of all time. The three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, each record a strange phenomenon surrounding the death of Jesus. The last three hours of his life, as he hung dying upon the cross, "There was darkness over all the land." (Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44). This was the darkest deed ever perpetrated by humankind. Even dumb nature closed its eyes. The sun hid its face and the stars refused to shine. "There was darkness over all the land." It was terrible! Yet, out of this darkest hour and darkest deed came the greatest light we have ever seen.
It was as if everything else in the world was blotted out of sight so that this most important event could be seen in its stark reality. God sent darkness so that we might see. We sing a song about Jesus being the "bright and morning star," and He is, but you never really see him until you look for him in the dark.
In his book, The Dilemma of Modern Belief, Samuel Miller tells a delightful and insightful story of a former Munich comedian, Karl Valentin. The curtain goes up on a completely darkened stage, and in this darkness a solitary circle of light from a street lamp comes on. Valentin, with a long and worried look on his face, walks around and around in this circle of light, desperately looking for something. A policeman joins him and asks what he has lost. He said, "The key to my house." They both go around and around the lamp post looking for the key. After a while the policeman asks him: "Are you sure you lost it here?"
"Oh no," said Valentin, "I lost it over there," as he points to a dark corner of the stage.
"Then why in the world are you looking for it here?" asks the policeman.
"There is no light over there," said Valentin.
The important things we have lost in the dark will not be found until we leave the comfortable light and learn to negotiate the dark.
George Shearing, a blind pianist, told of an experience he had in England in the dark days of World War II, during the terrible blitz of London. He was standing on a street corner late one night during a blackout when he heard someone say, "Can you help me across the street?" This blind man, with his finely tuned musical ear, said: "Take my arm," and they crossed the street together. The stranger never knew that he had been helped by a blind man.
Picture those two walking across the street: those two silhouettes in the dark, Shearing in his blindness just a step ahead of the man who had eyes but who could not see in the dark.
This is a good parable of what the church is like at its best. We are never more like God than when we, in our blindness, lead some lost soul through in impenetrable darkness. It is strange how much better we can negotiate the dark spots in life when we are holding on to someone who has learned to see in the dark.
Not long ago I received a telephone call from a man I had never met. He said to me: "I have just learned that I have cancer of the prostate. I have heard that you are a survivor of prostate cancer. Can you talk with me about what it is like?" When we are about to step into some scary dark spot in life, we instinctively look for someone who has learned to see in that kind of dark.
The Bible teaches us that there is no problem or pain through which we may go that Jesus did not also experience. Knowing that he has been there is a source of great comfort to Christians who are in distress. One of the religious folk songs we used to sing in the rural church where I grew up reminded us of the help available when we needed a powerful and an understanding friend. It was entitled: "Now let us have a little talk with Jesus." That may sound a bit simplistic to some, but it has been a saving experience for many people who were very lonely and afraid until they tried it.
You can count on the fact there will be darkness in your life. You may not have been there yet, but you will be. I cannot tell you how or where, but you can count on it. It will come. It is better to learn now not to curse the darkness when it comes. It is a normal part of life, and if you do not learn to see in the dark, you will be blind at least half of the time.
God provides night-vision goggles for those who ask. Sight, or insight, is not reserved for those who deserve it, or who in any way have earned it. It is for those who need it, and who ask for it.