We all experience darkness at some point in our lives. But what comes after that darkness--how we choose to respond to it--usually determines the course of our earthly lives and beyond. Just as God gives us small foretastes of heaven from time to time in order to remind us that this world is not our true home, so He allows us to suffer desolation when we separate ourselves from him through sin: the darkness of Hell.
I've been reading the book of Exodus as part of my Lenten journey this year. As is often the case with Sacred Scripture, the typology, symbolism and foreshadowing of Christ and the New Covenant contained within the Exodus story has been truly eye-opening. Christ as the new Moses, the slavery of the Israelites v. the slavery of sin, and the parting of the Red Sea as a type of Baptism are just a few examples that come to mind. Yet one short passage in Chapter 10 has spoken to me more than any other so far: the plague of darkness. Recall that God--working through Moses and Aaron--had sent eight plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians--none of which had yet convinced Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. Pharaoh's heart remained hardened. For the ninth plague, "the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch our your hand toward heaven that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.'" (Exodus 10:21) Then "there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; they did not see one another, nor did any rise from his place for three days." (10:22-23)
A darkness to be felt - the words literally jumped off the page at me the first time I read them. As I prayed and meditated on the passage, it struck me how well these words described all those times in my life when I've been away from God. I can vividly recall occasions where this "thick darkness" consumed me; a darkness felt in the very depths of the soul. Even more, this darkness can be so pervasive that it causes us to lose sight of God and prevents us from seeing the needs of others in our life. It can be so all-consuming that we lose the desire and ability to "rise from [our] place," pick up our cross, and follow Christ once more.
Yet even in the darkness, God never abandons us. Because His light--the light of Christ--"shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:5) No matter how thick the darkness may be or how deeply it is felt, the Light will always break through if we but open our eyes a little to see it. The Light may seem distant; the rays may be tiny at first. But inevitably, at some point, God opens the curtains to the darkened intellect of our minds, calling us to Himself, reminding us of His love, mercy and forgiveness.
Of course, how we choose to respond to the darkness--and the eventual cracks of Light--remains totally up to us. Although the plague of darkness initially caused Pharaoh to relent and let the Israelites go, he quickly changed his mind; his heart hardening when he learned that the Lord also demanded that he let the Israelites take their "flocks and herds" with them. (Exodus 10:24-28) "Get away from me," he said to Moses (10:28), but really he was saying this to God. For as miserable as the darkness was, Pharaoh preferred it over the will of God. "[T]he light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light." (John 3:19-20) And so it is with us sometimes. Perhaps we've lived in darkness so long that our eyes have become used to it, fooling us into to believing that we can actually see reality. In that condition, the Light is a shock to the senses, and--like coming out of a darkened theater into the sunlight--we cover our eyes and curse the illumination. Or, sometimes, as appealing as the Light may be initially, there is something we are unwilling to give up--the "flocks and herds" representing the pet sins in our lives that the Evil One has convinced us we cannot live without. So we retreat back into the familiarity and false comfort of the darkness.
It does not have to be so. Jesus tell us: "I am the light o the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12) As much as we yearn for this light of life--for deliverance from the darkness--Jesus desires to give it to us even more. And no matter how many times we turn him away, shutting our eyes to the Light and returning to the darkness, he will never stop seeking to shine His Light upon us. The painting above illustrates this truth as well as anything I've ever seen. It sits on my desk at work, and sometimes I feel like I could gaze upon it for hours. Notice how Jesus appears to be in a darkened forest (or perhaps a garden) as he approaches a wooden door, carrying the Light he seeks to give all men. The door has not been opened for some time, evidenced by the growth of brush and brambles over and about it. Gently, he knocks on the door. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him . . ." (Revelation 3:20) "Open the door or your heart to me," He says, "you have been in darkness long enough. Don't you realize that I too suffered the darkness when I walked this earth?" Indeed, though He was without sin, Jesus experienced the agony of the effects it, taking on the sins (past, present and future) of the entire world into his very being--a darkness felt so much that he sweated drops of blood. (Luke 22:44) We have a Savior who knows what true darkness is; a Savior who conquered that same darkness of sin and death the Cross.
St. Augustine wrote: "[O]nce a man cries out from the depths, he rises because his very cry will not suffer him to be at the bottom for long." So as we approach the end of Lent and the start of Holy Week, let us cry out to God and allow Him to raise us out of the depths of darkness. For He intended from the beginning of creation for us all to be "sons of light and sons of day . . . not of the night or of darkness." (1 Thessalonians 5:5) And then, on that glorious Easter morning, may we all bathe anew in the Light of His Resurrection.
God love you.