As a child I was afraid of the dark. I'm pretty sure there was a stretch of months that I woke my parents up every night because I was afraid. My room was just too lonely and too quiet. My thoughts were left to wander and often landed in scary places. My recollection is that they resorted to bribing me, but the fear was so strong that no bribe was worth fighting the fear on my own. Now as a parent myself, who has sometimes been subjected to sleep "water-boarding", I now know how truly awful it was for all of us.
As I got a little older there were places that just felt too creepy to walk through without turning the light on. You know, places like the basement, and the bathroom (ahem, afraid of my own reflection). I knew that it was me in the mirror, and I was pretty sure the basement was safe, but it didn't keep my heart from beating a little faster.
When I became an adult I was able to overcome the fear of the physical darkness, but there was another kind of darkness that I ran away from. That of sin (mine yes, but especially others who were harmed by sin), and loneliness, and hardship and illness. It came when watching the news and seeing a world that was falling apart, I just turned off the television and shut it out. It came in moments of quiet that I filled with television, and the noise of life so I didn't have to experience loneliness. It came when I watched loved ones suffer through illness, so I pulled back a little. Were people suppose to land in these places that felt dark?
My understanding of the Bible echoed this as well. Growing up I learned that Jesus is the Light of the World, that he is a light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it, and that I should be in the light as he is in the light. I even had catchy songs to remind me that dark=bad and light=good, thanks to DC Talk. I didn't want to be in the darkness in any way, shape or form.
The problem is that despite my best efforts, I have found myself in dark times both physically and spiritually. Darkness seems as unavoidable to people as nightfall. Sometimes God has felt far and too quiet and once again I am in that lonely place where my thoughts landed in scary places.
Sometimes it was my own selfish decisions that landed me in difficult places, but often it was things that seemed out of my control. We live in a world so tight with tension that you couldn't turn on the television or walk through your city without seeing brokenness. All around us crime comes so close that you struggle to feel safe. Not even kids are safe from illness. Relationships can be so difficult. To be honest I felt a little stuck.
If the goal is to always be in light, how were you suppose to survive in a world that had darkness creeping ever closer. The only options seemed to try to claw my way out or pretend that it wasn't actually that dark.
In reading Exodus 20, I found a time that the Israelites encountered darkness that has brought me a lot of hope and comfort.
Did you catch that? "Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was." I know that the circumstances weren't identical, but I had never thought about God being in the darkness.
I still have a hard time getting my head around the idea that God was and is in the darkness and that he invited Moses to join him there. This darkness is translated as thick darkness, or dark darkness so it wasn't like it was just a shadow. It was scary. The Israelites were terrified. They wanted to run, or hide or at least have someone else encounter it for them. I had never thought of God being in the darkness and was completely intrigued, so started asking questions and looking for answers.
After a conversation with my family I was reminded of the term the Dark Night of the Soul, that comes from a poem written by St. John of the Cross, that explains a soul's journey from distraction and essentially being stuck to a closer relationship with God by going through difficulty. It was encouraging to think that this place of darkness was common enough that there was a term for it. and that others had found that there was benefit from being there.
I was also reminded that God brought forth new creation out of times of darkness. In Genesis 1:2, God was hovering over the darkness ready to start creating the world. As I looked more closely I have found other examples of great or terrible darkness before God creates something new. It can be found when God makes his covenant with Abram, as part of the 10 plagues to free the Israelites from Egypt, when Jesus is being crucified, and is a sign that Jesus is coming back. You can find it other places as well including that God knit you together inside your mother's womb (in darkness).
In all of these instances God was making something new that brought his people freedom and life. It was scary, but that dark place seems necessary. What a mystery!
I still find myself wondering why the darkness is necessary, why we need to go through trials, and how to get out of them if I can. Places of darkness are hard places to be. Now I try to lean in a little more, and accept the invitation to walk through the dark valleys. I reach for the hope that from the journey through that dark place I will come to have new life. That I will be free from the things that entangle me, and I can experience new freedom. I also am looking to see where God is in the dark darkness and how he unfurling a new creation.