+ Light in the Darkness
The story is told of a cynic sitting under a nut tree, carrying on a jesting monologue with God. His grounds for complaint lay in what he considered to be an obvious failure on the part of God to go by the book on structural design. “Lord,” he said, “How is it that you made such a large and sturdy tree to hold such tiny, almost weightless nuts? And yet, you made small, tender plants to hold such large and weighty watermelons!”
As he chuckled at the folly of such disproportion in God’s mindless universe, a nut suddenly fell on his head. After a stunned pause, he muttered, “Thank God that wasn’t a watermelon!”
Even atheist Aldous Huxley acknowledged years ago, “Science has ‘explained’ nothing; the more we know, the more fantastic the world becomes, and the profounder the surrounding darkness.”
Justifiable worldviews must have explanatory power of the undeniable realities of life. As Christians who affirm the existence of a loving and all wise God, we long to push back the darkness in our world and to see the light of God’s Word soften the cynic and atheist alike. Yet if we are honest, sometimes we, too, struggle to come to terms with God’s world and his sovereign design; this is especially true in seasons of suffering and confusion.
Remember Job? He had become weary of his pain and sought a just answer for it. He built his argument to God on the fact that he needed to know what was going on, because only on the basis of that knowledge could his confusion and suffering be dissipated. But God then broke his silence, challenging Job’s very assumptions and reminding him that there was an awful lot he did not know but had just accepted and believed by inference. Notwithstanding the proverbial cynic under a nut tree, the argument from design is the very approach God used with Job. He reminded Job as a first step, and only that, that there were a thousand and one things he did not fully understand but had just taken for granted. In the light of God’s presence, Job was dumbfounded and confessed, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? … Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 40:4; 42:3).
Gaining a small glimpse of the majesty and holiness of God is light in a dark world. The prophet Isaiah described his awe-stricken state when God revealed Himself to him. Isaiah, a morally good man, nevertheless fell on his face and immediately sensed that he was unfit to be in God’s presence. He was not just in the presence of someone better than he was. He was in the presence of the One by whom and because of whom all purity finds its point of reference. That is why he was speechless.
God is not merely good. God is holy. He is the transcendent source of goodness: not merely “better” in a hierarchy of choices but rather the very basis from which all differences are made. He dwells in ineffable light. Moral categories, for us, often move in comparisons and hierarchies. We talk in terms of judging or feeling that one thing is better than another. Our culture is more advanced morally than someone else’s culture, at least so we may think. However, God’s existence changes those categories and moves us to recognize the very essence of what the word “goodness” is based upon.
This difference is what makes the argument almost impossible for a skeptic to grasp. Holiness is not merely goodness. “Why did God not create us to choose only good?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The reality is that the opposite of evil, in degree, may be goodness. But the opposite of absolute evil, in kind, is absolute holiness. In the biblical context, the idea of holiness is the tremendous “otherness” of God Himself. God does not just reveal Himself as good; He reveals Himself as holy.
There is no contradiction in Him. He can never self-destruct. He can never “not be.” He exists eternally and in a sublime purity that transcends a hierarchy of categories. As human beings we love the concept of holiness when we are in the right, but we are often reticent to apply it when we are wrong and brought under the stark scrutiny of its light. I recall talking to a very successful businessman who throughout our conversation repeatedly asked, “But what about all the evil in this world?” Finally, a friend sitting next to me said to him, “I hear you constantly expressing a desire to see a solution to the problem of evil around you. Are you as troubled by the problem of evil within you?” In the pin-drop silence that followed, the man’s face showed his duplicity.
The longer I have encountered this question about evil, the more convinced I am of the disingenuousness of many a questioner. The darkness of evil is more than an exterior reality that engenders suffering in our world; it is, at its core, an internal reality that systemically builds us for autonomy and destruction, blinds us, and from which only God is big enough to rescue us. You see, the problem of evil begins with me. The darkness is within.
Yet Jesus’s answer to the question of the blind man in John 9 brings us extraordinary power and hope. There is an illustration and explanation for us in his story. Here was a man living in physical darkness. There was no light that he could see. People wanted to know, why was he born this way? They were the ones who could see, so they asked about the one who could not. Jesus responded that the man’s blindness was due neither to the sin of the man nor of his parents, but so that the glory of God might be displayed. The lesson is drastic; the message profound.
Physical darkness has physical consequences and leaves a person bereft of seeing physical reality. It is a tragedy—but nowhere near the tragic devastation of spiritual blindness. The healing of that man’s blindness by Jesus was intended to draw those spiritually blind to seek his healing of their souls. When Beethoven, though deaf, could see the exhilarating response of the people to his composition, he outwardly resonated with what his inner being prompted. He could not hear his music but he sensed the harmony for which he longed in expression. So it is with us. We know on the inside how impoverished we are and for what we long. That ought to prompt us to the riches that only God in Christ is able to give to us.
Only when we surrender to the light of God’s truth in our own lives are we enabled to truly seeand then be a beacon of hope and healing in our dark world. Truthfulness in the heart, said Jesus, precedes truth in the objective realm. The problem of evil has ultimately one source: it is the resistance to God’s holiness that enshrouds all of creation. And there is ultimately only one hope for life: that is through the glorious display of God at work within a human soul, bringing about his work of pushing away the darkness. That transformation tenderizes the heart to become part of the solution and not part of the problem. Such a transformation begins at the Cross.
The day when Christ was crucified and darkness engulfed the scene was symbolic of the soul in rebellion. Then came the possibility of hope when the Son rose, with life made possible for all of us. The simple verse, John 3:16, says it all: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” “For God”: the starting point is filial. “So loved”: his reach is relational. “That he gave his only begotten Son”: sacrificial. “That whosoever believes in Him”: confessional. “Should not perish”: judicial. “But have everlasting life”: eternal.
There is a law unto death. The violation of law brings that within us. Our holy God deals with evil in us to transform us and draw us into his life and embrace. What a glorious gospel this is.
The songwriter Tim Hughes says it beautifully:
Light of the world, You stepped down into darkness
opened my eyes, let me see.
Beauty that made this heart adore you
hope of a life spent with you.
Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down,
here I am to say that you’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy,
altogether wonderful to me.
In a unique way, seeing is believing. Believing in God is surrendering. Surrendering to God is worshiping. To worship opens up vistas to see even more. Darkness is then vanquished.
In a dark world, we have the offer of Light through Jesus Christ.