John 1:4–5: “In him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
This is a very familiar text, one which any Christian would readily affirm. This is indeed what Jesus has accomplished through His death and resurrection from the dead. Nevertheless, we see mature believers lose sight of this truth. Why? How? Well, there seems to be a competing reality, one which is false yet still carries significant weight at times. This alternate reality might simply be termed “darkness.”
What do I mean by darkness? It can be circumstances that just appear insurmountable, as though there is simply no hope for any kind of meaningful change or respite. It might take the form of unbearable disappointment, having hopes and dreams crushed into oblivion where there is seemingly no possibility of anything good could come of it. It can stem from the shame and regret associated with sin, when the desire to change is countered by the humiliation and pain that restitution and reconciliation seem to require. In each case, one is led to believe that living in the darkness is the only viable option.
Jesus’ incarnation shined a light in the darkness, but it did not make the darkness go away. He has overcome the darkness, but this doesn’t mean that it no longer has any power. Jesus has set us free from the power of sin and darkness, but we still face the challenge of turning away from both in order to follow Him. Sin and darkness only have the power we give them. As we choose not to set our mind on. Here’s how Paul phrases it in Romans 8:5-13:
For those who are living according to the flesh are intent on the things of the flesh, but those who are living according to the Spirit are intent on the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mindset of the flesh is death, but the mindset of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mindset of the flesh is enmity toward God, for it is not subjected to the law of God, for it is not able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh are not able to please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person ⌊does not belong to him⌋. 10 But if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also make alive your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you. 12 So then, brothers, we are obligated not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (LEB)
Where we chose to set our mind is a matter of life and death. The mind set on the flesh has only one outcome: death. I do not believe Paul here only pictures indulgent, lust-filled living. Rather Paul repeatedly talks about the need for having our minds renewed, the need to fix our focus on thing above instead of things around us (Rom 12:2; Gal 5;16–18; Phil 4:4–9). As we choose not to rejoice, not to meditate on what is true and honorable and pure, to set on mind on the flesh rather than the spirit, figuratively speaking we are turning our back on the light and returning to darkness.
Jesus is indeed the light of the world, and we will celebrate this on Easter Sunday. But we cannot forget the reality of the darkness that remains. Jesus has set us free from the power of sin and darkness, but we still have the option of giving both power they should no longer have. Darkness is still darkness, and it still leads to death. If our mind is set on our perspective of our circumstances, on our perspective of disappointment, on our inability to see a possible way forward, we are exchanging darkness for light.
On Saturday afternoon I received word a friend, a pastor with whom I’d served through some rough patches in ministry, took his own life. I do not know what he was thinking or why he did it, nor will I likely ever know. I do not believe there was some great sin lurking in his closet. But I can’t help but think that somewhere along the way he allowed darkness to take the place of light in small ways. His decision to end his life may have come quickly, but the underlying causes that led him to this decision were most likely a slow progression. I know this is a bit out of context, but I don’t think Jesus would mind: “Therefore if the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt 6:23). Unthinkable decisions begin to look like viable options in the light of darkness, especially where the light really is darkness.
I wish what happened last week could be called an anomaly, but I have seen it repeated. In fact the guy who led me to Christ in 1985, who went on to serve as a pastor, also ended his life some years back. While some around me reacted angrily at these decisions, I found it hard not to be empathetic. Twice I have had medical crises disable me from working, where the combination of medical bills and no income brought on a darkness so thick it seemed impenetrable. I have had hopes crushed near the conclusion of a long path of hard work that made it all seem in vain. I have been ashamed by the consequences of sin, left wondering if there is sufficient grace and love to possibly rebuild what my choices had destroyed. All of these were the darkest of moments in my life. As I isolated myself, as I sought to find a way forward by my own understanding, I found the darkness overwhelming me. Why? Because the decisions to isolate and depend on myself in reality were decisions to turn away from the Light of life.
When we allow circumstances and situations to rule our lives and shape our perceptions of things, we are not walking in the light. “If the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness?” Very great indeed. If we stand alone, we will fall alone. 1 John 1:5–7 offers a better way forward:
“And this is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light and there is no darkness in him at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
The darkness has already wrought enough havoc. If there are areas of darkness you have made peace with instead of turning away, its time to put an end to it. If circumstances are too hopeless to bear, then stop trying to bear them alone. I cannot offer you promises of quick fixes without any consequences. All I can do is give testimony of God’s faithful shepherding of me out of these dark patches back into the light. Yes, they were patches that did not stretch to infinity and beyond, despite feelings to the contrary at the time. This was accomplished in large part through the ministry of other believers in my life, not alone.
Let someone in. Ask for help. Do not give the darkness power it no longer should have.