Be a light in the world.
Recently I went on an underground tour of ‘Carman’s Tunnel’ in Maldon in Gold Rush country in Victoria, Australia. Begun in 1882 by the Great International Quartz Mining Company, it is almost 2000 feet long and was an attempt to drive a tunnel right through Mt Tarrangower, intersecting the rich gold-bearing reefs that had been mined previously from shaft-type mines on the mount.
There was plenty of light all along the tunnel, thanks to candles to light our way and our tour guide’s very powerful torch. As the tour was nearing completion, our tour guide told us of the kind of darkness there would be without the light and asked us to blow out each candle we walked towards the entrance. As each candle was extinguished, we began to feel the depth of the darkness. Our guide asked us if we wanted to experience total darkness underground, so we all said yes. One by one the candles were extinguished. We were told to stand in a line and walk forward into the darkness, our hand on the shoulder of the person in front.
As we did so, I was aware of complete nothingness. Sheer blackness. I was completely and utterly blind. Using all my other senses, I could smell the mustiness of the tunnel, feel the coolness of the temperature, hear the wariness of the people in front and behind. But the overwhelming experience was of complete and utter darkness. This experience made me wonder about the forms of darkness we experience when we frame our lives from a Christian perspective.
Forms of darkness
The Holy Bible first mentions darkness using the Hebrew word חשד [kho-shek] and in the Holy Bible, Genesis 1:1, we read ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ and note that this earth was created “in the beginning” (vs. 1) “without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2).
In contemporary times ‘the deep’ is often used to describe places in the sea. One of my friends recently described to me her experience of snorkelling in the sea in Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt. She said ‘I walked out from the beach into the sea, then began to swim, then snorkel. Suddenly I came upon a ledge and looking over all I could see was a deep, dark, almost black, void. I have never been so frightened in my life. This was dark world belonged to other creatures and not to me. I turned back to the light and felt safe’.
My friend’s example gives us a very small sense of the Genesis 1:2 statement that “darkness was upon the face of the deep”, but we are saved from this frightening image when we read that ‘the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters’ and the next verse highlights the ridding of darkness when God said, ‘Let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).
Corinthians 2: 4:6 takes this notion further: ‘For God, Who commanded the Light to shine out of the darkness’ shows how darkness existed first, then light came, as a creative act of God. Then God created the sun and moon, and “set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth” (Genesis 1:17). In Genesis 1:5, we see a reference to what the Bible first called ‘Day and Night’.
In Biblical language, ‘darkness’ is not only the night, but also the forces of evil that can seduce us and lead us away from walking in the right direction. And when we contrast darkness and light, we symbolize the moral dichotomy of good and evil.
Human beings can generate darkness through evil excesses
We live in a dark world and we hear of shocking atrocities every day: ISIS — beheading and crucifying the innocent; widespread abuse of children and the terrible evil of human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Nicky Gumbell, Anglican vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, UK, talks about the appalling atrocities happening in our contemporary times, giving the example of Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire, who was part of the United Nations mission to Rwanda and witnessed the genocide. He was asked how he could still believe in God. He replied, ‘I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists, and therefore I know that there is a God.’ We have heard the same chilling story from those involved in the Holocaust in the 1940s and from law enforcement officers involved with serial killers.
But in all this darkness, we are not without hope, for we can move towards the light of life
A world without God is a world of darkness. But Jesus Christ, who brings God’s light into this dark world, can drive out darkness.
In John 8: 12, Jesus puts himself in the place of God, telling us that he is the ‘light of the world’. I sometimes wonder how those without faith can cope with life. To me, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not crutches to be invoked when I need help. They light up my world, shining in those dark spaces, though the power of Jesus’ words when he said, ‘Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (v12).
Jesus leads us out of darkness into the light
When you turn to Jesus, you come out of the darkness of a life without God into the light of life with him. He leads us out of darkness, conflict and death into the light of life and love. He gives meaning and direction to our life. Not only that, but as we live with God, seeking to please Him, we embody together the ‘light of life’ to bring light into our dark world.
We are made to make a difference in the world around us. Your life, in Christ, can shine like a light in the spiritual darkness in the world around you. As Martin Luther King put it, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that’.
To do this we need to both see in the dark and be seen ourselves. These happenings can be both a blessing and a dread. By seeing in the dark, we can find our way through times of trial and fear of evil is reduced. However, by seeing in the dark we will see things we perhaps wish we hadn’t, and then feel we lack the courage to do something about it. It can be hard.
