The Beauty of Darkness
Several months ago, I went for an early morning run. It was an hour and a half before the sun was going to rise (yes, I am a morning person!) and there was no moon to light the night sky. It was dark … really dark. The neighborhood through which I ran had no street lights and almost none of the houses had exterior lights on. The bits of light my eyes could glean were used to keep me in the middle of the street. I could just trace the center line and I discerned that my best bet was to stay in the middle of the street, away from the curb where I might stumble and fall. Then, as a car would approach, I used that light to guide me to the edge and then back to the center after car had passed. I also found myself listening intently to gauge my surroundings.
It was running through that darkness that I began to grasp the beauty of darkness. I felt so alive as I just ran in that darkness. I didn’t have all the normal things to keep me feeling secure and safe and it stripped me down to nothing. It was beautiful and invigorating because it was just me … no distractions, just simplicity and quiet and purity.
Ancient spiritual writers such as John of the Cross wrote extensively about the fact that God often uses darkness in our lives to draw us to Him. He spoke of a dark night of the soul. Brother Lawrence said, “He sometimes seem to hide Himself from us.” The idea is that He takes away those things that we often rely on for a sense of security and value and control. Even those experiences of Him are often removed. It is in the dark that He frequently does His best work.
But, we usually don’t want to believe it. Often, we think of darkness as the worst of all possible scenarios. As kids (and still sometimes as adults), we are afraid of the dark. The darkness is where we might trip and fall or be blindsided by something we never saw coming.
We experience darkness all the time … the darkness of waiting for the results of a medical test, the darkness of a strained relationship, the darkness of a potential layoff, or the darkness of doubts about the nature of God. The darkness can also be one of not feeling particularly close to God … through no fault of our own. In these situations, we want to get light and get it quickly, but God leaves us in the darkness. It can feel like He’s abandoned us but the truth is that He is at work … deep work of the soul.
In John 9:39-41, Jesus talked about the advantage of being blind, or in other words, being in the darkness. Jesus said:
“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
Jesus used blindness as a metaphor to talk about how we perceive reality and the arrogance that can come when we think we see. It is common to look at our experiences and use them as the judge of what is really going on. Experiences and feelings and circumstances become the evidence for our understanding of life. None of these things are bad but they aren’t always reliable indicators of truth. The advantage of blindness or being in the dark is that a humility emerges that requires a dependence on something more, something deeper than what we can perceive with our eyes. The blind have to rely upon what they can hear, what that feel, what they smell. What the mind can perceive through these other sense gives a much fuller picture of reality than the eyes alone can give.
Spiritually, what we can see (perceive through whatever senses) is not the full picture. Ultimately, in light of the vast spiritual realities around us, we are blind. Learning to truly see means learning to acknowledge this. It is absolutely true that God is nearer to us than our very breath and yet we often are unable to perceive this. We rely upon things like positive circumstances and the lack of trauma in our lives to tell us that God is near but do we really see if we believe that the evidence of His presence or favor is in those things.
Do you see the beauty of darkness? Do you see its potential? Brother Lawrence writes:
If we but knew how much He loves us, we would always be ready to receive both the bitter and the sweet from His hand. It would make no difference. All that came from Him would be pleasing. The worst afflictions only appear intolerable if we see them in the wrong light. When we see them as coming from the hand of God and know that it is out loving Father who humbles and distresses us, our sufferings lose their bitterness and can even become a source of consolation.
Do you see the beauty of darkness? Take a few moments and think about a current situation of darkness in your life. As you bring that to your mind, ask God to shed the light of His love on it. Sit with Him and tell Him that you trust Him. Sit quietly and keep bringing that darkness back to Him … trusting His love and goodness in your life.