Lighten Our Darkness

 

Mother Teresa described her mission as lighting ‘the light of those in darkness.’  ‘Darkness’ is ancient, Scriptural prophecy’s description of the state of wayward Israel.  They are ‘those who lived in a land of deep darkness.’  This biblical assessment of ‘the land of deep darkness’ corresponds well with a broader characterization of the dark state of human existence. In what follows I perceive three constituents of the dark state of human existence that ‘the true Light…coming into the world,’ Jesus Christ, reveals and remedies.

I.

Firstly, the Light reveals the darkness of human existence to be one of vulnerability and victimization.  Twentieth-century, Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier told of driving his motor car into a skid and off the road.  His wife and daughter were injured, and his uncle killed.  That night his mind was turning.  There had been a heavy shower…maybe a patch of oil on the pavement.  He was going the speed limit.  He was legally exonerated of any fault.  He was a victim of Fate.  Dr. Tournier’s state of being-in-the-world was one of fast vehicles, slick pavements, adverse weather, and unforgiving physical laws.  The ‘givenness’ of this world of calamitous weather, microbes and viruses, genetic makeups, bodily decay and age, and reckless and troublesome people happens to us.  We are vulnerable.  We are victims.  We are not responsible for the overmastering forces of this dark world.  Our inner voice cries out, ‘It’s not fair!’

When Jesus got out of the twenty-six foot boat on the eastern Galilean shore, he was met by a wild man.  The locals had given up on him.  Some dark forces tyrannized him, turning him uncontrollably against himself.  Neither he nor anyone else could subdue him…not because it had not been tried.  When he was clothed, he stripped off his garments. The locals tried many times to shackle him with chains.  He tore them loose.  Left to himself, he roamed the cemetery howling and bruising himself with stones.  Had he made moral choices that contributed to his state?  Regardless, he was a victim to invincible, dark powers overwhelming him.  Nothing on the planet could free him.  Such is the human predicament.

Then, he encounters Jesus. Indeed, Jesus is ‘the true light…coming into the world’ which ‘shines in the darkness.’  Soon Jesus discloses that of which heretofore all had been ignorant:  this man was victim to unseen, despotic, dark powers.  Suddenly, like lightning in a thunderstorm, these powers are exposed by ‘the Light coming into the world.’  In that moment they are rebuffed and subdued.  Jesus says to the demons, ‘Come out of the man.’  Returning to the scene, the locals see the wild man ‘sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.’

Could this and other such episodes be a showcase for human existence?  Undeniably, there are forces, principles, and dynamisms acting mercilessly upon us all.  Many we know - natural and visible - but others we do not - invisible and beyond human surveillance. All victimize us without notice and without seeming recourse; yet, there is come into this world a countervailing Light.  This Light has come into the world to buffer and vanquish the overmastering forces to which we are vulnerable.  The Scripture testifies, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’…‘the Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.’

II.

Secondly, that night following the fatal car accident, Paul Tournier’s mind was churning.  Yes, he was a victim to outside forces. Yes, the law exonerated him.  Why did his mind still accuse him?  Had there not been a warning sign ‘Slippery When Wet’?  Should he not under those circumstances have exercised a little more caution? If he had, might not his uncle still be alive?  No matter how he analyzed it, he could only conclude:  he was both a victim and guilty! 

Dr. Tournier’s experience is common to every one of us.  Within each of us is a troublesome moral sense of ‘ought’ and ‘should.’  Because of the heavy rain Dr. Tournier felt he ‘ought’ to have slowed down.  He ‘should’ have applied more caution.  ‘I am responsible for it,’ he said to himself.  What do we do with such responsibility and guilt?  How do we deal with it?  Do we own up to it?  Do we pretend it’s not there? Hope it goes away? Can it be pacified? How do we make it go away?  Do we do as the ancients?  Grecian hero Hercules mistakenly killed his whole family and was left feeling guilty.  He determined to make up for his actions and right his wrongs by performing twelve ‘herculean’ feats.  Will self-punishment do?  Will it get rid of Lady Macbeth’s ‘damned spot’?

III.

Thirdly, guilt and victimization are comprehended and determined by the more principal constituent of darkness which best explains them all: a profound absence.  Darkness is only dark because light is absent.  The ‘true Light’ ‘shining in the darkness’ reveals darkness is absent light.  ‘God is light’ (as Scripture defines him in 1 John 1:5, et al), and his absence is the principal constituent of the dark state of human existence.  Existentialists have brilliantly analyzed the ‘givenness’ of human existence.  They say our being-in-the-world is characterized by ‘anxiety.’  ‘Anxiety,’ nuanced differently with each existentialist, is not the worry of passing an exam or having money to pay bills. ‘Anxiety’ is a pervading sense of uneasiness. Part and parcel with being human comes the feeling of being threatened.  By whom or what, or this or that, cannot be identified.  Could human existence’s all pervasive sense of dis-ease be attributable to God’s absence?  Who is not anxious who feels ‘I am alone in this dark universe, am thrown back upon myself and I am all I have?!’

We had finished bedtime prayers with our six-year old daughter, Karissa.  We hugged, pulled up the covers, and switched off the light. She looked through her window’s panes and wistfully sighed, ‘The darkness is looking at me.’ No one or thing was there.  As we turned to leave her in the darkness, she cried, ‘Daddy, don’t leave me!’  ‘Dark and cheerless is the morn unaccompanied by Thee!’ recognized hymnist Charles Wesley.  God’s absence is profound darkness.  His encompassing Presence is Light!  Vulnerability and victimization may be met with the champion Ally.  All guilt is assuaged with the words spoken to the sinful woman transcending time and authorities, ‘Your sins are forgiven you.... Go in peace’…. And the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is realized in ‘the face of Jesus Christ.’   

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Tom Thomas

Tom was most recently pastor of the Bellevue Charge in Forest, Virginia until retiring in July.  Studying John Wesley’s theology, he received his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Bristol, Bristol, England. While a student, he and his wife Pam lived in John Wesley’s Chapel “The New Room”, Bristol, England, the first established Methodist preaching house.  Tom was a faculty member of Asbury Theological Seminary from 1998-2003. He has contributed articles to Methodist History and the Wesleyan Theological Journal. He and his wife Pam have two children, Karissa, who is an Associate Attorney at McCandlish Holton Morris in Richmond, and, John, who is a junior communications major/business minor at Regent University.  Tom enjoys being outdoors in his parkland woods and sitting by a cheery fire with a good book on a cool evening.