Light And Darkness


lunar_crepuscular_rays_2Years ago when I was teaching, we took our eighth graders on a three-day science field trip to Catalina Island. One of the activities was to experience a sight deprivation maze. It’s hard to imagine a place as dark as that cramped labyrinth was.

From that experience I can tell you confidently, darkness is not beautiful. In fact, you can’t see the darkness. You simply can’t see anything. No shades or shapes, not even movement. Your eyes can’t register a single thing because of the absence of light.

Light, on the other hand, is exceedingly beautiful in its many manifestations. I thought of this again on Sunday as I was driving to church. Sunlight streamed through parted clouds, lining them with gold. Not silver, like the cliche. But it was so brilliant, I suppose you might say it was sort of silvery-gold.

And just the day before, as the sun was about to break above the horizon, its light painted a scattering of woolly clouds with pink, all but their outer gray edges. That’s nothing to the sunsets we get in the fall. Then there is the full moon climbing through the early night, or the crescent moon lingering with the last stars in the early dawn.

Light in its many forms is beautiful. Well, maybe not all artificial light can be said to be beautiful, but natural light does dramatic things. Starlight twinkles, sunlight refracts, candlelight glows, and firelight dances.

Any wonder then, that Scripture says Jesus is the Light of the world?

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life
– John 8:12

Yet, most likely, because of the little bit of physical description we have of Jesus, we don’t think of Him as beautiful. Isaiah 53:2b says,

He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

But then this from Psalm 27:

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple. (v. 4 – emphasis mine)

This morning I was listening to Awaken the Dawn, an album by Keith & Kristyn Getty. One song, “What Grace Is Mine” opens with these words:

What grace is mine that He who dwells in endless light
Called through the night to find my distant soul

The phrase “endless light” grabbed me. Not only does God dwell in endless light, He is endless light. It speaks to God’s eternal nature, but it also promises unlimited beauty. And what a contrast to the “night” through which He calls – the darkness of sin that blanks out the light. No wonder He needs to call me. My condition prohibits me from seeing even endless light. Except, He tore the veil.

All fear can flee for death’s dark night is overcome
My Saviour lives and reigns forevermore

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in January 2011.

Published in: on November 3, 2016 at 5:48 pm  Comments Off on Light And Darkness  
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The Passion Of The Christ: Good Wednesday


the_crucifixion011I don’t have an ax to grind about when Christians commemorate the day Christ was crucified. In some ways, I think it’s odd that we do at all. I mean, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper so that we would remember His broken body and shed blood—the evidence of His sacrifice on our behalf. So setting aside Good Friday seems, redundant. Not a bad thing, certainly, but kind of like Kids Day.

When I was young I asked my parents why moms got Mother’s Day and dads got Father’s day but kids didn’t get a day. She wisely answered, That’s because every day is kids’ day. Well, she probably didn’t say “kids” but you get the idea. If it’s normative, then no special commemoration needs to be made.

So too with Christ’s death on the cross. We are regularly to celebrate it, so a special Good Friday seems unnecessary to me. But not to others.

So why am I calling this post Good Wednesday and talking about Christ’s execution today? Last year I wrote about the idea which I learned from my former pastor, Chuck Swindoll, that Christ died on a Wednesday, allowing His body to be in the grave three days and three nights as Scripture says.

This year I’m looking at an altered timeline which would allow for the events of the Passion described in the gospels to take place in all their fullness. I think that’s important for a number of reason, the greatest perhaps being that this understanding eliminates what some people have referred to as inconsistencies or contradictions in the four gospel accounts.

One of these differing accounts has to do with the time of Jesus’s crucifixion. Mark gives several time references in his record of events:

It was the third hour when they crucified Him. . . . When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. (15:25, 33)

Unlike the western manner of reckoning time, the Jews marked the hours starting at sunrise, as explained by Strong’s Lexicon:

hōra: a twelfth part of the day-time, an hour, (the twelve hours of the day are reckoned from the rising to the setting of the sun)

Hence, the third hour would have been 9 AM, the sixth hour, noon, and the ninth hour, 3 PM.

However, John records a different time in his gospel:

Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (19:14-15, emphasis added)

Note that John describes Pilate at the end of his haggling with the Jews—the end of Jesus’s final trial—and it is already noon. Either he got the time wrong or Mark did or they both got it right and these events happened on different days.

