God in Darkness and Glory
The paradox of goodness in blackest night.
The Old Testament is a beast. If the New Testament is morning light shining through kitchen windows, much of the Old seems like the attic at which, the cat, glancing warily at the scuttle hole, gingerly moves on. And no wonder, with so many authors covering so many parallel and intertwining covenants and periods in Israel’s history.
One thing that confused me about the Old Testament were verses that depicted God’s presence as thick darkness.* I wondered, isn’t darkness synonymous with evil? Doesn’t even the apostle John say, “This is the message… God is light, and darkness is not in Him at all”?
One might argue that the darkness is not technically in him, but that is just hair-splitting in my opinion.
Then I remembered that there are two kinds of darkness — one, due to the sheer absence of light, and the other due to the presence of depth.
It seems to me that evil is very like the former. It represents a total lack of good, corrupting love into control and freedom into fear; ever doubting, but never believing; without capacity for building, only tearing down.
Just before He was crucified, there was a darkness that Jesus spoke of to the chief priests and Temple officers. He said that this was their hour and the dominion of darkness, a darkness that descended on the land the following day for three hours the moment the flame of our Morning Star was snuffed out.
Yet, the Old Testament speaks of a darkness that is of God.
You may recall that YHWH is often recorded as shrouded in darkness, within some kind of thick substance described as heavy clouds (often with tongues of flame and flashing lightning interspersed).
When the priests came out of the holy place, the cloud filled the Lord’s temple, and because of the cloud, the priests were not able to continue ministering, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple. Then Solomon said:
“The Lord said that he would dwell in total darkness. I have indeed built an exalted temple for you, a place for your dwelling forever.” (1 Kings 8:10-12)
In fact, in Hebrew, the word for glory — kâbôd — means (in a literal sense), “weight” or “heaviness”.
My uncle Randy travels the world as a deep-sea diver and trainer. As I looked at this word, I realized that in ocean-diving, the deeper one gets, the greater the pressure. And the farther one descends, the darker it becomes. Not simply due to a lack of light, but because of the presence of something.
The Lion You Do Not Remember
An orphan, Shasta, having delivered a report that will ultimately save the kingdom, has nonetheless become lost, left behind by the king’s army due to his inexperience in horse-riding. Enveloped in fog, the world became grey. Shasta had not realised how cold and wet the inside of a cloud would be; nor how dark. The grey turned to black with alarming speed… And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.
But in the midst of his emptiness, a mysterious figure arrives:
What put a stop to all of this was a sudden fright. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.
It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries. He bit his lip in terror. But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.
The Thing (unless it was a person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope that he had only imagined it. But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him. That couldn’t be imagination! Anyway, he has felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand…
At last he could bear it no longer.
“Who are you?” he said, barely above a whisper.
“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.
“Are you — are you a giant?” asked Shasta.
“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”
“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not — not something dead, are you? Oh please — please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world.”
Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”
Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. and then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the Tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since had had anything to eat.
“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion.” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two lions the first night, and — ”
“There was only one, but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.”
And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you as you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
“Who are you?” asked Shasta.
“Myself,” said the Voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again “Myself,” loud and clear and gay: and then the third time “Myself,” whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all around you as if the leaves rustled with it.
Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too.
The mist was turning from black to grey and from grey to white. This must have begun to happen some time ago, but while he had been talking to the Thing he had not been noticing anything else. Now, the whiteness around him became a shining whiteness; his eyes began to blink. Somewhere ahead he heard birds singing. He knew the night was over at last. He could see the mane and ears and head of his horse quite clearly now. A golden light fell on them from the left. He thought it was the sun.
He turned and saw, pacing beside him, taller than a horse, a Lion. The horse did not seem to be afraid of it or else could not see it. It was from the lion that the light came. No one ever saw anything more terrible or more beautiful.
Luckily Shasta had lived all of his life too far south in Calormen to have heard the tales that were whispered in Tashbaan about a dreadful Narnian demon that appeared in the form of a lion. And of course he knew none of the true stories about Aslan, the great Lion, the son of the Emperor-over-sea, the King above all High Kings in Narnia. But after one glance at the Lion’s face he slipped out of the saddle and fell at its feet. He couldn’t say anything but then he didn’t want to say anything, and he knew he needn’t say anything.
The High King above all kings stooped towards him. Its mane, and some strange and solemn perfume that hung about the mane, was all around him. It touched his forehead with its tongue. He lifted his face and their eyes met. Then instantly the pale brightness of the mist and the fiery brightness of the Lion rolled themselves together into a swirling glory and gathered themselves up and disappeared. He was alone with horse on a grassy hillside under a blue sky. And there were birds singing.
What Shasta discovered, with Abraham, Moses, Elijah and so many others, was what vast treasures lie in and beyond the black.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will be night” — even the darkness is not dark to you. The night shines like the day. (Psalm 139)
Tipping the Scales
I think there is something profound in Moses’ story, especially considering our heavyweight word, glory.
Moses asks YHWH,
Please, let me see your glory.
Wait a second, had Moses not seen a flaming bush unconsumed in Midian? Had the man not witnessed the pillar of cloud by day, morphing supernaturally into a pillar of fire at night? Had he not seen transmuted snake from stave, followed by ten pantheon-destructing miracles?
Yet, Moses asks to see the glory, as if to say, “Lord, tip the scales. Show me how much you weigh.”
I will make all my goodness pass before you.
In asking for the full weight of God, he got goodness. He didn’t get a show of power. He didn’t see it in wind, earthquake, or fire. Nor did He see it in judgment. Moses was shown the glory of God by way of His sheer goodness, including some of the most beautiful proclamations about who He is, and what He is like in the Bible. Because, ultimately, goodness is what gives God weight. Later, God tells him that the full view of his face would be too heavy for any man to bear.
Now, get this — the Bible says you are the image of God (Gen 1:26). The Bible says you are the righteousness of God (2Co 5:21). But the Bible also says that man “…exists as the image and glory of God.” (1Co 11:7)
Now, in Paul saying that you are God’s glory, you are the goodness of God too. On Sinai, of all places, we find they are synonyms. You are the weightiness of God, in other words, you are what gives Him presence and depth in the world today. Sink your teeth into that!
John’s Revelation prophesies no more sun and moon. His glory provides light for the city, and that God is the lamp. Now, it does not say that God alone is the light. It says He is the lamp, and His glory is the light.
So what, or who is the light?
Jesus said that along with Himself, You are the light of the world, which no one should hide. In another place, it is said that when He appears, you will appear with him, in glory. There is no sense in hiding how much you weigh. Who you are is who you were created to be, what you were created for. This is no joke. Note that Jesus did not say you are the light of your neighbourhood. Nor your city. Nor your country.
He said, “You are the light of the cosmos.” Look at that. What in most Bibles is translated “world” ought to give any thinking Christian pause.
I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places, so that you may know that I am YHWH. I am the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. (Isaiah 45:3)
(See also Proverbs 25:2.)
* Darkness is also seen in Exodus 20:21, Deuteronomy 5:22, and Psalm 97:2.
** A la Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11–12
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