Adapted from a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service message at Agape Church
We are naturally drawn to light because most of us do not prefer the dark. At least we do not prefer it for long periods of time or in situations where it’s not planned. If the lights go out at our house, we quickly scramble for candles and flashlights. Something about complete darkness unnerves us and we flee from it by seeking even the smallest sliver of light we can find.
Have you ever stopped and wondered why so many of us are unsettled by darkness? Fear, psychologists say, is an emotion that makes us vigilant. It’s our body’s way of preparing to protect itself from potential harm. When it’s dark we are unable to see who or what is around us, so our bodies go on heightened alert. Fear of the dark is our response to possible danger in the unknown. And physical darkness is not the only place we find ourselves struggling. When any circumstance enters our life that brings about the unknown, we are likely to be afraid. When we find ourselves in a situation where we do not understand what is going to happen and it’s unclear what we should do, we will likely experience fear. And that fear may not always look like what we might expect. Fear in a horror movie is easy to recognize: People scream, cry, cower, and make REALLY bad decisions. But fear often manifests itself in other ways as well. When afraid, some people will rage in resentment and bitterness; some withdraw and isolate; some run to unhealthy habits or people or addictions to feel better. So while we may not readily recognize it, the reality is we often find fear at the center of undesirable behavior. We are afraid of something that is dark to us. Something that is unknown.
Do Not Fear?
For the past 2 years, our world has been in an ever increasing, exhaustive darkness that has encircled us in fear. Some of us fear the virus. Some of us fear the world we think people are creating because of the virus. And that fear is manifesting itself in the ways we just talked about: Withdrawal, rage, division, depression, and unhealthy addictions.
One of the most common commands in the Bible is Do Not Fear. This is a command to not be afraid of the dark; to not cower at the unknown or cope with darkness in unhealthy ways. When God gives that command, He is not denying that there is very real danger in the world. You see the command from God to not fear is always followed by a promise from God: I Will Be With You. But that particular promise is only helpful if we understand the power of the one making the promise and if we trust Him. What comfort is it to have someone with you in the dark unless that person has the ability to see the unknown and to deal with what lurks in the shadows? And what good is to have someone with you who has the ability to overcome any danger, unless you know that person is willing to help you?
You Are Never Beyond His Care
In Psalm 139, David writes about the care God has for His children. It is a deep and thorough care, too great for us to really comprehend. He speaks about God’s intimate and exhaustive knowledge of us. David says that God knows us better than we even know ourselves. He is familiar with all of our ways, but He also knows the motives behind ALL we do (which is something we ourselves are not always aware of). He knows our very thoughts and he knows every word we will speak, even in the future. God formed us in the womb. We were made in his image with a specific purpose and He himself has planned our days. And then David confirms God’s protection over us. He writes that God will hem us in. This is a term that was used of besieged cities that were enclosed with forces all around. This God, who is acquainted with us SO well, guards us and guides us with his hand laid upon us. There is no place God’s children can go that they will beyond his care. If we could ascend to the highest point or go to the lowest depth, if we could travel as far as the east is from the west, He would still be present. David even tells us that when we find ourselves in the dark, God is there to care for us. Because even the darkness is not dark to God. For darkness is as light with Him.
When the Bible tells you to fear not because God is with you, it is based on the reality that God knows everything there is to know about you and yet loves you beyond what you can imagine. And He is able to deliver you from any fearful circumstance. You do not have to rage or isolate or self-medicate, because He is able to take care of you. That darkness that scares you so much, is not dark to Him. Nothing is hidden from his eyes. He knows every danger and He knows how to hem you in and lead you out of it. He is the God who exists in the light. He himself is the light. But He is also sovereign over the darkness. He named it and He uses it for His purposes. The darkness is but clay in His hands.
God Uses the Darkness
In his book the Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards summarized that God uses trials, which I would equate to darkness, for several purposes. One of those purposes is to help distinguish between true and false Christianity. Prosperity is great, of course. That is where we all want to live. But really good times do little to distinguish between the faithful and the unfaithful. Edwards would say The divine excellency of Real Christianity is never exhibited with such advantage as when it is under the greatest trials. I would put it this way: When you are afraid, when the darkness and the unknown closes in, that is time for you to see whose hand you grasp for. Does your fear lead you to self-protection and self-soothing? Or do you reach for the one who is powerful and good and with you in every unknown? Who or what do you trust in when you can’t see where you are going? For those who reach for God’s hand through faith in His son Jesus, Edwards says that their real Christianity will shine through brightly and will even be strengthened. And if you realize in the darkness that you do not truly trust God or that you have wandered from Him, it gives you the opportunity to run to Christ and cling to Him truly. And He will hem you in and lay his hand on you because He loves you. Nothing will touch you that He does not allow to do so and all that he does allow will be used for your good. If then a time of fear and blackness gives way to you seeing that your religion is not as it should be, then what a gift it can be. That thing you are afraid of is clay in the hands of the Master, who is molding your life for your own good.