Because I think all Scripture is inspired by our omniscient Holy Spirit, I don’t think either book has a wrong time recorded. Rather, I think we’ve been reading these accounts through the lens of our tradition. If we presuppose the accuracy of Scripture, based on God’s authorship, then where we think we see discrepancies, we need to re-evaluate our understanding.

If we understand the events connected with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus to have taken place over a period of several days, we can offer a counterpoint to the idea that the gospels contain errors or aren’t reliable or are only reliable for the generalities or the themes they depict.

Blood_MoonOne added note, not really related to this topic. This week the Americas enjoyed a rare sight—a full eclipse of the moon, the kind that creates a reddish cast, and consequently is known as a “Blood Moon.”

Monday night I watched as the earth’s shadow slipped across the face of the moon, darkening the reflected white light and in turn darkening the sky. The “total” part of the eclipse lasted only moments.

But imagine the day Jesus died and the full eclipse of the sun. Not the gradual movement of the moon between it and the earth, I don’t think. Mark said darkness fell over the whole earth on the sixth hour until the ninth. The heart of the day, from noon until three.

Darkness.

And why not? Why wouldn’t the universe protest against the Light of the world hanging on a cross, against the Maker of life giving up His Spirit in death.

It’s only fitting that during those hours when the dominion of darkness seemed to be winning, that the world would go dark.

Praise God, those three hours of darkness, those three days of Jesus’s burial, came to a glorious end.

Published in: on April 16, 2014 at 7:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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Stumbling Around In The Dark


A month or so ago I cut open my toe, which bled a lot, all because I was stumbling around in the dark. Granted, I was trying to get to a light to turn it on, but that doesn’t fit the metaphor I want to use. 😉

I thought about stumbling around in the dark when I read the story of Israel setting out to conquer the Promised Land. After Moses charged Joshua to lead the people, he died.

So there they were, on the wrong side of the Jordan, and lo and behold, as God had those past forty years, He came to their rescue First He gave them specific direction and then He worked a miracle so they could cross. More than that, He told them how to go about taking Jericho, and a week later He brought down the walls of that fortified city.

All this time God had appeared among them as a cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night. This Presence either filled the tabernacle–the tent where they were to offer sacrifices and where the High Priest was to meet with God–or moved away, which meant they were to break camp and follow.

I haven’t found anywhere in Scripture that says when God no longer moved with them in this way. I wonder if He would have continued to do so until they finished conquering the land (a process that took at least five years). But apparently the people decided they no longer needed Him to tell them were to go.

Hence, Joshua sent spies to the little town of Ai, decided they could take it with a mere 3000 men, and sent them off. God, however, was not with them. Those Israelites were routed. Then and only then did Joshua and the elders of the tribes fall on their faces before God. Graciously He told them what the problem was: disobedience.

He even helped them determine who the disobedient person was and then passed judgment on him. Once again He was prepared to lead His people. This time he gave Joshua a battle plan. He was to put men in ambush, then draw the opposition away from the city.

The plan worked perfectly and Ai fell.

So why didn’t Israel continue to let God lead them?

After Ai, a group of people nearby decided they didn’t want to die and they didn’t want to leave their homes and they didn’t want to forsake their gods, so they came up with a plan to fool Israel into making a treaty with them.

Israel fell for it.

So all this time they’d lived in the light, guided by God’s pillar of cloud or fire, and now they couldn’t even seem to ask Him if making a treaty with these people was a good idea.

They abandoned the light in favor of stumbling in the dark.

Before we think too harshly of them, perhaps we should first think about our own prayer life and see exactly what we are asking God. Already I can hear a handful of people saying, Oh, but God doesn’t work in that way any more.

Really? You mean having the Holy Spirit living in my life is less advantageous than having God’s presence fill the tabernacle? I don’t think so. Rather, I think, just as the people of Israel did before Ai and before making that treaty, we ignore the light and stumble along in the dark. Scripture calls this quenching the Holy Spirit.

I can’t help but wonder how many Ai’s we would successfully conquer or how many treaties we would avoid if we walked in the light instead.

Published in: on October 25, 2012 at 5:35 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Author


I love the fact that the writer of Hebrews refers to Jesus as the author. Not “an author,” mind you, but the author, specifically the author of our salvation and the author and perfecter of our faith:

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (2:10)

fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (12:2)

Interestingly the word has the connotation of one who takes the lead, who serves as a pioneer. That idea seems appropriate to me for writers. Rather than serving as reporters of the human condition, an author is one who leads the way to truth.

