Cruising in Darkness

“Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”– Chinese proverb
“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”– John’s Gospel
“If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”– Matthew’s Gospel

“I’m in a dark place,” a friend said,  “A really dark place.”  So many pictures flash through my mind when I hear people talk of personal darkness.  I grew up a city kid until I was about ten years old.  I didn’t know darkness.  The few times I visited relatives who lived out in the sticks were brief experiences into a new kind of night; a night without the orange 11-07-2012-8-22-04-pmcityglow background.  When we did move out there ourselves, and those unlit nights became my nights it was hard to adjust.  It was the hardest part, actually.  Dark was really dark.  Years later I found a darkness even thicker than a country night.  In the middle of the Atlantic running with wartime lighting on a cloudless night I walked out onto the bridge wing to look around.  As soon as the hatch closed behind me I felt lost.  It was like entering a sensory deprivation chamber.  We were running with the wind so there was no breeze.  I barely made out the sound of the bow slicing into the ocean.  I felt my way over to the rail and inched out toward the end of the wing.  I had been standing there for a few moments when a voice said, “Dark out here, huh?”  I thought I was alone.  I ‘d been holding my hands up in front of my face trying to see them with no luck.  The voice startled me.  I could recognize my junior watch officer’s voice, there was no face to go with it.  “Yeah.”  I said back.  “Pretty darn dark.”  And it didn’t get lighter.  After 15 minutes I still couldn’t see my hands in front of my face. This was a darkness that enveloped me.  It felt like I was wearing it.  The only break in it was along the waterline where the ship was stirring up algae and creating a green glow of phosphorescence.  It was so faint and sporadic it seemed unreal.  The darkness was imposing and seemed eager to steal even this feeble attempt to overcome it.  This is what dark means, I thought.

A dark place.  How can we get out of a dark place?  I’m not really sure.  Most of the dark places I’ve found myself in are like the bridge wing or the move to the country.  I didn’t ask to move to the country, and I didn’t expect the bridge wing to be so dark.  Something happened, I went through a move or a door and…and there I was in the dark.  The only thing I know for sure about getting out of a dark place is that it isn’t accomplished by thoroughly examining the darkness.  It doesn’t come through determining all the reasons you’re in it either.  Some people seem to think it’s helpful to know how dark the dark really is, or to spend their time determining exactly how they ended up in it, but I don’t.  I don’t want to cruise the darkness and I don’t want to curse it either.  I just want out of it as soon as possible.  But if you are in a dark place today there are two things I learned on the bridge wing I hope will help you.  First, I wasn’t alone in the dark and neither are you.  There is a familiar voice which can penetrate the deepest darkness of our souls.  Second, there are hints of light as we move in the darkness, and they are real.  You are moving, even if you can’t fully discern it.  Follow when you can’t see.  Listen in the dark.

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”- John’s Gospel

What Can You Do if You Are Brokenhearted?

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Psalms 34:18

The greatness of God is found in His willingness to consort with the lowly, to draw near to the brokenhearted, to listen to the song sung in private.  More miraculous than water to Broken_Heart13wine or blindness to sight, is a God who lives as one of us, who comes as a crying baby rather than a crusading king.  Only the high can stoop low, and only the most high can bend down into hell itself.  If where you are feels like hell; if you are truly brokenhearted and crushed, what is your help?  The Christian God is the only God for you, the only promise of help, the only one who has gone to hell and back to demonstrate both his ability and commitment to giving you help.  Every other god leaves you crushed until you find the right offering or make the right moves.  And if you have no god at all you have no one but yourself to heal your broken heart – you must be both the surgeon and the patient.  The Christian God only asks that we ask; only requires that we cry out when we hurt.  There is no god like this God.

Why Am I Suffering?

A physical therapist came to visit my dad right after his knee surgery. While the stitches were fresh, he strapped his knee into a slow moving machine which bent the knee and then let it straighten out again. The PT guy would later take my dad through exercises and sometimes he would physically take the knee and bend it pretty far. I’m not sure, but I think this didn’t feel too good. As far as my dad was concerned it felt like the knee was being bent beyond it’s ability to bend.

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The PT was forcing the joint beyond it’s limits. Trials and difficulties in our lives often seem beyond our ability to endure. We like to ask ‘why God are you doing this to us?’ I don’t know all the reasons trials come, but I do know one. God allows what He could prevent in our lives for the purpose of extending our spiritual range of motion. He sees better than we do how far we can go. He stretches us in ways that feel very uncomfortable at the time so that He can come and display the fullness of His life in us. Having enemies is painful and uncomfortable, but Jesus can love an enemy and display this in you. For those who follow Christ there is no avoiding suffering, but at least we can know it is the suffering of spiritual therapy. It is the suffering which produces the full range of Christ’s life in us.

And a hint for those who want to dismiss the existence of God because of the existence of suffering:  eliminating God doesn’t eliminate suffering, it only eliminates the possibility that our suffering means anything at all.  No one has ever explained completely why we suffer.  Christianity doesn’t provide that answer.  But in the Christian story of the world we have a God who chooses to participate fully in our experience, including suffering.  The God who suffers is a unique aspect of Christianity.  It doesn’t answer our questions, but it does tell us one important fact:  The Christian God cares about suffering.