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Light in the Darkness

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Light is an important theme in the Gospel of John. In chapter 1, Jesus is called “the light of men” who “shines in the darkness” (v. 4-5). He is “The true light, which gives light to everyone” (v. 9). Later, in chapter 8, Jesus proclaims “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (v. 12). In chapter 9, as the Light of the world, Jesus heals a man born blind, and also reveals the blindness of the Pharisees who arrogantly believed they could see without the Light. The challenge for us who have believed in Jesus is to humbly bear witness (like the man born blind) that once we were blind, but now we see (John 9:25), and to live lives that reflect the light of Jesus. “At one time you were darkness, but now are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8-9).

But what about times when we feel surrounded, enclosed, smothered by darkness? What do we do when the Light seems distant? What do we do when it feels like our light is sputtering, barely flickering, about to be quenched? Christians everywhere throughout history have experienced what one theologian called his “dark night of the soul.” These dark nights may happen once, lasting mere hours, or days, or even years. Maybe we will walk down many of these dark paths during our lifetime.

At dark times, Jesus comforts us by:

  1. Assuring us that he is still our Light - shining brightly and gloriously above and beyond all shadows (Ephesians 1:15-23, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20, Revelation 1:12-18), but also burning almost invisibly inside our hearts, warming our souls, and keeping our spirits alive. (Psalm 23, Matthew 11:28-30, Matthew 28:20, John 16:33, John 17, Acts 7:55-56, Romans 8:31-39, 2 Cor. 1:3-11)

  2. Promising that even when we feel mired down, unable to move a single step, we are in fact moving forward, advancing toward a heavenly reward waiting for us where there is only light - Jesus Himself will be our Light - and there will be no darkness. Forever. (Romans 8:28-30, 2 Corinthians 3:18, 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10, Hebrews 11, James 1:12, Revelation 21-22)

  3. Acknowledging that the pain we feel, the darkness we experience, and the sufferings we endure are real, and are not easy. (Psalm 13, Psalm 22, Psalm 88, Matthew 26:36-39, Matthew 27:46, Hebrews 12:3-11)

  4. Sending us family, friends, neighbors, or even strangers who are brothers and sisters in the faith and members of His body who will share the Light with us in our time of need. (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:3-21, Galatians 6:2, Philippians 4:14-20)

I hope you take time to read those passages, and are comforted by what Jesus says in them if you or a loved one are walking through darkness right now. I also want to share a story with you to illustrate what trusting Jesus in these moments might look like.

Throughout The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam are depicted both in the books and in the movies as the closest of friends. They support, encourage, and help each other through a terrible journey to complete an impossible task, and it is abundantly clear to both book readers and movie audiences that it was their friendship that carried them through. So when, at the end of the story, Frodo must leave Middle Earth, sailing into the West so that he can be healed of all his  wounds and leaving Sam behind, we are devastated by the separation. And in the book, author J.R.R. Tolkien (who was a devout Christian) captures this poignant moment of both great hope and assurance, as well as great sorrow and darkness:

Then Frodo… went aboard; and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that… the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.

But to Sam the evening deepened to darkness as he stood at the Haven; and as he looked at the grey sea he saw only a shadow on the waters that was soon lost in the West. There still he stood far into the night, hearing only the sigh and murmur of the waves on the shores of Middle-earth, and the sound of them sank deep into his heart.

This is often the way things are for those of us who believe in Jesus as our Light when we pass through times of deep sorrow and darkness. Like Frodo, we have experienced the Light and are assured that He is with us, and we trust in His promise of what is ahead of us, but, like Sam, we stand in the darkness, watching shadows, listening to the waves pound their sad music deep into our grieved hearts. In these moments we cling by faith to Jesus, the Light of the world, who has given us sight and given us life. There is never a completely satisfactory answer to explain what we have been through or are going through. But Jesus doesn’t offer the lesser light of earthly answers, instead he unfailingly offers us the glorious, healing Light of His presence - and He always satisfies.

The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

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