I realize there are varying philosophies about writing, but this use of “author” in the Bible gladdens my heart.

Darkness is in the world and certainly darkness is an appropriate, even necessary, part of stories. But it doesn’t have to be the central element. I know I don’t want it to be the central element in my stories.

As I think about the best of Christian fantasy, I ask, where was darkness? Where was darkness in Lord of the Rings, in Narnia?

In the first, I’d say it was ever lurking on the fringe, even stalking the good and noble and true. As the story progressed and the main character traveled further, darkness grew, but so did the resolve of those opposing it.

In the latter, darkness took a more insidious form — that of deception and betrayal. As such it still wasn’t quite front and center for most of the story. It was always present in the mind of the reader, and ultimately solving the problem of evil drove the story to its final conclusion. But the stories weren’t about darkness, though perhaps The Last Battle came close.

My point is, in these great fantasies, J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis led the way to truth without darkness being the predominant element. In each story they painted the picture of a world in need and yet the greatest part was the process of overcoming the dark.

In this day of dark stories, of vampires and werewolves and zombies, I find the idea of leading the way through the dark to truth a refreshing alternative.

Published in: on November 10, 2011 at 5:22 pm  Comments (5)  
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Darkest Before The Dawn


A couple years ago, I wrote a post with this same title, but today, I’m thinking about the topic a little differently.

Having read The Ale Boy’s Feast this week, a novel set in a dark, dark world, and anticipating next month’s supernatural suspense, Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso, I couldn’t help but think a little about the subject.

What I’m wondering is whether or not most people consider their circumstances dark. I’m guessing, many do not. I suspect there are a great many who think that their ship might still come in. They might win the lottery, meet Mr. Right, get that long-hoped-for promotion, buy the right stock at just the right time, retire in perfect health with enough cash to attack that bucket list. And until then, there’s always the weekend.

Monday? Not so great. But the week gets moving and the weekend crawls closer, and things start looking up because it will be Par-tay time!

A dark world? Just ignore the irritating stuff. Complain about it if you have to, maybe write an angry letter to your congressman, call a talk show, or flip off the guy who cut in front of you on the freeway. But no worries, Man, Tomorrow the traffic won’t be so bad, the Next Thing will make me forget what I was complaining about on the radio, and in a few months we’ll vote the bums out of office, or try to.

And when things seem to crowd in, like a bad marriage or rebellious kids or the company going out of business or rising gas prices, just turn up the TV a little louder and pour another drink or pop another pill or smoke (and inhale) something numbing.

Darkness? What’s dark about living to get laid, or jolted by the rush of adrenaline at the race track or ball park? What’s dark about playing Wii with the kids or doing the soccer mom thing? What’s dark about barbecues in the backyard or planning vacations to Yellowstone?

Why would anyone think this world is dark?

The secret stuff, maybe—the heartbreaks or dangerous desires, the out-of-control fears or unrelenting desperation—but those are buried out of sight, and hey, everyone knows, out of sight, out of mind. So no, life is most definitely not dark.

Maybe there are dark spots, patches, like black ice, we need to navigate around or over, but the sun is shining around the next bend and the road will be dry up ahead. I just won’t think about where this road is taking me. I’m having too good a time driving in comfort and ease, with the radio cranked up so I don’t hear the horns honking or the sirens screaming or the tires squealing.

Dark? Not the world most people know, I’m guessing.

So who, then, is looking for the dawn?

Published in: on May 20, 2011 at 5:36 pm  Comments (16)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 2 The Beauty


Beauty in the midst of darkness

After looking at components that create darkness in Jeffrey Overstreet’s fantasy world depicted in The Ale Boy’s Feast—book four, or the White Strand, of The Auralia Thread series—today I want to consider the “haunting beauty” R. J. Anderson referenced in her endorsement.

Seemingly no one can write a review of Jeffrey Overstreet’s fiction without invoking the word or idea of beauty. Jonathan Rogers said, “Jeffrey Overstreet has made something beautiful here.” Another endorser says he “writes like Van Gogh painted.” Another said it’s a work of art and yet another likened it to a beautiful dream. At Amazon, reviewers say things like poetic, wonderful language, descriptive.

