In the beginning…
God’s first recorded words in the Bible are “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw that the light was good. (Genesis 1:4)
But he left darkness too.
And so it shall ever be. On June 21, we have 16 hours 41 minutes of light in Oxford, England. But we also have 7 hours 19 minutes of darkness. On December 22, however, we have 16 hours 18 minutes of darkness, but we still have 7 hours 42 minutes of daylight.
Some darkness on the sunniest day; some sunshine on the darkest day.
And so it always is, throughout our lives.
John drapes himself on us, heart flooded with love. On the other side, there’s Judas, serpent-heart despite his kiss. But eleven apostles out of twelve proved true. That is life too, and life is good.
* * *
Me, I am still living in summer, tasting the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I am healthy enough; my family is healthy. My children are doing well, academically, socially and spiritually, and are happy. We are paying our bills to date. I am enjoying my work. I am happy. I am happy.
But I am also allowing myself to slow down, and feel the sadness that God left in the beginning.
It has been an intense month. Jake, our eleven year old border collie, had a vast growth in his abdomen, and inoperable tumours in his liver which makes it uncomfortable to eat. So he stopped. How dreadful to watch a dog waste away. Finally, he could no longer walk, and we put him to sleep yesterday. The vet said it was definitely the right thing to do.
I have been feeling tired, and my blood work showed severe anaemia. So I had a colonoscopy, which showed a polyp. I am hoping for minimal surgery…but I must walk on the waters,, holding Jesus’ hand through that.
We have lost our wonderful cleaner, which has thrown us. He helped with everything—housesitting, chauffeuring kids, picking up purchases, garden work, painting, car cleaning, whatever needed to be done. An almost irreplaceable Man Friday.
Financially, we are still recovering from the burglary in February, of our car and electronics etc. We were underinsured, and so we have to put our nose to the grindstone to replace what we had to “borrow” from savings (earmarked for other bills) so as to replace the stolen things.
Love’s like a hurricane, and I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy, as John Mark Macmillan writes.
Couldn’t God have prevented all these griefs and hassles? I think, crossly.
* * *
In the Old Testament Book of Job, Job lost everything– children, wealth, health and the respect of his friends.
“Does it please you to oppress me?” he asks God (Job 10:3).
His friends insist that Job must have secretly sinned to deserve so much suffering, that he was under the Almighty’s curse—our intuitive (though unspoken) response to other people’s suffering
But Job insists he is guilty of no spectacular secret sin, “Let the Almighty answer me,” he demands (Job 31:35).
And God does. In the infuriating way only the Almighty can get away with, he answers Job in a series of questions.
“Who laid the earth’s cornerstone
While the morning stars sang together
And all the angels shouted for joy?
“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow?”
“Can you bind the beautiful Pleaides?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons?
Do you give his horse his strength
Who at the blast of the trumpets snorts, “Aha.”
God has put together this vast cosmos of sea and stars and snow, of lightning and lions and leviathans, ostriches, ospreys and eagles. Job, a very minor character in the complex epic of the universe, does not have the perspective to contend with him, God suggests.
God exists on another plane altogether, able to see the end from the beginning, to contain all things in his mind, to see the whole complex canvas of human existence at a single glance, and the glorious end of each contorted plot twist in our lives. While Job sees but one page, God sees the entire plot.
“Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker,
Does the clay say to the potter,
‘What are you making?’ the prophet Isaiah writes.
God is God. He chooses the plot of our lives, chooses the role we are to play in the cosmic drama. It is our task to play it well.
Job repents of his turbulent questions.
“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
My ears had heard of you,
But now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I repent.”
And Job’s acceptance turns things around. “The Lord made him prosperous again, and gave him twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10)
* * *
Darkness, trouble, hassle is a fact of life, seven hours of darkness in our brightest day. “In this world, you will have trouble,” were among Jesus’s last words, though he goes on to say, “But be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”
When God created a pristine world that he could have shaped any way, he deliberately left a bit of darkness too.
For the same reason a story-teller leaves a bit of darkness in his stories perhaps. It forces the story to a better, more beautiful, more interesting conclusion. Cinderella had to sleep among the cinders; Sleeping Beauty had to prick her thumb on the spindle; the shard of ice had to enter Kay’s heart for us to have a story.
Artists instinctively know that they must frame brightness with darkness. Possibly God like Van Gogh found as much beauty in a starry night as a sunrise.
Winter strengthens the root systems of trees, sending them delving deep for nourishment. Without it, bulbs would not burst into blossom. Eternal summer can take a toll on mental health; in Greenland suicides are more common in summer. Seasonal Affective Disorder strikes in the summer as well as in winter.
If we had eternal daylight, eternal summer, unblemished happiness, we would not value them quite as much. A period of just-enough makes us appreciate how money can cushion and enrich life; a period of loneliness makes friendship precious; a period of failure sweetens success.
God left darkness and winter as facts of life. So what do we do when life does not go the way we want it to?
We fling up our hands and accept it, light as well as darkness, good as well as evil, trusting the one who sends both, light that shines in winter, the selah of darkness in summer.
* * *
We accept it, with thankfulness that our world with all its darkness is still under God’s protection.
The world tilts towards good as it tilts towards the sun.
Because, as we are told in the second line of Genesis, while all the world was darkness, the spirit of God still hovered over the water.
And so we have hope.
I am in a situation of chaos, stress and high emotion, and over me the Spirit hovers.
My dog is dying, and I am overwhelmed with sadness watching him, and over me the spirit hovers.
I want my anaemia to go and that polyp to be benign, and over me the spirit hovers.
Life will bring me light and goodness and joy, but if it presents challenges, I know this for sure: Over me the spirit hovers, always hovers.
* * *
And so I can face the future. And so I can smile.
Because as Gerard Manley Hopkins says,
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out
It gathers to a greatness,
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell:
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Ah the Spirit’s warm breast, his bright wings. So much love surrounding us, whether we feel it or not.
And so as John Mark Macmillan continues,
Then all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize just how beautiful you are and how great your affections are for me.
And I really do believe, what Paul wrote to the Romans: In all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28) Because he is super-duper powerful and creative, and so he can. Because he is good, and so he will.
And so I say with Julian of Norwich, “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well,” because the Holy Spirit broods over us, strengthening us, filling us with joy. He swoops down in light and joy, but something has his “dark descending” as Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it, continuing, surprisingly, ‘And most is merciful then.”
God saw that light was good, but he left the darkness too. Why? From @anitamathias1
Couldn’t God have prevented all these griefs and hassles? I think, crossly. From @anitamathias1
Suffering can force a story to a better, more beautiful, more interesting conclusion. From @anitamathias1
Possibly God, like Van Gogh, found as much beauty in a starry night as a sunrise. From @anitamathias1
Over to you
Have you seen the light shine in the darkness?
Have you experienced the brooding comfort of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the darkness?
This post is kindly sponsored by How to up your health game.