God in the Darkness
We have created our own darkness, and then cry out to God, "Where are You??"
I've been mulling this post over for a few weeks now. I wrote yesterday, but realized it was mostly just ranting - I feel like I need to rant. I am so angry, exhausted and grief-stricken at the recent mass shootings. I don't understand how those in power just send thoughts and prayers, when THEY are the ones who can do something to stop this. Thoughts and prayers seem so ineffective, and yet what else can most of us do?
So I will write, and I want to say at the outset that this post is not intended in any way to minimize anyone's pain. It is not intended to be putting a happy face on anything, because in our world today there isn't much to be happy about.
In my last post, I wrote about a little "orb of love." Inside each of us is the light of Christ, and sometimes that light glows bright and sometimes it is dusty and sometimes it is covered up by trash and boxes of stuff we haven't looked at in years. You can read that post here.
I've been thinking about that light, and how the brightest light casts the deepest shadows. We are in such a dark place right now, but how can THESE shadows be cast by the light of God?
I find that I am comforted by poetry lately. I stumbled on this poem by Wendell Berry, from his collection titled This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems
The intellect so ravenous to know
And in its knowing hold the very light,
Disclosing what is so and what not so,
Must finally know the dark, which is its right
And liberty; it's blind in what it sees.
Bend down, go in by this low door, despite
The thorn and briar that bar the way. The trees
Are young here in the heavy undergrowth
Upon an old field worn out by disease
Of human understanding: greed and sloth
Did bad work that this thicket now conceals,
Work lost to rain or ignorance or both.
The young trees make a darkness here that heals,
And here the forms of human thought dissolve
Into the living shadow that reveals
All orders made by mortal hand or love
Or thought come to a margin of their kind,
Are lost in order we are ignorant of,
Which stirs great fear and sorrow in the mind.
The field, if it will thrive, must do so by
Exactitude of thought, by skill of hand,
And by the clouded mercy of the sky;
It is a mortal clarity between
Two darks of Heaven and of earth. The why
Of it is our measure. Seen and unseen,
Its causes shape it as it is, a while.
O bent by fear and sorrow, now bend down,
Leave word and argument, be dark and still,
And come into the joy of healing shade.
Rest from your work. Be still and dark until
You grow as unopposing, unafraid
As the young trees, without thought or belief;
Until the shadow Sabbath light has made
Shudders, breaks open, shines in every leaf.
Just sit with that for a minute.
When you are ready, keep reading. If you need to rest, stop reading.
We are afraid of the dark - night darkness, skin darkness, mind darkness. But we should not be.
Darkness is a necessary part of the rhythm of life. It is our intellect that makes darkness frightening, for it is our intellect that creates the monsters in the closet or under the bed, creates differences among people, and assigns unpleasant associations to darkness and the darkness within.
As the poet tells us, darkness heals. It is in darkness that we rest. It is in darkness that old things pass away. It is when we confront the darkness in ourselves that we can begin to shine a light into deep dusty corners of ourselves.
I wonder if part of the reason God chose to come to humanity in the form of a man was because God knew the light was too bright for us, so God dimmed it just enough in the personhood of Jesus. God sent God's wisdom and message through humans like Mohammed and the Buddha. God spoke to Moses through a burning bush because Moses could not look at the full brightness of the YWEH.
We cannot stay in the light forever. We must encounter darkness. We must rest. We must experience dark nights of our souls (see my post on the gift of suffering here) so that we can truly encounter, experience and know God. We must wrestle with our fear of the dark, in order to learn that God is there, and we have nothing to fear.
Until, that is, we apply our own greed and sloth to what God has created. It is humankind who decided that one set of people is better than another. It is humankind who invented war, and the weapons of war. It is humankind who has destroyed the creation that God called good - including darkness.
We have created our own darkness, and then we cry out to God, "Where are you??"
Let's remember the first chapter of Genesis: When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5, NRSVUE). God called the darkness Night. God did not say that the Night was good, but God did not say the Night was bad, either. God didn't eliminate the Night, which, being God, God could have.