All this points to one of the chief elements of beauty in The Ale Boy’s Feast — words. Not just words, but the way Jeffrey Overstreet strings them together.

Here’s a short snippet to illustrate the point from a page I turned to at random:

As the ale boy emerged from the earth’s crooked mouth, he breathed deep, relieved to escape the stagnant air of the maze below. Any light, even the sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin over a world drained of colors, was better than the subterranean dark.

“The sickly glow of the sun’s cold coin” — how’s that for an image!

This passage serves as an excellent illustration of my point. Even when the scene is bleak and the character is suffering, the language elevates the reader because of its beauty.

But beauty comes in an even greater measure from the characters. For one thing, some cling to hope when all seems darkest. Cyndere believes the beastmen can be restored when all around her want to destroy them, when her own experience should lead her to hatred not hope.

Cal-raven clings to the hope of a New Abascar when every reason to believe he can find such a place crumbles, and his own drive has been built on a delusion.

The ale boy holds onto his friendship with Auralia and the promises he makes to Cal-raven and Cyndere. His hope to lead the captives to the king drives him.

Jordam hopes for the infant he saves and for freedom for those he’s helped to rescue. He hopes to find Cal-raven, and then Auralia. Even several minor characters hope in the face of despair and try in the face of defeat.

Which brings up a second aspect of the characters creating beauty in the darkness. Any number of individuals do heroic, sacrificial acts when all seems lost. Above all, the ones striving for the good are not always the ones readers would expect. The old thief, the slaver, the former traitor, the would-be assassin, and of course the beastman and the ale boy once overlooked because of his insignificance — these are characters who change or who make surprising contributions to the fight against the evil that is consuming The Expanse.

Beauty amid the darkness. It’s a fitting format for The Ale Boy’s Feast, and in fact, for the entire series because the theme seems tied to these two elements as well. But I’ll discuss more about the theme in my review.

To read what others on the CSFF tour have to say about The Ale Boy’s Feast, check the links at the end of yesterday’s post. You can also read an interview with Jeffrey over at Spec Faith in which he discusses art and Rachel Star Thomson’s overview of the series and review of book four posted there as well.

Light And Darkness


Years ago when I was teaching, we took our eighth graders on a three-day science field trip to Catalina Island. One of the activities was to experience a sight deprivation maze. It’s hard to imagine a place as dark as that cramped labyrinth was.

From that experience I can tell you confidently, darkness is not beautiful. In fact, you can’t see the darkness. You simply can’t see anything. No shades or shapes, not even movement. Your eyes can’t register a single thing because of the absence of light.

Light, on the other hand, is exceedingly beautiful in its many manifestations. I thought of this again on Sunday as I was driving to church. Sunlight streamed through parted clouds, lining them with gold. Not silver, like the cliche. But it was so brilliant, I suppose you might say it was sort of silvery-gold.

And just the day before, as the sun was about to break above the horizon, its light painted a scattering of woolly clouds with pink, all but their outer gray edges. That’s nothing to the sunsets we get in the fall. Then there is the full moon climbing through the early night, or the crescent moon lingering with the last stars in the early dawn.

Light in its many forms is beautiful. Well, maybe not all artificial light can be said to be beautiful, but natural light does dramatic things. Starlight twinkles, sunlight refracts, candlelight glows, and firelight dances.

Any wonder then, that Scripture says Jesus is the Light of the world?

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life
– John 8:12

Yet, most likely, because of the little bit of physical description we have of Jesus, we don’t think of Him as beautiful. Isaiah 53:2b says,

He has no stately form or majesty
That we should look upon Him,
Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

But then this from Psalm 27:

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple. (v. 4 – emphasis mine)

This morning I was listening to Awaken the Dawn, an album by Keith & Kristyn Getty. One song, “What Grace Is Mine” opens with these words:

What grace is mine that He who dwells in endless light
Called through the night to find my distant soul

The phrase “endless light” grabbed me. Not only does God dwell in endless light, He is endless light. It speaks to God’s eternal nature, but it also promises unlimited beauty. And what a contrast to the “night” through which He calls – the darkness of sin that blanks out the light. No wonder He needs to call me. My condition prohibits me from seeing even endless light. Except, He tore the veil.

All fear can flee for death’s dark night is overcome
My Saviour lives and reigns forevermore

Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 7:45 pm  Comments (3)  
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