I was once on a bus going home after working all day in the university on a Saturday. I was tired, hungry, and, as the bus made its way to my village, I became increasingly angry at three youths on the back seat of the bus. They were loudly using extremely filthy language and throwing waste from their take-away meal at people down the bus. I was in the front. There was a man with two children at the back and he did nothing, like everyone else on the bus. A voice in my head said ‘you do something’, but I ignored it, until it became too loud to ignore. When we stopped in a small town on route, I stood up and shouted to the youths like an angry teacher, ‘Stop this at once. If I hear another peep out of you I will get the driver to drive around the corner to the police station and I will make an official complaint about your behaviour’. Everyone on the bus gaped at me as though I was a mad woman. However, the youths shut up for the rest of the journey (and so did the people!). I felt a fool, but I knew I had been right to do what I had done. Even though someone told me later that the youths had been on drugs.
However, there have been times when I have suspected foul play in other areas of my life and I have been a coward and said nothing. So — our lights might shine sometimes but not others. But that’s OK.. we do what we feel the Holy Spirit is encouraging us to do, whilst not being too foolhardy about our own personal danger.
Pastor Greer Dokmanovic of Mullumbimby, Australia, has some interesting things to say about light. Light exposes, showing us what is out there. It is usually good: it prevents us from falling over, bumping into things, getting lost, hurt or falling down — helps us find things and find our way. Many kids are scared of the dark, but as Greer says, maybe as we get older we become scared of the light. This may be because sometimes darkness is more comfortable and safe, we can stay hidden and not deal with what is there… stay in denial and pretend all is well. So sometimes on a spiritual or emotional or psychological level, we would rather stay in darkness. Because Vulnerability can be scary… to be seen and known… to have our darkness and shame exposed.
But for the Christian, ‘light’ is about truth — shining a light so that truth may be revealed. On a human, physical level — a practical level — we welcome light — so that light is our friend.
St Augustine said evil is an impulse towards nothingness. It is an attempt to return to chaos. But remember, God and Jesus have overcome evil and you are anointed by the Holy Spirit and God is with you. You can overcome evil with good.
But how can we overcome the darkness of evil with the light of goodness given to us through Jesus Christ?
The darkness of evil is not just found with organisations like ISIS, which delights in the mass murder of Christians and other ethnic groups, with Nazi brutality in the holocaust, in our own society.. child abuse trafficking of people for sex, promiscuity, binge drinking, drug taking. We find examples even closer to our own lives.
One Christian friend of mine is a District Nurse in the UK. It is a difficult job, trying to ensure that her team of nurses can manage to see to everyone they visit at home. But things kept happening in the team and she had serious trouble with one particular nurse on her staff team who seemed to want to find fault in her and cause problems in the team at every turn. She prayed and prayed for guidance and deliverance from God and the light of Jesus to help her understand the situation. One day she was talking to someone who knew this woman and the story she heard was chilling… it turned out that the woman was a Satanist and she was regularly casting spells against my friend. After the shock, she was able to deal with the staff member and have her removed from the team.
This true story shows how the darkness of evil is at work even in those situations when we least expect it. It warns us that we must take heed that we must battle against the spiritual forces of evil in the darkness of the heavenly realms.
Reverend Nicky Gumbell suggests we can take several stances against the darkness of evil. We can:
1. Be overcome and not do anything. Hide. Pretend nothing is happening.
2. Say to ourselves ‘It’s just how the world is. What difference could I possibly make?’
With these two positions we need to remind ourselves of Edmund Burke’s warning that ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [wo]men to do nothing.’
The third option is the Christ-like one:
3. Take Paul’s command that we shouldn’t be overcome by evil but try to overcome evil with good.
We can do this by drawing on the light of Jesus. God anointed Jesus, who then acted to overcome evil with good, thus setting the example for all humankind.
You can overcome the darkness of evil with good, because the light of Jesus shines on you all the time. In this light, you have the Holy Spirit. You are anointed. You have God on your side. You have been saved by the grace of Jesus on the cross. So you are well served to overcome evil with good.
As a Christian, every day you will be having a huge impact. For remember, you are the only Bible that many people read. Giving kind words, having a positive attitude, giving money and time to aid those in need, changing the bad language of a person. These are all ways in which you can overcome the darkness of evil with the light of Jesus.
But you can’t do it completely on your own, for in order to see spiritual forces you have to have developed spiritual sensitivity, and you do this by regular discipline of prayer and asking for Jesus’ light to shine on you, and through you to others.
And we must never give up shining the light of Jesus. In Galatians, Chapter 6, Paul tells us that we must not become weary doing good. As we see each opportunity, let us grasp it to do good with all people.
So be anointed by the Holy Spirit as you go out shining in the light of Jesus Christ. Don’t be overcome by the darkness of evil but overcome evil with good.