God created something new in the light, but left the dark in place. God saw value in the darkness.
I've been reading the story of Joseph - he of the multi-colored coat. If you remember the story, Joseph was one of 13 brothers, and he was his father's favorite. His father, Jacob, made him a beautiful tunic, and Joseph was pleased to show it off to his brothers. He was a tattle-tale. Joseph was also a dreamer and shared the dream he had that one day his brothers would bow down to him. I can understand the brothers' feelings that Joseph was an arrogant little asshole. Poor Joseph couldn't figure out why his brothers didn't like him.
In fact, they hated him enough to plot to kill him, but his brother Rueben suggested instead that they sell him into slavery, which they did, telling Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.
Joseph has a long and colorful story in Genesis 37-50. Suffice it for my purposes here to say that Joseph did well for himself - he rose in power to become Pharoah's second in command after overcoming several pretty big obstacles.
I've always been taught that the story tells us that if we just believe in God good things will happen to us - look at Joseph! He believed in God and became a rich and powerful man! But let's look deeper.
Joseph was dearly loved; his brothers, apparently not so much. Imagine being Joseph as your family sells you away. He must have begged and pleaded. His terror must have been profound - in Genesis 42:21 as Joseph is sending his brothers back to Canaan to get their younger brother while one is left behind in prison, the brothers say, "Alas we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen." So Joseph is sold to Potiphar and works hard with integrity, until Potiphar's wife decides to seduce him. Joseph asks her how he could possibly sin against God - this is Genesis 39:9 and the first time Joseph mentions God at all. It was previously stated that the Lord was with Joseph, but this is the first we hear that Joseph cares about God at all. Potiphar's wife continues, and when Joseph runs away she screams that he assaulted her (thanks, Potiphar's wife - women haven't been believed since). Potiphar believes her and has Joseph thrown back into prison.
How must Joseph have felt then? What hope did he have? Here he was again, this time having done nothing wrong - not that his missteps in his youth warranted the treatment he got from his brothers. I picture the "place where the king's prisoners were confined" as a pretty dark, dismal, awful and unhappy place.
I will leave you to read the rest of Joseph's story for yourself. While Joseph was in prison - experiencing his dark night, in the shadows he, as we, feared - "the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer." (Gen 39:21, NRSV). When ultimately, Joseph was called to interpret Pharoah's dream, Joseph was very clear that all power and wisdom he has comes from God alone - "Do not interpretations belong to God?" (Gen 40:8, NRSV).
Had Joseph not experienced his suffering, darkness and hopelessness, would he have encountered God the way he did, believed the way he did, behaved the way he did - and succeeded the way he did? Joseph displayed his anger to his brothers, but also fed and forgave them: "Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people as he is doing today." (Gen 50:19-20, NRSV).
It strikes me that there are parallels between Joseph's story and the story of Jesus. Joseph was hated and betrayed by his brothers; Jesus was reviled and betrayed by his people. Joseph was imprisoned; Jesus was imprisoned, tortured, and crucified. Joseph was "resurrected" into a place of power and wealth; Jesus was resurrected and sits at the right hand of God (as Christians believe). Joseph forgave his brothers; Jesus forgives us.
So now we have two interpretations of darkness. First, the darkness that, if not created by God, was allowed to remain because presumably God saw value in it. The darkness that allows us to rest, to heal, to recover. The dark of Heaven, if you will, as Wendell Berry described it. Then there is the darkness that is created by humanity: jealousy, hatred, power, and greed. The darkness of earth.
My analogy begins to fail when I say that the brightest light creates the deepest shadows, so shadows are created by God. How can I say that the shadows are created by God and then wonder if they are not where the light of God is obstructed and are actually the absence of God? As Joseph said, God intended the evil his brothers did for good. That implies that evil is God's will - that God somehow caused this evil to occur so that God could do something good with it.
