The World is Dark
“We look for light, but there is darkness!” (Isa. 59:9 NKJV)
Recently, there has been a lot of darkness around here. Some of the worst power cuts in years have left the city of Niamey in the dark, and a number of terrorist attacks (in the north and in Niamey) have caused a lot of fear. Evil men have taken advantage of the darkness to do their dark deeds – deeds they would not do in the light. They hide in the darkness and in the shadows.
It has been a difficult time. The hot season can make the air almost unbreathable, and for about a month people were walking around flushed and frustrated, angry and hot and afraid. It has been a difficult time, but also a good reminder that the world is a dark place. Or at least it can be. It is full of suffering and injustice. It is a sick and broken world, where people rely on violence and lies, and the truth is hard to see because of the darkness.
“No one calls for justice,
Nor does any plead for truth.
They trust in empty words and speak lies;
They conceive evil and bring forth iniquity.” (Isa. 59:4 NKJV)
We are blinded by this darkness, though we look for light. We cannot see so we stumble and fall. The path we walk has been made crooked by those aligned against peace and justice (Isa. 59:8), and we grope around as one with no eyes (Isa. 59:10). The world is dark and we search for an answer. We search for a light.
“We look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us.” (Isa. 59:11 NKJV)
In this passage in Isaiah darkness is injustice, so justice is light. Light is salvation. This is true, but you can only really feel the truth of it once you have experienced the dark.
The world is full of darkness – this is something almost everyone can agree with. The world is dark and in need of light. The disagreement comes, however, when you try to define the light. Different religions claim to have the light, the truth. Some pray, others meditate, and the goal is to be enlightened. Even those who do not pray or meditate seek a light. Humanist thought goes back to the Age of Enlightenment, when humanity was freed from the darkness of superstitious beliefs, freed from the Dark Ages, and brought into the light of reason and logic. Education replaced indoctrination, science replaced religion, and Reason replaced God. This vision was realized quite literally during the French Revolution, when Reason was deified. But underneath it all was a fundamental shift in our understanding of the light, and its source. For the pre-modern world, light came from God, an outside source, and we humans are as dependent on it and as unable to affect it as we are the sun. But with the Enlightenment, people began to see themselves and their own capacity for development and progress as the source of light. Therefore, no outside source was needed. They also believed that it was precisely this belief in an outside source of light and life that had for so long blinded the world and prevented humanity from realizing its own true potential. It was (and often still is) believed that the shining light of Reason would illuminate the way, and slowly all ignorance would be abandoned, making way for a utopia – a world without suffering or injustice, pain or want.
Of course, none of these are bad things. Education is good, as is progress, development and reason. And of course, our conditions can improve, and have improved, enormously. Anyone driving a car instead of riding on a donkey cart can tell you that. Indeed, we hope our conditions continue to improve. However, one should not make the mistake of thinking that because we have improved conditions we have somehow improved the human condition. That one day the human heart itself will change. That one day humanity will do away with its irrational, spiteful, and frankly evil nature and start working (at last!) for the betterment of all. If you really do believe that, then I am sorry to say it, but you are the one who has superstitious beliefs!
This is what Dostoevsky’s underground man railed against – the idea that humanity can be perfected. That all of our desires can be calculated and tabulated, so that the “statisticians, sages, and lovers of humanity,” can help us understand what we actually want, and what we actually need, “in accordance with the dictates of reason and science.” The only problem is, once humanity has been fleeced of all that is unpredictable and (for better or for worse) irrational, there is very little left that makes us human. Once it has all calculated and foreseen, we are left with no choice in the matter – and this we stubbornly rebel against.
“even if this could be demonstrated to him by natural science and pure mathematics, even then he still won’t become reasonable; he’ll intentionally do something to the contrary, simply out of ingratitude, merely to have his own way. If he lacks the means, he’ll cause destruction and chaos, he’ll devise all kinds of suffering and have his own way! He’ll leash a curse upon the world…If you say that one can also calculate all this according to a table, this chaos and darkness, these curses, so that the mere possibility of calculating it all in advance would stop everything and that reason alone would prevail – in that case man would go insane deliberately in order not to have reason, but to have his own way!”
If this sounds crazy, it also sounds familiar. The underground man points to world history in order to prove the truth of all this, and he is pretty convincing. But what does he know – he lives underground.
Light in the Dark
“If you extend your soul to the hungry
And satisfy the afflicted soul,
Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,
And your darkness shall be as the noonday.” (Isa. 58:10) NKJV
The world is dark and we are blinded by the darkness, but we have hope in spite of the darkness, because we know that the darkness will not last. We know that even a tiny spark of light can chase away the darkness. We know that if you stare at a flame, the image of light stays imprinted on your eyes, even if they are closed and the flame has gone out.
That image of light, enveloped in darkness and fading, is enough to give hope.
Justice is light, and salvation is light, but so is bread (to the hungry), and comfort (to the afflicted). So is healing (to the sick), and breaking the yoke of oppression. Each of these actions is a spark, a flame. “Then your light shall dawn in the darkness.” But it is a flame that does not come from us. It is in us but not of us, and shines through us, breaking into the darkness like the dawn. Or Dawn Treader.
