May 9, 2013

God is in the darkness

Our weekly study group read and discussed the book of Jonah last night. Most of the people there were not impressed with this rebellious prophet and some even mocked him.

However, I saw Jonah differently than ever before. I know what it feels like to say ‘no’ to God and then go into great conflict because of it. Jonah’s emotional state would have mirrored his spiritual torment. Those who know and love God cannot fight with Him without feeling depressing guilt and the pounding of the Holy Spirit. Besides that, when I resist His will, I am left alone to battle with my foolishness, which is a dark place.

Jonah was walking in darkness, wrapped in seaweed in darkness, and in the belly of a fish in darkness. Even after God spoke to him, rescued him, and worked obedience in his life, this reluctant preacher was still turned inward, without humility and without gratitude toward the Lord.

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who equip yourselves with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the torches that you have kindled! This you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment. (Isaiah 50:10–11)

What does it mean to walk in darkness? Sometimes God simply withdraws the sense of His presence to test and prove my faith. Will I keep on? Will I seek Him?

Sometimes darkness is my own doing. Like Jonah, I say ‘no’ to something God wants or ‘yes’ to something He doesn’t want, and the lights go out. As these verses say, when that happens, I only add to the problem as I try my own ‘light’ which results in the experience of more darkness. Solutions of the flesh are never solutions and no escape from the torment. Jonah tried to run away from God and that ‘light’ didn’t work either.

In Jonah’s situation, God asked him to do something that repulsed him; he was to take God’s message to his enemies. Another Old Testament saint, Job, was struck on all sides too, without any apparent reason for his darkness. He lost everything but his wife and his life, but did the opposite as Jonah. Jonah ran, but Job stayed. He complained and argued, yet his trust in God remained.

Faith is easy when all goes well and my tasks are pleasant. Could I have faith if my children were buried, my home desolate, my health and prosperity gone?

Today’s devotion (again by Spurgeon) asks if my easy faith is really faith in God at all. Or is it only a cheerfulness that rises out of my surroundings? He grabs my heart by saying, “Fair-weather faith is a poor imitation of the real grace. I entreat you to be stalwart, for if you cannot do so, your strength is small, and your faith is questionable.”

Not only that, this preacher (who has become a friend!) says to remember one more thing: My blessed Lord and Master was not spared the blackest midnight that ever fell on any human. He was exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. How can I expect to be treated better than God’s dear Son, the Lamb of God?

What will come of it if I can trust God in the dark? I will discover again that He will not fail me. Even before the light comes and while it is still dark, such faith declares it. He is God of light and God of darkness.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:11–12)

Trusting God in the dark is also a humbling thing. Spurgeon says that by walking in darkness and seeing no light, “You will form a very low idea of yourself, and this will be a superior blessing.” I wince, but know it is true.

Further, if I can trust God in dark trials, I will prove and enjoy the power of prayer. The person who has never needed to cling to God in prayer cannot declare the wonder of being able to pray, or to say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him…” (Job 13:15)

It is in these struggles that Christians mature. Faith in the dark changes my life, even brings greater light than was hoped for and a fuller reward than was expected. This means that being in the dark is not a bad thing. God uses such trials for my good and for His glory. I can trust Him in the light — and when the lights go out.

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