New Perspective in the Dark
Stephen Baxter suggests we can take courage, even when things feel really dark.
On one occasion when the Jewish religious leaders again questioned Jesus why he healed on the Sabbath, he replied, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working … the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:17, 19 NIV)
These words are the inspiration for my prayer for many years, “Father, help me to see what you are doing so I may be like Jesus, and do nothing by myself, but mimic your work in the world.”
However, I’ve discovered that sometimes it’s difficult to see what God is doing.
Let me explain . . .
It was a dark moonless night in early Spring. I was about 12 years old, and we were holidaying at my grandfather’s farm. A highlight of any stay was staying up late to go spotlighting. On this particular night, just after turning into our first paddock, we got bogged. The ute was up to its axles in mud, and it was going nowhere.
After my uncle set off to fetch a tractor from the farmhouse a few kilometres away, my brother, father, grandfather and I sat in the back of the ute. While we were waiting, we gazed in awe at the night the sky.
There are some things about God, and the beauty of creation, which can only be seen and appreciated in the dark.
It was in the outback, a long way from anywhere with no moon and no lights. The stars shone like diamonds. It was a magical moment as we followed satellites and shooting stars and talked of planets, suns, galaxies and God. The display of beauty and power filled my heart with wonder and awe.
An unexpected realisation
Recently, I’ve reflected on how that moment illustrates a profound insight. There are some things about God, and the beauty of creation, which can only be appreciated in the dark.
This realisation is somewhat counter-intuitive, because we normally associate God with light, and for good reason. The Bible is full of metaphors about God being light, and the opposite of darkness. However, it also speaks of God creating darkness, and darkness being as light to God (Ps 139:12).
The Bible is also full of people who encountered God in the darkness, not just physical darkness, but the dark times of life. I’m thinking of Job, Jacob, Esther, Jonah, the sisters of Lazarus, the apostle Paul, and Jesus himself.
Suffering and loss, grief and betrayal are the fertile soil where deep lessons to do with wisdom and compassion germinate and grow.
Some things, it seems, can only be learned through dark times. Suffering and loss, grief and betrayal are the fertile soil where deep lessons to do with wisdom and compassion germinate and grow.
There are many who suggest we live in dark times. A global pandemic, wars in Europe, Asia and Africa, concerns around the changing climate and culture wars across the West are just a few examples. It is a challenging moment for the Church too, particularly in the West. Our churches on the whole, are shrinking, there is much antagonism towards us, and many are working to suppress our voice and action.
Our response: to take courage
It is right to lament and work for solutions to the challenges we face, but there is more to this moment than that. Although our natural reaction is a “fight or flight” response, there is another way – we can take courage.
In this dark moment we can trust in God’s goodness. We can be assured of God’s love, presence and good purposes. And we can be alert to all God has to show us: things new and profound, things we have never seen before, things we could never see in the light.
So my encouragement is for us to pray, and keep on praying, “Father, help us to see what you are doing that we may be like Jesus and do nothing by ourselves, but mimic your work in our world, to the glory of your name.”
Stephen Baxter is Tasmanian Baptist’s Mission Director