Our darkness or His light?
God’s method for dealing with the dark corners of our lives
Psalm 139:12 has often puzzled me: “Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, But the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.”
What is the psalmist saying? Are all things alike to God? The rapist and a philanthropist? Hitler and Mother Theresa? An outrage and a noble deed?
After reading the psalm many times in its immediate context and the biblical macro context, I am certain of one thing: God does not look the same way at the innocent and the guilty, the just and the unjust, but He reveals something big, extremely big, that every human being should know.
Psalm 139:11 states, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me.” There seems to be an assumed inevitability about darkness falling on us, a defeat of a very active system in human self-preservation, indeed a darkness that engulfs us by every possible means. We do not want others to peek into our inner misery. Thus, we have developed an odd way of avoiding reality. Specifically as regards our own darkness, we avoid seeing, and we fail to see that we are avoiding it.
Heinz von Foerster1 tells of a World War I soldier, struck in the head by a bullet. The soldier had a blind spot almost as big as the total field of his retina. All of us have a blind spot, usually a small one that does not affect us seriously because our brain reconstructs that tiny space through an input of the rest of the information collected. The soldier’s blind spot was so extended that he was not able to see innumerable objects, and further, he did not know that he was not able to see them. Caught in this denial of reality, the soldier was not fully capable of seeing his surroundings. He became a victim of his blind spots.
For more than a century, scholars have attempted to analyze the cause and possible cure for these blind sports. Some have placed the cause of the phenomenon on individuals themselves; others have thought of it as a result of social mechanisms that prompt a denial of darkness. Darkness is still there, but we make every possible effort not to see it. Thus, we feel more peaceful, more respected, more honorable, and live in a state of denial and risk.
When darkness becomes self-evident
The problem arises when such an “honorable” peacefulness goes through a period of crisis and becomes self-evident in moments of darkness. “Am I really like that?” “Impossible!” “I can’t believe it!” “It is not real,” we say to ourselves.
Finally, when we are forced by circumstances to give in before the evidence, we feel tattered, with our personal dignity and self-respect hitting rock bottom. We keep asking, “How long has it been like that?” “I just found out, but for how long have my family and friends known it?” Often, when we are not able to deal with the one who denounced our darkness, we punish ourselves by saying, “How is it possible?”
David states that God knows the darknesses we are not able to see, even the ones we do not dare to acknowledge. But even then, He does not run away from us! “The darkness and the light are both alike to You.” His infinite knowledge knows both.
The truth is that some dark corners are always dusty. In a house, they are usually over the curtain rods, on top of the highest pieces of furniture, or behind the fridge or the family piano. Filth does not bother us as long as we do not see it. When I was a student, I used to sell books during summertime. I have been in hundreds of homes, and more than once I met a housewife who was really intent on having her house spotless, at least, as far as her field of vision was concerned. But I could see where she could not see, because I am taller than the average person, and I could spot what most people could not see: on top of the fridge, a cupboard, or over some bookshelves.
This experience has prompted me to reflect on the spotless corners of my life, and in those that remain filthy. I think of those spots we usually check and show others in order to feel good, and in the ones we do not even speak of. We try to take the garbage out and far away, so it can go unnoticed. But garbage refuses to melt away, and its producers and containers are as real as ever.
In every context, there is a fairly good idea of what is respectable and what is not. But it is usually harder to accept when others are not around. We know those dark spots belong to us, and we can hardly endure it. We would even like to pay in order to be able to forget them, because we have stopped believing in the possibility of overcoming them. Thus, we usually turn to any other thing which may “do us the favor” of dressing and soothing our infected wound.
God vs. my darkness
God sees us this way: He sees the best in us, and He also sees the worst. He knows everything. He sees it all. But He does not get frightened away. He is not appalled to realize our dark corners and our human tendency to hide them. In power struggles, it is not uncommon to look for the dark corners of one’s adversaries in order to make them public or reach a deal or even blackmail. Our God is different.
John 3:17 reminds us that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world.” There was no need for it, since it was already condemned; it is just like saying that He did not come to get dirty corners dirty. God sent His son “that the world through Him might be saved.”
