Darkness, Our Friend

In 2004 I walked through what some people might call a dark night of the soul.

Our family of four returned to California from crushing disappointment in Michigan after a failed business attempt. I struggled to understand.

Was it a mistake? We were sure that God sent us there to embark on new adventure for our family and with Christian friends.

A song by Jeremy Camp came out around that time. The chorus was,

 

I still believe in your holiness. I still believe in your truth. I still believe in your holy Word. Even when don’t see. I still believe.

 

I remember cry-singing these words to God as I lay face down on the cold tile floor in my bathroom. I spoke the words, but my heart felt like the tile under face where my tears gathered.

That failure and discouragement shook my lifelong paradigm that A + B = C. We follow God’s leading he is supposed to prosper us. If we obey, he blesses. That is what the Bible says, isn’t it?

When we returned to the safety of our home state of California, I could not wait to escape that cold, dark place my soul had become. I clamored for the security that is found in the light.

I ran to the safety of what one of my favorite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor calls “solar Christianity”. It is the relentless effort to brighten every dark and scary part of our existence, not permitting any dank corner of doubt or confusion to remain.

The church we ended up in had clearly designated lines of demarcation between light and dark. We implemented formulas that we were told were based on biblical truth. Do “this” and “that” will happen. Believe and speak the truth and all will be well. Tell the devil to flee and he will.

It was just what I craved in those murky days. But in hindsight, I’m not sure it was what I really needed.

When Darkness Remains

Doesn’t biblical truth include not knowing why things happen the way they do? Is there room for confusion and doubt to linger in our hearts instead of rushing them out the door? Does darkness have something to teach us if we would just let it sit and stay for a while?

The disciples that followed and loved Jesus could not comprehend that the ministry of their Teacher included the darkest day in history, where he was violently beaten and then crucified. They believed he came to save the world, but they were unable to see how the night of his death could be a part of that plan of salvation.

The glory of light is only appreciated after the darkness of night. Even as morning dawned on Resurrection Sunday to find Jesus had conquered the darkness of Good Friday, some of the nighttime remained. His closest friends saw him and touched him, but still did not comprehend his purpose.

Jesus chose not to speed them through their confusion and disappointment just because they were uncomfortable. But when the time was right many weeks later in that upper room in Jerusalem, the first of countless hearts were illuminated by the Holy Spirit who Jesus promised would guide his followers into the truth and reveal God’s mysteries.

We think of night and darkness as sinister and creepy. We fear what can happen in places where we have no idea what is around the next corner or even hiding right beside us. When we find ourselves in those places, we eagerly, sometimes frantically, plead for dawn or strain to see the light at the end of the tunnel so that we can escape.

But darkness existed before light did. Not only that, God chose not to eliminate the darkness altogether when he created the world. All he did was separated it from the light. (Genesis 1:2-5)

Why is that? Could it be that the dark periods in our lives, the times of confusion and disappointment, are just as necessary for our growth and eternal well-being as the times when all is bright? Isn’t it in the darkness that our senses are heightened and more attuned?

Seeing the Unseen

I rise early every morning, around five o’clock most days. I hear Georgia the cat meowing at my door hoping I will play fetch with her. It is dark at that hour no matter the season, but it is my favorite time of day.

Getting out of bed I do not turn on the light. I sit up, feel for my glasses and my phone on the side table. I reach out for my glass of water, hoping not to knock it over. That kind of fumble would force me to switch on the lamp to assess the damage and clean up, effectively ending my husband’s peaceful rest.

My sense of touch, hearing and even sight are leveraged as I strain to see what I cannot see, listen for signs of undisturbed sleep from my husband as I feel my way to the door.

If we are wise, we will similarly engage our spiritual senses during times in our lives when we do not understand what in the world God is doing. Normally, we turn on the light as soon as we can find it. But if we will allow the darkness to stay a while, we might find just what we need, even if it is not what we expect.

God does not promise that we will find the answers we seek while we are enveloped by the night seasons in our lives. We will bump into things and cause spills that need to be sopped up. But he tells us that we can find something much more satisfying. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most comforting scriptures in the Bible.

 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Two verses later in Jeremiah 29:13 we read,

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

If we will pray and seek him In the dark times of our lives, we will not necessarily find straightforward answers, but we will find him. And when we find him, the longing for answers fades as we are enveloped in the light of the presence of him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

The Promise of Everlasting Light

That’s what happened to the disciples. As they waited and prayed through their spiritual darkness, they were visited by tongues of fire resting on each of them. (Acts 2:1- 3) The Spirit of Light came to live in and with them, illuminating what was most important, transforming them into light bearers for our spiritually darkened world.

They finally had clarity about what God’s plan was, even if they did not have answers to every question and solutions to every problem.

The Lord did not eliminate all darkness from believers at Pentecost and he leaves us marinating in ours sometimes as well. He finds our uncertainty, and even our suffering, useful for reasons we may never fully understand.

But he promises that one day, when he has completed all he has planned for the earth, he will eradicate the night, and everything will be illuminated. He will be our Light and the only one we need.

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever”.

Revelation 22:5

Until that day, there are lessons to be learned as we grope and stumble in the night hours of our pilgrimage on earth.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light become night around me” – even the darkness is not dark to You, but the night shines like the day, for darkness is as light to You.

