As I’ve been hobbling around with a bit of gout this week, one theological idea became clearer. Just how scary the darkness can be. Swing your gouty toe into a carelessly discarded school bag or a dirty laundry basket taking up most of the space between the bed and the wall, because you refuse to turn on the lights, what seemed melodramatic in the prophets – “the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there (Zephaniah 1:14)” – can feel appropriate.
Both Zephaniah and the Apostle Paul pick up the metaphor of darkness and light for the Day of the LORD and the gospel. And the theme of darkness and light might be the oldest one in the bible. The first act of creation was “let there be light…and God separated the light from the darkness and it was good.” Biblically the theme of darkness and light is part of creation and the created order. What does it mean when Zephaniah says that the Day of the LORD is “a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and think darkness. (Zephaniah 1:15)?’ I think there are three groupings of the darkness.
The first grouping is simply the unknown. Life is full of things we don’t know. From the day we are born we are learning things, but the horizon of knowing always seems to expand faster. Maybe somewhere in your 20’s, when you safely know it all, you can feel like you are on the cutting edge living in the light by your own efforts. The other not-so-effective strategy is often making your world so small that you know all of it. Just hope that you never get thrown outside of it where there is darkness, the wailing and gnashing of teeth. This might be the hardest lesson. We will never know everything, because we are not God. But the Apostle sheds light on this area. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:9).” The unknown is rightfully scary, but living in the light is faith that the Father cares for us and intends good for us because of His Son. We need not fear.
The second grouping of darkness I call intentional ignorance. It is me stumbling around on a gouty toe knowing full well that the kids have dropped school bags and laundry baskets are in the way but refusing to either go to bed earlier, clear the path before hand or turn on a light. I can convince myself that I’m helping others already asleep by not turning that light on, but that doesn’t mean much when I’m screaming out because I’ve hit something. Likewise there are lots of things that we like doing, like eating fish, that bring on things like gout. Paul address this type of darkness saying, “We are not of the night or of the darkness. So let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6).” The law is given as a light to our feet and lamp for our path so that we might walk in the light. Yes, we can convince ourselves that we are helping other by staying in the darkness. The darkness can even feel good for a time. But slamming a gouty toe into a box because you like the darkness, is a pretty good metaphor of sin.
The last grouping of darkness is simply evil. The evil in our own hearts that likes the darkness. But also simply the evil that wishes to bind us in the darkness perpetually. Why is the Day of the Lord one of darkness? Because the LORD comes not as savior, but as judge. “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamp, and I will punish the men. (Zephaniah 1:12)…I will punish the officials and the king’s sons…those who fill their master’s house with violence and fraud. (Zephaniah 1:8-9)” The judgement comes upon all. The light of God – those lamps in Jerusalem – brings all evil into the light that it may be known before it is cast out eternally. The Apostle Paul’s words here are both complex and easy. The easy part is “For you are all children of the light, children of the day. (1 Thessalonians 5:5)” As God separated the light from the darkness as the first of creation, at the end the children of the light are separated from the darkness. And in Christ you have been made children of the light. The hard part? The separation comes not like the moon and the sun. The separation comes “like thief in the night.” Until that Day of the LORD, the light and the darkness live side by side. Often within the same heart. “But since we belong to the day having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8)” we need not fear the evil one. The faith, hope and love of God armor us for the fight. And even death has no claim on those in the light, for He has dies and is risen “so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him. (1 Thessalonians 5:10).”