The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. -Exodus 20:21
I am writing this article on the eve of a new year. We have also just come away from celebrating the birth of the “light of the world” (John 1:1-14). Light is therefore, a common theme right now. And light is a wonderful thing! Light gives understanding. Light makes former things that were unclear, clear. Light gives insight and guidance. But may I also propose that light can be blinding and that there is more to God than what His “light” might reveal? What if I told you that God, who is light, also dwells in deep darkness and has an air of mystery and unpredictability about him that should excite us and encourage us to want to know him in a deeper way?
By saying that God dwells in darkness, I am not saying God is darkness or has any sin in him. Rather, I am saying God is not just with us when we “see” him, “sense” him or are aware of His presence. I am saying God is actually especially with us in times of great darkness, that in fact, we can come to know Him in a much deeper way, the deeper the darkness. What if it is in the unfamiliar, uncomfortable and unknown places that we discover God the most? What if in this new year, God is calling you deeper into the mystery of knowing Him in ways unknown before?
This is a truth of Scripture that I believe is rarely talked about. Furthermore, I believe this is a truth of God that very few dare to venture to explore. But consider the verse in Exodus that this article began with. It explicitly says that while the people were afraid and remained at a distance (like most people today?) there was a man who dared to venture into the thick darkness…where God was. And if you go on to read what Moses discovered of God in place, there was an awful lot of revelation not only from God, but a revelation of the glory of God! (See Exodus 33-34). And, in Moses’ case, he didn’t just hear about this; he experienced this reality of God and revelation from God firsthand and personally.
This isn’t an isolated text. King Solomon, in his dedication prayer of the temple, repeats something God himself had made clear to His people: Then Solomon prayed, “O Lord, you have said that you would live in a thick cloud of darkness. Solomon got this from his father David who wrote in Psalm 97:2, Dark clouds surround him.
Before him, Abraham has a strange encounter in Genesis 15 with God that involves a thick and dreadful darkness, an animal sacrifice and birds of prey. You would think at first that this is something out of a black and white Alfred Hitchcock horror movie! But this all foreshadows Jesus himself on the cross. Mark 15:33 speaks of darkness covering all the land for three hours while Jesus made atonement for our sin. It was simultaneously the darkest moment and day in human history…but also the pivot moment where the payment of our sins was secured that we might be reconciled to God.
There is a mystery to God that can be both frightening and comforting.
It is a beautiful truth to know that Jesus has come to give us light, that we might know God. But I believe it is also comforting to know that God is not absent in our darkness, but perhaps closer than we might realize. Darkness can be scary. But let me submit to you that not being afraid of the darkness “where God is” can lead to some of the most precious encounters and revelations of God that our hearts long for.
In fact, let me take this a step further. I believe the majority of us in the Western world worship (which means to ascribe worth or value) the “god” of comfort, security and “control”; not this unpredictable God that cannot be controlled and dwells in deep darkness. Like the Israelites, the majority of us are afraid to enter the “thick darkness” for this reason. But this is where God is! How much might we be missing out on because of our fear?
Consider the following three Scriptures:
- Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. (Psalm 77:19). In other words, God’s ways and workings are unpredictable and humanly unknowable or untraceable (Romans 11:33-36). There is an air of mystery about the way He works, but I believe we have tried to reduce this all into principles and formulas that we can understand and control. Yet, there is no denying God works in unique ways and often unseen ways, not on the “safety” and “security” of the land, but the ever churning and formidable “seas.” There is a “wildness” about God. There is an air of mystery and unpredictability about Him that might unsettle some, but at least means He is not a humanly predictable bore! He is truly God.
- I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16). How can God guide you if you already know the way? God delights to guide us into new places, new paths, take us on new adventures and lead us in new ways. But first, He wants us to trust Him and depend on him even though we feel “blind” and “in the dark.” Things become clear only in the place of following Him into the unknown. The real Christian life, a life that follows Jesus into the unknown and unfamiliar, is anything but boring! But I would submit to you that very few are actually following Jesus. Most only mentally ascribe to concepts or want principles to apply to their life in a way that guarantees success or improves their life in some controllable way. For most people their “theology” is only an intellectual exercise, not a journey in which they are submitting to following a real person; especially a God that leads in ways not familiar to them! But that is where God is and where God is calling us and where we truly come to know Him in deeper more intimate ways.
- Some went out on the sea in ships, they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. (Psalm 107:23-24). Again we see the “mighty deeds” of the Lord were witnessed not in the safety, security and familiarity of the “land” but in the depths of the unpredictable “sea.” Mark Batterson, a pastor in Washington DC, put it this way: “Everybody wants a miracle; we just don’t want to be in a situation where we need one.” That sounds so obvious, but yet it is so true isn’t it? The idea of miracles sounds exciting, but being in a situation where there is no human solution and you are utterly dependent on God can give you stomach ulcers! I often hear people in the Western world ask why we hear of so many miracles happening in other parts of the world, but experience so few here. Could this be why? Could it be we see so little of God because we have not put ourselves in positions of truly needing God? Is it because we are afraid to venture beyond the comfort and security of our pews and what is familiar to us? Is it because we dare not venture out into the great unknown of the raging sea but are content to remain on land where we feel more in control?
Here is the point: there is more to discover of God than any of us know! There is a mystery about God, an air of unpredictability about Him. He dwells in thick darkness. Deep darkness, like a cloud, surrounds him, even “hides” him from our immediate sight. But for the few who dare to venture out of their place of “safety” and “security” and “comfort”; for the few who will dare to enter the “darkness”; they will come to know a depth of God and see a display of God’s deeds, that otherwise cannot be known.
This is where we begin to form our own testimonies, not just read or hear about them in other people’s lives. This is the real adventure of faith, such as what we read of in Hebrews chapter 11. These were people who knew God (not just about God) and accomplished amazing things because they dared to trust God and “enter the thick darkness where God was!”
But it also reminds us that in times of great darkness, God is there too. In fact, He may just be closer than you might know. Some of the greatest insights, some of the most precious truths, some of the deeper mysteries of God, some of the most intimate encounters with God, are discovered in times of suffering, sorrow, pain, tragedy, despair and trials. He doesn’t cause these things, but He is there with us during those times in special ways.
It is comforting to know that God dwells in thick darkness. He does not shy away from those places. He is not absent, but unusually present, even if it is hard for us to perceive. God is light, but God dwells in thick darkness. You are never alone. God will never even for a moment, forsake you. And there is more to God than we might be aware of.
Don’t be afraid of the thick darkness and great unknown…for God is there!
He may in fact be beckoning you to enter the thick darkness where He is. He may be calling you into a place of discovering the mystery, beauty and glory of knowing Him in a much deeper way than ever before. I know He is calling me.