I don’t remember being afraid of the dark. I’m sure I went through normal childhood nyctophobia, and I certainly have those moments as an adult in which I’m fearful about some unknown noise outside at night or in a dark house. But there’s a deeper fear of a deeper dark with which I’m all too familiar.
In Ascent of Mt. Carmel, John of the Cross talks about faith as darkness, and that one who wants to live in union with God must enter the dark. This dark faith is opposed to senses and intellect, i.e. opposed to outward circumstances and our constant struggle to figure out how everything will work out and how we can position ourselves for the best possible outcome.
We are afraid of the dark, and that fear of stepping into the unknown is understandable. But the problem, all too often, is the reason for the fear. It isn’t because we know there will be struggle and that we must learn to walk by faith rather than by sight. The reason for our fear is because we are sure that we are all alone. Surely there is no one there to lead us into the light. Is there even any light at all?
The Downward Spiral
A great source of stress and unhappiness in the lives of many is the inability to live in the moment, the inability to trust that God is living it with us and that we are not missing out on his will or some better path and greater happiness. This is a pattern for many of us. We abandon one road and another because they lead into darkness. We can’t see that circumstances will get better with time and commitment, that things will happen as they need to if we will continue walking with God and trusting his care for our lives.
It is this absence of faith—our misguided reaction to this feeling of aloneness—that has us exhausted and joyless. It is a deep soul-exhaustion because there is no joy in anything. Nothing is good enough. There are no blessings. We are sure we are outside God’s will. So we grasp at phantoms. It is all akin to the spiral of death: sin (seeking life apart from God) results in death (separation from God), and confrontation with this death drives us to sin, and onward and downward we go.
And all of this results in a tragic irony: seeking to flee this feeling of aloneness, we make ourselves truly alone. We exile ourselves from God’s grace. We flee the darkness, slapping away God’s all-sufficient strength as it urges us on in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). We take on the running of our lives and the world around us, resisting the easy burden of Jesus’ yoke. We leave Jesus’ path untried, straining against his pace, looking backward and side-to-side…looking for something better, something brighter.
The Way Out
But Jesus walks gently and steadily, in the midst of our daily lives and among the ruins of the world he still holds together (Col. 1:15-17). He invites us to get in step with him, to commit ourselves to his way. But it’s a way of surrender, of letting go of control and the need to know how everything is and will be. The way of Jesus must ultimately yield to the dark. That’s where God is. If we want to walk with God, we must walk into the dark. Only then can we, eventually, learn that God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1Tim. 6:16). Greater revelations of God will blind us. Yet those who wish to see must become blind (Jn. 9:39).
But God is there. The Daddy who knelt before us with arms outstretched as we took our first steps, the Daddy who stepped back and back as we swam to him, the Daddy who unbeknownst to us had let go of the bike as we sped wobbly along, this same Daddy is there in the dark. We don’t have to be afraid. But we do have to keep going.