It doesn’t seem right that disciples should ever have to walk in darkness.
Yet Job spoke of “the thick darkness that covers my face” (Job 23:17)-although God himself had said Job was a righteous man. A few godly friends of mine have spoken of long periods of oppressive darkness when their fellowship with God was cut off. Many of the great Christian mystics have written of the “dark night of the soul.” And at different times my wife Helen and I have groped in uncertainty, pleading for a touch, a whisper, a glimpse of light from the Lord.
In those dreadful times of darkness our cries parallel Job’s:
“If only I knew where to find him;
if only I could go to his dwelling….
But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north,
I do not see him.
When he turns to the south,
I catch no glimpse of him.”
God has his reasons for this hiddenness. He is the God who dwells in unapproachable light, but at other times he is the God who covers himself with thick darkness. Job found that out.
Two Kinds of Darkness
We seem to experience two kinds of spiritual darkness. Some darkness is the result of sin, and we can deal with this kind. Were it not for the Cross, this separation from God would be total and eternal. But after we take our place in Christ, the darkness of sin can never be more than partial and temporary. The pain of this separation soon drives us to confession, and we discover again that God “is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
The second kind of darkness is not the result of unconfessed sin, but rather of the sovereignty of God. In such times we again search our hearts, lifting up every motive, act, and thought to the Holy Spirit’s examination. But this time no amount of confession will drive the darkness away. It leaves only when God’s purposes are complete.
How to Walk in Darkness
It is helpful in such times to remember how darkness functions in the physical world. When the lights go out, the room we are in does not change.
But our ability to perceive reality in the room is greatly reduced. If the room is a familiar one, we can move around fairly well even in total darkness. Its dimensions are imprinted in our memory.
Darkness does not change physical reality, but it does do these things:
1. It can trigger fear and panic.
2. It tends to confuse us, diminishing our sense of control.
3. It lessens and distorts our ability to perceive reality.
When Job found himself surrounded by darkness, his disciplined instincts, as we see in Job 23, were the right ones. Although he did not understand what was happening to him, he first dealt with fear by affirming his faith and confidence in the good intentions of God: “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”
Second, Job avoided confusion by sticking to the familiar, well-worn paths of discipleship that were habitual to him: “My feet have closely followed his steps; I have kept his way without turning aside.”
Third, he affirmed the one reality-God’s word-that he could hold on to, a reality that darkness could not touch: “I have not departed from the command of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.”
Young believers are rarely tested by Job’s kind of darkness. The Good Shepherd carries them in his arms, holding them and leading them. But growing disciples must eventually learn to walk by faith, and not by sight, feelings, or even human wisdom.
Darkness is a stern discipline. But our walk of faith in the midst of darkness brings glory to God and growth to us.
Perhaps Isaiah was reflecting on Job’s experience when he wrote,
“Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God ” (Isaiah 50:10)
The core of this difficult and important lesson was captured by V. Raymond Edman: “Don’t doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.”