My own darkness
As I write these lines, I feel unworthy and outraged. I feel unworthy because I am forced to face some of my darkness; outraged, because it should not be that way. I like feeling respectable. I hate finding elements in me that prove otherwise. Even though difficult to notice, the evidence is to notice. I feel I am invited to come closer to God – without feeling a willingness to drag myself to Him, but without arguments not to do it.
God then reminds me of Genesis 28, which I have read so many times. I sympathize with Jacob the transgressor, who is left by himself, openly exposed to his filth and darkness. I can see how it is within that context that God shows the patriarch the open skies, and a ladder connecting heaven and earth. I feel moved, and I shudder. That ladder is always there, but it becomes more significant where there is darkness around. There are many who are willing to build bridges and make exchanges in our shining moments, but only God knows the depth of our misery, and even then He is willing to build a bridge of communication, hope, and restoration. It is a divine trait, not a human one.
God leads us to green pastures and is beside us in our moments of peace and prosperity as well as crisis (Isa. 43:2). He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4). He is not a God who loves darkness, but He loves us even in our moments of darkness. When He arrives, darkness fades away. He never dazzles or acts pushy, as some people like doing with their alms. But He has a way of improving those dark corners of ours. He suggests an alternative path to darkness (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 3:3-8).
What is more significant to me is that He keeps that attitude. Because I have chosen – and keep choosing – I walk that way. But often I run again into my darkness, and I feel even worse because I had decided on something different. At other times, I feel that it is not worth even trying.
God, however, comes again to meet me in my darkness. He shows me His ladder. He points to Jesus, who won the battle on the cross. When I feel I am worthy, I am just offering to replace my $10 bill with a $20 one, to pay a gift worth millions. In fact, I am actually offending Him with my offer. But then, my anxiety for adding up merits fades away, because I now own the merits of Jesus (who overlooks this and all my other trespasses). What cannot fade away, but revive, is my desire for a better life and co-operating with God in my restoration, having as my ultimate goal complete regeneration, when all things will be re-created and the tares that encircle me will be destroyed forever.
God before other alternatives to darkness
One day I was chatting with a friend about cars, and he mentioned that he had read somewhere that close to 90 percent of off-road trucks never actually hit an off-road. Many of them are just vehicles used to provide their owners with some kind of social status, and most of them are just driven from home to school, the food store, the gym, or the mall. That is the reason why some car brands provide the market with new models that are similar to the previous off-road trucks, but which lack the expensive 4x4 traction system.
Religion can end up being like one of these off-road trucks: it looks interesting, it makes us feel great … but it never leaves the main road. Again, using the same metaphor, we can say that the biblical off-road truck performs very well on the highway, but it also keeps going on other roads where most cars do not make it. In ancient times, there were many peoples with their deities and priests, but Yahweh breezed through where Baal got bogged down. In our times, there are countless worldviews, but the gospel implies more “horsepower,” because it is “power of God” (Rom. 1:16). It performs really well in our bright moments, but it stands out even more in the midst of the mud of our darkness.
Some time ago, I visited a jail where I was able to listen to some of the inmates witnessing about how they have found the light of the gospel. They talked about some of the “road tests;” the “gospel truck” was able to perform outstandingly in the harshest of roads and conditions. And believe me, it does so with flying colors. It just keeps going. The religion of Jesus is suitable for any kind of road, even the most difficult ones. Indeed, it is an insult to suggest that God cannot intervene in our complex situations of darkness and resolve them.
Next time our darkness becomes self-evident and we feel we are not worthy of coming closer to God, we would do well to remember that even when we do not happen to notice, God is already looking at us, aware of our position, and is willing to stay by our side!
This is not my idea. The Bible tells me so: there is no darkness – not mine, not yours, not ours – too complicated for God.
Marcelo Falconier is a professor and researcher in educational theory in the School of Humanities and Education, River Plate Adventist University (Entre Ríos, Argentina). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- D. Fried Schnitman, Nuevos paradigmas, cultura y subjetividad (Buenos Aires: Paidós, 1994), pp. 103-105.