The Heart of Darkness
The Heart in Darkness
By Bob Stains
I have always struggled with why God allows bad things to happen: crippling disease, suffering, grief, etc. I still do. I probably always will, to some extent. I am deeply suspicious of anyone who tells me -- in books or in person -- that they have "THE answer" to what I think is an eternal mystery. This is one of those things that maybe Paul was speaking about when he said "we now know only in part...." The mind of God and all. A bit bigger than ours.
But there are bits of suffering and darkness -my own or others' -- that sometimes fall into my hands like bread and feed me in ways I never could imagine. That's what I want to focus on now.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about "the four-sentence challenge" to tell our stories of being touched by God. A Sunday before writing, I had given this challenge to a group that I was working with in another church. It was a tight time-frame: 45 minutes to help a group of 20 talk about God. Each person worked alone to write about a pivotal God-experience in four sentences. Then they took turns standing up, reading their sentences, sitting down. One by one around the room, they spoke of where they met God:
My husband died and left me with two young children.
I got cancer.
I was on the gurney, on my way into triple-bypass surgery.
I lost my daughter.
My spouse cheated on me.
And so it went, around the room. Almost to a person, each spoke of some dark time when their sense of being companioned and touched by God was surprisingly rich, calming, and transformative; times when someone else might have said, "Here's where I rejected God." But not so with these folks.
I was shaking my head (inside) in awe and wonder. "Why," I thought, "would people pick THESE kinds of situations as the ones in which they were most touched by God?" I've been chewing on it for a while now. What comes to me is first, of course, that Jesus knows what it's like to suffer: torture, betrayal, grief, death. He is the friend who can sit with us, his arm around us, and we feel it in in our cells: He knows. He sees and understands. He's been there and He cares, and sometimes we let that in because we have let our defenses down.
And I think about curtains. There have been times in my life when there have been many floor-to-ceiling curtains that I've drawn and those that have been raised for me by trauma, loss, betrayal. They stand between me and the God who is always seeking, always knocking, always laying out a table in the presence of my enemies: despair, meaninglessness, fear. So I wonder if The Darkness can be its own holy mystery: opening some of the curtains of separation, allowing us to feel the heat and light of God on our faces and in our hearts. This, it seemed, was the experience of the folks speaking on that Sunday morning.
Perhaps this shouldn't surprise me. We are told, after all, in Matthew 25:50,51 that when Jesus uttered his last breath on the cross, that "...the temple curtain was torn in two, from top to bottom." That which separated almost everyone from the "Holy of Holies" where God was thought to dwell, was ripped to shreds. And it happened at the moment of Jesus' death when darkness enveloped the earth, not at the moment of his resurrection.
Maybe there's something there for us to ponder about our own curtains and dark nights of soul. When we feel alone, hemmed in and wandering, not seeing the healing movements of the Holy Spirit all around us, John tells us that Jesus is "...the light of all mankind" and that "The light shines in the darkness."
By the simple testimonies of people on a rainy Sunday morning in March I was reminded that the Spirit moves even in our darkness, touching our hearts; leading us into the light and comfort of Emmanuel: God with us. Amen.