Psalm 139:11-12

So, we can walk on, even in the dark night of the soul, seeking to find and to know our loving God more deeply. To him our night is as bright as the day and he will guide us home.

 

3 Crucial Life Lessons from a Father’s Failure

He fell off his seat backward, broke his neck and died. That’s how life ended for Eli, the high priest.

I’ve read the story of Eli, his corrupt sons, the routing of the Israelites by the enemy Philistines and the capturing of the precious Ark of the Covenant many times.

But today when I read it, it made me cry. For Eli.

Even though this God-appointed priest seems to have started out well, Eli’s forty years in that position did not result in the godly legacy that he might have hoped for.

Failed Fatherhood

Eli’s sons were priests like their father. But the Bible calls them sons of Belial – worthless, good-for-nothings.

They did not know the Lord.

They stole from those who came to offer sacrifices.

They defiled the house of God by laying with the women who served there.

It appeared that they did whatever lustful thing they desired, robbing and abusing the people who came to worship and serve.

How did these rebellious sons get away with their debauchery? Sadly, Eli didn’t hinder them. All he did was warn them that their behavior was deadly, saying,

“If one man sins against another, God will mediate for him; but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” (1 Samuel 2:25a).

But those words of warning did nothing to stop them and the Bible tells us why.

“But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for the Lord desired to put them to death.” (1 Samuel 2:25b)

Why did the Lord want to put them to death? It’s likely because Eli and his sons had been dishonoring God and the people for quite some time. Their time to repent was up.

God sent a prophet to rebuke Eli for putting his sons before God and making themselves fat with the choicest of every offering that the people brought to the sanctuary. God tells Eli that his bloodline will be cut off and his legacy ended in disgrace.

A Great Loss

Eli arrived at the end of his long life a weak, overweight, disgraced man. What sent him over the edge to death was the capturing of the Ark of the Covenant.

The enemy Philistines stole the precious presence of God from their midst. There was nothing left. Eli had been caring for the ark for forty years and now it was gone.

Now Eli was ninety-eight years old, and his eyes were set so that he could not see.  The man said to Eli, “I am the one who came from the battle line. Indeed, I escaped from the battle line today.” And he said, “How did things go, my son?” Then the one who brought the news replied, “Israel has fled before the Philistines and there has also been a great slaughter among the people, and your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been taken.” When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell off the seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy. Thus he judged Israel forty years. (1 Samuel 3:15-18)

Eli failed.

He was gluttonous and greedy.

He raised sons who were lustful and treacherous.

He couldn’t protect the ark of God.

Eli lost.

He lost his opportunity to leave a legacy of holiness and fidelity to God.

He lost his sons who the Lord himself killed.

He lost the most precious object on the planet, the ark, the carrier of the presence of God.

He couldn’t control himself.

There are only a couple of times in the Bible that we read that someone is heavy. This is one of them. Eli ate more than the priest’s share of the offerings that the people brought.

He couldn’t control his sons.

Hophni and Phineas were adults, but they were ungodly priests whose behavior should never have been allowed to go on.

I never used to relate to Eli. I saw him as a man who make huge mistakes and paid for it. I saw him as weak but never anything like me. That has changed.

God’s Mercy in Our Weakness

Now that I’m older, and I’ve raised my two sons into adulthood, I see the story somewhat differently. I can relate to Eli’s mistakes.

Maybe I was too hard on my oldest son when he was a teenager.

Maybe I didn’t require enough of my youngest.

There were times when I lacked self-control and raised my voice.

Did I ever place them above the Lord in my heart?

It amazes me that God gives these tiny helpless humans to parents who are so imperfect. In our 20’s and 30’s we haven’t yet learned so many lessons that would make us better parents.

We still tend to be selfish, impatient and lacking compassion. It’s parenting that helps to mature us, but in the process our kids can get hurt.

It’s painful. The past can’t be changed.

I can ask for forgiveness. I can do things differently now. That’s all good. But I can’t alter the consequences that came from my choices.

My hope and peace come from knowing that God loves and forgives and works all things together for good for those who are called and who love him. (Romans 8:28).

I’m grateful for that promise because I need him to work out a lot!

As hard as it is to see my mistakes, it gives me empathy for people like Eli.

The Bible tells us about folks with less than stellar records on purpose.

We relate to their weakness.

We learn to ask for wisdom in our choices, so we avoid the same mistakes.

3 Life Lessons from Eli

  1. Love and honor God above everyone and everything. Eli and his sons put themselves before God.

Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed. (1 Samuel 2:30)

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)

  1. Don’t wait to turn around. Eli and his sons didn’t turn from their sins.

And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. (1 Samuel 3:13)

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

  1. Develop self-control. Eli and his sons didn’t restrain their lusts.

Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’ (1 Samuel 2:29)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

There is Hope

Eli, Hophni and Phineas came to a terrible end.

Sadly, there are people all around us that go down the same road. We see it in the news and in our own backyard. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

If we will surrender our hearts to the Lord, he will give us the ability to love and honor him first and above all and not make our children into idols, serving them first.

The Holy Spirit will lovingly convict us of our sin so that we can repent and be set free from the burden and shame. One day at a time.

He will give us the fruit of self-control so that we do not fall into temptation.

There is always hope!

God sees, knows and cares. We can find encouragement in the fact that he will never stop working all things out for our good and for his glory.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. – Jeremiah 29:11-12