What's So Good about the Dark?

The writer of Hebrews penned a passage that long ago became known as the “faith chapter” or the “hall of faith.” Chapter 11 begins this way: 

Faith is the assurance of what we hope for, the evidence of things not seen.

Put another way: Faith is the “sureness” of what we hope for…to be certain of things we cannot see. 

This verse seems to paint a picture of what it is to walk in the dark. Faith isn’t required in the light of day, when all is visible. Those “things we cannot see” are not merely out of sight, but rather our sight is removed by the dense darkness of uncertainty. As author, Barbara Brown Taylor observes, we tend to think this darkness is evil or wrong; that it is something to escape. But this darkness is where faith lives. It is where faith grows

Another biblical passage reminds us that “we live by faith, not by sight.” One more image of living in the dark. Faith doesn’t remove the darkness, for if it did, faith would not be necessary. Living by faith is walking with Jesus. And this walk with Jesus is a good walk. It is the Way. 

Consider Jesus' way. He was born in the damp darkness of a cold cave hollowed out of the side of a hill. He was driven into the isolation and mysteriousness of the wilderness where he wrestled with the evil enemy. He prayed in a garden at night, the moonlight casting shadows, making lively trees become crawling legions of the threat of death on the dark floor of the earth. He died under the bellowing clouds of thunder with darkness falling over the breathless hill where traitors are killed. He was carried into another dark, damp, cold cave; this time a tomb for the dead, rather than a womb for new life. 

Jesus traveled - and travels - into broken places, chilly nights and lonely corners. And if we’re willing to walk with Jesus into darkness and death, we’ll learn to dance with the shadows of fear and sit in the growing light of the nighttime moon, our eyes open to those things that take different shape and bring new perspective. We'll discover that we need both day and night, both light and darkness to grow. Even in the creation story, darkness was not eliminated, but rather paired with the light…to create the first day. 

This unnerving pairing of darkness and light is captured by the Hebrew writer, who says in chapter 10: Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. The writer says that after they experienced the light of Life, they endured a season of dark suffering. Light and darkness. Like the moon glowing in the night sky, the darkness is not eliminated merely because we are walking with the Light of the world.  

This walk is light and dark.
It is knowing
and not knowing.
It is walking
and waiting. 
It is day
and night. 

And maybe, just maybe, the darkness helps us adjust our hope - or the object of our hope. 

Perhaps what we most hope for is an escape from the darkness, relief from suffering, streams of sunshine bringing radiant clarity of what is ahead. After all, that’s the promise, isn’t it? Daylight, Joy, Happiness, Certainty?

If we read past the opening couple verses of Hebrews 11, we discover that many of these iconic characters in this “hall of faith” did not receive what they had hoped for, and perhaps even more mystifying, they did not experience what was actually promised. Turns out if you put the fulfillment of the promise way past the end of life on earth, then it leaves one and only one path: Faith…and therefore, the promise of darkness. Darkness, where our hope seems veiled; our questions are unanswered; and the night wraps us in a lonely chill.  

But, perhaps the fulfillment of our hope is actually trusting that Jesus is walking with us through the days of our lives - both light and dark. Our hope is found in the goodness of the night, where faith lives; where we learn to trust.

Consider the impact of replacing the word faith with trust. A more accurate way to understand the activity of faith:

Trust is the assurance of what we hope for, the evidence of things not seen.

We walk by trusting, not by sight. 

All these people were still living by trusting when they died. 

Trust. Not in the daylight, not in the what if, not in the change of circumstances, but trust in God. Trust, not in what we think he should do or could do; what we think we deserve from his hand. But trust in him. In his here-and-now presence, in his love. This kind of trust in our mysterious, "ways past finding out" God finds hope in the resurrection of Jesus. Our hope is alive as we trust that "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

Faith is the assurance of what we hope for, the evidence of things not seen.


Barbara Brown Taylor reference is from her book Learning to Walk in the Dark.