That is what I am struggling with this week, as the bright lights that were 10 people grocery shopping in Buffalo, NY and 19 children and 2 teachers in Uvalde, TX have been extinguished, plunging all of us into darkness. War continues to rage in Ukraine. There is no rest in this darkness - only heartbreak and anger. This darkness of earth is created by the intellect of humankind.
No. I don't believe that God caused any of this evil. God is present with those suffering through the darkness, but God didn't cause it to happen. God could have found happier ways to achieve God's purposes. The question now is what WE will do in this darkness.
I don't believe that God extinguished these lights - this darkness is human created. The man in Moscow who is consumed with power and greed and believes it is his right to subsume and entire people, with their culture and homeland. The man in Florida (actually, I can think of more than one man in Florida) who is consumed with power and greed and opened the floodgates of racism that were at least marginally being held in check before he came to power. The people who manufacture and sell guns. The people in power in the United States who refuse to act to curb gun violence. The gun lobby who has painted pictures that create fear in people who believe that if they don't have a gun, they have no safety. The people who taught the shooter in Buffalo to hate. The people who bullied the shooter in Texas. The list goes on and on and on. The people, like me, who lift thoughts and prayers and wring our hands and go on with our lives without trying to change anything.
But as the poet says, there is healing in darkness. Perhaps THIS darkness will finally bring people to action and to vote those beholden to guns out of office. Perhaps THIS darkness will finally convince us that guns are not the answer. Perhaps THIS darkness is the darkest darkness, and dawn is on the horizon. Perhaps, as Joseph's story tells us, the Lord is with us and we will be released from our prisons. Perhaps THIS darkness is the one that will finally cause us to surrender to our Creator - whether YWEH, God, Allah - they are all one and the same - and allow God's will to finally be done.
One can hope. One can pray. One can set aside one's intellect and seek God in the darkness.
I believe that this darkness will end - that the conservative zealots in the United States will be voted out of power. That somehow we will find an answer and end to our fascination with and idolization of guns. That we will overcome our greed and selfishness and find ways to allow God's creation - all of it - to heal. That someone will finally find the words to convince us that the Christ is in all of us - each and every one of us - and that we will finally find ourselves in God's kingdom come.
I don't think it will be in my lifetime, but I believe.
For now, I am praying for comfort for the students, faculty and parents at Robb Elementary School in TX, and for the people in the TOPS grocery store in NY. I am praying for strength for every teacher who must again teach students how to shelter in place and wonder how he or she would react in a similar situation. I am praying for courage for every student who will have to face the fear of returning to the classroom after summer vacation. I pray for every person - child or adult - who is bullied, for that person to learn to see his or her worth and to know the love of God. I pray for the bullies, too, that their hearts would be opened and that they will learn to show compassion and care. I pray for strength and comfort all the first responders who saw the carnage, and for all the rest who will once again have training for active shooter situations. I pray for the shooter in Buffalo, who survived, and for the family of the shooter in Uvalde, who did not, that they will find peace. And I pray for those who will be next.
I pray for you, too, and that my words might be helpful to you. I would love to hear how you are doing.
Rest, my friends. Seek God, by the name that you know Him or Her. Get help. Be kind - look for the light of Christ in all of God's creation - even those who insult you. God loves them, too. Remember that anyone who tells you that God hates isn't bringing the word of God. Anyone who teaches that some people are less than others is not bringing the word of God.
God is love, God waits for us. God is present in the darkness. We just need to get out of God's way.
As the writer of Lamentations cried out,
For these things I weep;
my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed. (Lamentations 1:16, NRSV)
The lamenter continues:
I called on your name, O Lord,
from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, "Do not close your ear
to my cry for help, but give me relief!"
You came near when I called on you;
you said, "Do not fear!" (Lamentations 3:55-57, NRSV)
Berry, Wendell. This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems. Berkeley: Counterpoint. 2013. pp. 30-31.
Holtermand, Kim. The Darkness on Behance. Image. The Darkness on Behance. Accessed 5/27/2022