Who’s afraid of the dark?
Most children, it seems, are afraid of the dark. Or is it just that something disturbs sleep or there is an unresolved question or a negative emotion from the past day to process? Or is it that there is a loneliness in a dark bedroom when the rest of the house is lit and people are talking but the child is expected to sleep?
We grow up with a feeling that the dark is uncomfortable and painful. Darkness sometimes symbolises for us those difficult times when things do not seem to make sense, when things happen that we really do not want or like: tragedy strikes, or serious illness, or confusion or depression. And it really is uncomfortable and painful to experience these kinds of darkness.
We often try to avoid thinking about these things or find other things to fill our minds or to distract us from the pain. If we avoid the dark we might feel better for a time, as we avoid the full experience of darkness, but by avoiding or pretending we might also not really experience true light either. Psychologists know the importance of not avoiding and suppressing painful experiences, because if unresolved they will surface unexpectedly. Those helping drug and alcohol abusers know the importance of not deadening the pain with these substances. And there is a deeper reason too.
Jesus said “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12 and 9:5). It seemed a bold claim to his first hearers and they complained. The second time Jesus says this in John’s gospel is in the context of healing a man born blind. This man had never seen the natural light of day. He had always lived in the darkness. Now Jesus was bringing light – both illumination in their thinking and the light of His presence changing their circumstances. As he obeyed Jesus’ instruction to wash, the man experienced a miracle that enabled him to see.
Illumination was needed to destroy the harmful idea that this man’s predicament was due to some sin in the family. It is a common idea that our sin or sin in the family line has brought a curse – and it is nearly true! There are indications in scripture that actions and attitudes have spiritual effects and that the consequences of sin might well be judgment, in ways that can be seen in our physical bodies or psychologically. We see this, for example as a parent’s drug habit affects a child physically and mentally and may be repeated in the child’s life. It is as though God allows natural consequences to flow, because He is so committed to our freedom to choose life or death (because He made us humans in His image with capacity to choose). The idea of ‘karma’ is deep rooted in Eastern philosophies and is surfacing again in Western, post-modern, post-Christian philosophies.
But consequences or karma is not the whole truth. Jesus proclaims boldly that “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:3-5).
Illumination first challenges the idea of karma or curses being the whole story. There is a new reality – the LIGHT of Jesus’ presence. Illumination is not just new ideas that help make people feel comfortable. Real illumination is not a new philosophy to counteract an old philosophy that is doing harm. Real light comes when we welcome the presence of Jesus.
When we are facing dark times, we do not need to avoid it. We do not need a philosophy or fresh ideas. We do not need distractions. We do not need to analyse the problems and their causes in the hope of some clue of how to deal with the consequences. What we need is the miraculous, supernatural presence of God, whose love never fails even as He leads us through dark times and difficulties.
There are many in the All Nations family who have been and are going through dark times. There are illnesses and bereavements of various kinds, some with really painful circumstances and causes that are hard to connect with. May we always be a church family where we can encourage each other to be real and not to avoid darkness, but to walk through darkness with the One who can lead us through and who can give real comfort, the One who is Himself the Light.