We work for the light even though we labor in the dark. We work in hope because we know that one day the darkness will end. “Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.” (Isa. 60:1) NKJV
Like the sun, this light will be seen by the whole earth, and like the sun, this light will be life-giving. But it will not be the sun. “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but the LORD will be to you an everlasting light.” (Isa. 60:19) NKJV
Jesus was light, and came into darkness, and the darkness did not understand the light, so the darkness hated the light. Darkness hates what it does not understand. But it also hates light, because light exposes it for what it really is. Nothing can hide from the light, it reveals all, and even the shadows offer no shelter from its glare.
If a light shines in you, the darkness will hate you because you will expose it. This may sound judgmental, but it is not. Our task is not to judge, but to allow the light that is in us but not of us to shine so that others can see it. We do not judge, but there are consequences to living for too long in the dark. It affects your eyes.
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes,
And prudent in their own sight!” (Isa. 5:20-21) NKJV
Woe to those who mistake darkness for light, who have lived for so long in the dark that their eyes have grown accustomed to the dark. Their eyes deceive them, and their perception does not reflect reality. They see themselves as wise, and take their darkness for light.
When the darkness comes into contact with the light, it is naturally exposed. To say this is no more judgmental than to say, “He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” Or, “If you play with fire, you will be burned.” It is simply an observation. Our task is not to judge others, or even to expose the darkness, but to live and walk in the light, and to allow the light to shine through us, and to remove in us anything that might prevent the light from shining. The question is, how do we do this? How do we allow the light to shine through us?
Light = Love
To be in the light, and to be the light is to love others, because God is light (1 John 1:5) and God is love (1 John 4:16). If the light of God is in us, then the love of God should be in us. This light and love should shine, and others should be able to see it, but also feel it.
We cannot claim to be in the light if we still act as though we are in the dark. To be in the light is to love others, and to love God is to love others. You cannot truly love others unless the light and love of God is in you. And you cannot truly love God unless you love others, and demonstrate it in a tangible way. If either side of this equation is missing, the balance is thrown off.
“The first of all commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31) NKJV
Real recognizes Real
“And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place…” (II Peter 1:19) NKJV
The prophet speaks, and his word is a light. In fact, the role of a prophet is to speak light into the darkness, to break in on the darkness like the dawn. But, “there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you…” (II Peter 2:1) NKJV. A false prophet is one who speaks and gives off a false light. One who takes the darkness for light, one whose eyes are deceived. The false prophet is one who says “peace” when there is no peace, one who says “sleep” when you need to wake up.
We have to be careful of false prophets, giving off false light, especially since they often speak the very words that we want to hear. We have to be careful, and keep the true light in front of us. If we know the true light, then we will not be fooled by the false light, and the true light is love. Once you have encountered love, the darkness will not fool you, even if it is dressed up in light. Love is the measure of light, because love is light.
A true prophet has true vision, but a false prophet is one who has dwelt for too long in the dark. Their eyes are comfortable in the dark, and they can even see in the dark, so for them it is not darkness. But they are deceived. Their vision is impaired. In other words, they have bad eyes.
Jesus spoke of eyes and light: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matt. 6:22-23) NKJV
Our eyes have to let the light in, but in order for that to happen, we must first be willing to look at the light. That is our choice. Will we look at the light, or will we turn away from it? The light will not be changed by our choice (just as the sun does not stop shining if we close our eyes to it), but we will be changed by it.
Will we look at the light? It isn’t easy. Our natural tendency is to look away from the light – it shines too brightly. It is blindingly bright. But if we look away from it, then the darkness stays inside of us, and how great is that darkness. Fear stays inside of us as well. Because darkness causes fear, but light drives out fear because light = love, and true love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).
But if our eyes will allow the light to come in, it will fill us and we will shine, and we won’t be able to hide the light inside of us, like a lamp uncovered.
“For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts…” (II Cor. 4:6) NIV
God spoke at creation, and light came into darkness, and divided the darkness. It drove out the formless void of chaos and ended the endless night. Light brought life to creation, and the same is true of us. When we are filled with God’s light, God is making his light shine in our darkness, and driving out the darkness inside of us. When this happens we are reborn, and made into a new creation.
We come into contact with this light, this presence of God, and we are marked by the encounter, just as Moses was in Exodus 34. Moses came down off the mountain with a radiant glow, a shining that he couldn’t hide even with a veil. That is because he came into contact with the source of all light. Nothing can contain this light. It floods out of every small crack or opening.
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (II Cor. 6:7) NIV
This light inside of us is a treasure, but a treasure stored in a clay jar.
Our bodies are clay jars. Made from dust like the first of us – Adam came from Adama. Our bodies are clay jars. They are fragile and easy to break. They shatter into pieces. Our bodies are clay jars. From dust we came, and to dust we return.
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (II Cor. 4:8-9) NIV
Our bodies are clay jars, full of light and easy to break. The darkness sees the light, and seeks to destroy it, because the darkness hates the light. We are crushed, but not destroyed – there is still hope. We are persecuted but not forsaken – we still have the presence of God. The presence of God is the light inside us. And should the clay jar break, the clay jar full of light, it will only cause the light to spread further. For clay jars may be easy to break, but nothing can break the light that is in us.
 Of course conditions have not improved equally, or symmetrically, or in any way that might be considered “fair” or “equitable,” as the prevalence of donkey-carts in the streets of Niamey can attest to. But that is a topic for another time.
 Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated and edited by Michael R. Katz, Notes From Underground (New York, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.: 2001), pg. 15, 17.
 Dostoevsky, Notes From Underground, pg. 22.
 Which is why there are so many misanthropic “lovers of humanity.”