Why does darkness exist?

I once had a friend who had just suffered a miscarriage ask me, “If God loves His children so much, then why does he allow such horrible things to happen to them?”

That is a tough question to answer for someone at the zenith of pain and suffering. In our limited vision, it might seem that God is apathetic to human suffering. Salvation isn’t a guarantee of a life free from suffering. (See Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse by Steven R. Tracy)

In the Bible, there are many examples of people who labored through trials with doubts and questions:

“How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? For ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?” (Psalm 13: 1-2.)

“God hath delivered me to the ungodly, and turned me over into the hands of the wicked. I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder: he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark.” (Job 16: 11-12.)

Read the entire book of Lamentations.

God does not take pleasure in His children’s suffering. God wants His children to partake in Paradise. However, sin cannot enter Paradise. Therefore, out of love, God had to allow His children to see, witness, and experience darkness, even if it broke his heart. God had to establish a system of accountability to teach right from wrong, good from evil. He did not pleasure in punishing His children, nor did He enjoy watching His children hurt His other children. He did not enjoy seeing His children hurt themselves.

God is the epitome of empathy. He feels every sorrow with us. Remember, Jesus wept. When we hurt, God hurts. When we cry, God cries. But God, in His infinite wisdom, knew we could not possibly know light without juxtaposing it with darkness–allowing us to see it, feel it, experience it.

“Darkness produces good mushrooms, but poor flowers.”

During hurricane season, we expect to get a lot of rain in my part of the country. This year, after about a week of dark, damp, rainy weather from a tropical system, we went outside to put our back porch back together. A mushroom had sprung up and was growing in the middle of the doormat. Our little flower bed was flooded out. The dark, wet weather had been more conducive for mushrooms than flowers.

Fortunately, some plants survived. We obviously knew plants required light. So when we brought some plants inside, we gave them artificial light in the interim period of dark rains. Had we pretended the darkness and rain didn’t exist, these plants also would have died.  Instead, we anticipated the changing weather conditions, made accommodations, and returned those plants to the garden when the light returned.

Light is life, and darkness is death. We have to know the difference if we hope to cultivate living souls.

To be reconciled to God, He needs us to empathize with His perspective. He is more sensitive than any human on this planet (He did create us in His image). From the beginning, He needed us to see, know, and understand the darkness so that we could hate the darkness as He hates it. He needed us to be accountable for our own darkness (to feel guilt and conviction), to reject darkness within ourselves, and desire nothing but light. Desire nothing but Him.

He does not want us confused in our perceptions of darkness and light. He juxtaposes darkness and light in the Bible so that we can see the stark contrast.

The Bible teaches us to wrestle through darkness rather than ignore or avoid it. There are not short cuts. Avoiding pain is denying God’s power.

 

“I’m just very selective about the concept of reality.”

When our brothers and sisters suffer (as my friend above), we often want to put a band aid over pain with a quick platitude: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.“The verse is true. But it’s not the most empathetic response in a moment of intense suffering. What is empathy?

Watch Brene Brown explain the difference between sympathy and empathy in this short video:

In the inevitable dark episodes of life, our brothers and sisters are especially vulnerable to spiritual harm. Their realities are contrasting their assumptions, their core beliefs. If we aren’t careful, if we aren’t acting in empathy, we can do more damage to the already-vulnerable. If we try to convince our brothers and sisters dark moments don’t exist (i.e., gaslight them), we risk damaging their perception of darkness and light. We unintentionally undermine God, His plan, and His very purpose for allowing us to know darkness.

Elie Wiesel said this:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

Job endured more darkness then most who’ve lived on this planet. After continued suffering, Job’s wife wanted him to give up. She told Job, “Curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). She wanted to deny the struggle. She gave in to instinct. Human instinct in coping with suffering is avoidance. It’s a means of survival.

In psychology, it’s called cognitive dissonance: where reality is so incongruent with our assumptions or beliefs, we will do anything to justify and reduce the tension we feel. Sometimes, we will find illogical ways to excuse reality (justification). More often, though, we will ignore and reject reality (the ultimate reduction). That’s what Job’s wife was doing. She was rejecting reality, and she wanted Job to do the same.

But Job did not avoid the darkness, and he did not avoid God. Instead, he brought his questions about the darkness to God. He wrestled with God. Job refused to be silenced by darkness, and he refused to fear darkness. He kept speaking truth, kept pleading. He kept wrestling through the dark until he emerged seeing light:

“I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.” (Job 42:5)
In Genesis, Jacob also wrestled with God:
“And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.
And he said, Let me go for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.
And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.
And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
(Genesis 32)

Habakkuk also struggled to understand darkness in his land. He struggled with how God could allow such evil to seemingly prevail. Yet, he did not avoid God. He did not ignore the darkness. He continued to confront it head-on.

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength . . . .” (Habakkuk 3:17-19.)

God wants us to walk through darkness, learn from it, and speak His lessons in light (Jesus says preach it from rooftops!) (Matthew 10: 27). God loves all of His children. He wants us reborn in His spirit.

When God says he will “bury” our sins, he means he will remove the “sting of death,” the shame in and effect of the sinful deeds (1 Corinthians 15:55-57). When He says he will deliver us from our suffering, he means he wants us to “embrace the cross” of suffering that we may “know” no “thing among [us], save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). He wants us to have the kind of faith that stands “in the power of God,” not in the “wisdom of men” (1 Corinthians 2:5).

God redeems darkness by His light.

When we bravely wrestle with the darkness, we allow God to redeem the evil with His infinitely greater goodness. This does not mean covering up or suppressing the past darkness, nor does it mean living stuck as a prisoner to it. God enlightens us, as He did Job, giving us a new purpose.

Genesis 50:20: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

Isaiah 53:5: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-10: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.”

In His light, we aren’t much good for growing mushrooms. But we’re great for helping more flowers blossom.

 

Click below to read more:

We Have This Hope: Healing as a Hero’s Quest (with God as the Mentor-Helper)

10 Lessons of Light for Dark Days: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., A Heart Full of Grace, & A Soul Generated By Love

Unfettered Daughter of Zion