Have you ever been in a situation where it was so dark that “you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face”? I have. I can remember one night in particular when Joice and I were alone in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, in a remote area, in a small house with no electricity. There were no lights outside, the moon was gone, and we could not tell immediately how close we were to each other. It was an eerie feeling—one of complete and consuming darkness. Although such darkness has been compared to the “way of the wicked” (Proverbs 4.19) or to a “meaningless birth” (Ecclesiastes 6.4), neither described our feelings. To us it was just total darkness and somewhat scary.
However, once we went outside and looked up into the sky, we saw a vast expanse of stars. The heavens were full of them, and we remembered that Abram was promised a similar number of uncountable descendants (Genesis 15.5). Their magnitude caused us to say, “You alone are the Lord. You made the skies and the heavens and all the stars. You made the earth and the seas and everything in them. You preserve them all, and the angels of heaven worship you.” (Nehemiah 9.6).
Sometimes, surrounded by such darkness, we realize how insignificant we are: not only not knowing where we are, but realizing that no one else may know either. We are alone in the dark and it can be frightening. That is the way our world started: “In the beginning the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the waters.” (Genesis 1.2) God had to separate the light from the darkness.
There are a lot of feelings about darkness: the Psalmist (91.8) associated darkness with gloom (107.10) mystery, and even the grave (143.3). However, even in darkness the psalmist could not hide from God (139.12) and Jeremiah said we should acknowledge him “before he brings darkness upon you, causing you to stumble and fall on the darkening mountains.” (13.16)
In the village where we lived, the men sometimes went out on hunting or courting expeditions at night. However, they did not like to go on pitch-dark nights (called “inside the dark” in the Kewa language) and, if they did, they carried flaming torches and sang and yodeled through the blackness. They wanted potential enemies or ancestral spirits to know that they were out at night and that they were peaceful.
Sometimes when it was full moon a particular man in the village would go “crazy,” and become what we would call a “lunatic.” In the middle of the night he would beat on a drum and make weird noises. No one tried to stop him because he might be communicating with some spirits and they would be angry. Not only darkness, but also the moon could condition the way a person thought or acted. That may be true in our culture as well.
It seems clear that we need light to help us overcome darkness and this is why Jesus came: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1.5)
C.S. Lewis wrote a small story called “The man born blind,” and Hooper included it in the book he edited, “The Dark Tower and other Stories.” Lewis’s story concerns a man, born blind, but who had an operation that restored his sight. He had heard all his life about “light” and wanted to see it, but he couldn’t, not even when others told him about light bulbs or the sun. Although he now could see, he loved his braille and returned to read from it. He eventually left from his doting mother and came upon a man painting near a quarry and asks the man what he was doing. The artist said he was painting the light and pointed the man to bright clouds arising out of the quarry. The man, perhaps believing that he has at last found “light,” walks to the edge and jumps. That is the end of story and the reader is left to figure out a meaning.
Light is a resounding and all-encompassing metaphor for the glory and presence of God: the word occurs 269 times in The New Living Translation and 263 times in the NIV. Indeed, Jesus said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12)
Jesus is the “light of all mankind” (John 1.4), he shines in the darkness (John 1.5), and can give light to everyone in the world (John 1.9). However, people love darkness more than light because their deeds are evil (John3.19). In fact, everyone who does evil hates the light because it is the light that exposes their deeds (John 3.20). However, if we live by the truth we come into that light and others can see what God has done (John 3.21).
The Bible tells us clearly, “So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:6-7)
What a privilege to be shown the “way, the truth and the life” by the light of Jesus!