I was recently intrigued and found resonance in the point Rachel Held Evans recently made in looking for a spirituality and liturgy which includes darkness. I agree. Awhile back I led a devotional on Psalm 88 with a group of evangelical brothers (maybe a sister with us). I asked if anyone thought the struggle of darkness can be something we experience today as followers of Jesus in the new covenant. They all either said no, or did not affirm such as possible in the life of a Christian.
There is no question that not only the New Testament, but the Old, draws some pretty stark lines. Consider two passages:
The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,
shining ever brighter till the full light of day.
But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know what makes them stumble.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
We shouldn’t at all write off these passages as somehow not realistic for us in Jesus in this present life. We are people of the light, not of the darkness, and therefore are to live accordingly, as we’re told elsewhere by Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11).
Nevertheless in this life we experience darkness in the form of the world, the flesh and the devil. And the experience of this is complex, since flesh is in the mix. Flesh is a difficult term to grapple with in the New Testament (transliteration: sarx). It often means humans in our weakness and bent and inclination, and even more than that, our slavery to sin. But it can also mean simply living in this life as the humans we are, in our weakness apart from sin. Even Jesus himself taking on himself the same flesh in his humanity, apart from the propensity to sin.
Experience is important, and we often arrive by faith into more of the light in our experience, through the darkness. Jesus experienced such in this life, of course especially at the cross, and others, not least, the Apostle Paul himself. John of the Cross wrote about “the dark night of the soul.” And I have thought that Rich Mullins’ lyrics and songs are often imbued with light due to the contrasting darkness which he struggled with which also is evident in some of what he wrote. The psalms are for the people of God today. They are part of our heart language, even as followers of the light.
A song. A psalm of the Sons of Korah. For the director of music. According tomahalath leannoth. A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite.
Lord, you are the God who saves me;
day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
turn your ear to my cry.
I am overwhelmed with troubles
and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am like one without strength.
I am set apart with the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more,
who are cut off from your care.
You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
I am confined and cannot escape;
my eyes are dim with grief.
I call to you, Lord, every day;
I spread out my hands to you.
Do you show your wonders to the dead?
Do their spirits rise up and praise you?
Is your love declared in the grave,
your faithfulness in Destruction?
Are your wonders known in the place of darkness,
or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
But I cry to you for help, Lord;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, Lord, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
From my youth I have suffered and been close to death;
I have borne your terrors and am in despair.
Your wrath has swept over me;
your terrors have destroyed me.
All day long they surround me like a flood;
they have completely engulfed me.
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend.