The recent events in Paris make us keenly aware of the evil that threatens not only our very lives, but our souls as well. When tragedy strikes we turn to God for strength, understanding and hope. What we need to do, above all, is to remember these words from the hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” by Edward Mote: “When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace.”
We cannot allow the darkness of this world, however evil and sinister it may be, to keep us from seeing the true light of the world. Far beyond the deaths and injuries of hundreds of persons, there is hope. Hope for those who have perished. Hope for those who are in critical condition. Hope for those who need healing and consolation. Hope for those of us who want peace. Even hope for people who right now want revenge and retaliation.
Naturally, we ask where was God was on that horrific and dark night in Paris, fondly known as the City of Lights. Why didn’t he prevent the senseless murders and injuries? Why didn’t he intercede and stop the assassins and suicide bombers? Why did he let evil triumph?
But that is where we are wrong. Evil did not win, for we know that God has the last and final word in all things. We know, too, that God always is the victor. He proclaimed it more than 2,000 years ago when his son was murdered on a cross. No doubt Mary, Martha, John and dozens of others were asking the same questions we ask today: “Where was God?” “Why didn’t he do something?”
He did! He raised Jesus from the dead and gave salvation to people through the ages and throughout the world. God’s “unchanging grace” was sure and steady then just as it is today. Since the time of Adam and Eve, he promised that a savior would one day be born to bring light and forgiveness to all who would believe. In his Concise Commentary of the Book of John, Matthew Henry said that “Christ is the Light of the world. God is light, and Christ is the image of the invisible God. One sun enlightens the whole world; so does one Christ, and there needs no more. What a dark dungeon would the world be without the sun! So would it be without Jesus, by whom light came into the world” (John 8:12-16).
We must never permit the dark deeds of some to blot out or extinguish the one great light of the universe. In him, rests our hope and in us rests his grace.
A Light in the Darkness
APRIL 24, 2013
“In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the LORD from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come.” Exodus 27:21 (NIV)
The memories that burn brightest from my childhood are of our family’s camping trips to the beach. All the hard work of packing the tent, suitcases, sleeping bags and food into the car was worth it when camp was set up and family time began.
My favorite time of the day came as darkness settled, the shouts of children quieted and grills were lit. Often, as we cleaned up from dinner, my mother would take our lantern into the tent to repack our supplies, and I would bask in the glow from the tent and the warm safety of my parents’ presence.
Those memories flooded back as I read Exodus 27 from my daily reading plan. In a meticulous design revealed in the preceding chapters, God laid out the blueprint for the Tent of Meeting, also called the Tabernacle, where He would be worshipped by the Israelites as they traveled from Egypt to Canaan. Sentence after sentence details the fabric, the measurements, and the structure.
When the plan for God’s Tent of Meeting was complete, He began to describe the furnishings. They included a beautiful set of lamps on a lampstand that was to burn continuously inside. This intricate lampstand described in detail in Exodus 25:31-40 was a pure-gold work of art made by the artisans God appointed, and it burned clear olive oil.
Pieces of a greater puzzle began to click into place as I pondered other scriptures and truths explaining the rich symbolism of the Tent of Meeting’s lampstand. I began to see God revealing His plans for us thousands of years ago:
We are the tent. (2 Cor. 5:4)
Jesus is the light. (John 1:4)
The Holy Spirit is the oil. (Zech. 4:1-6)
Fueled by the Holy Spirit, we are called to let Jesus’ light shine through us into the darkness. (Matt. 5:14-16)
Just as the Israelites moved the Tabernacle through the desert sands … Just as my parents pitched a tent in beach sands …
Just as I move through this darkened world …
God provides a Light that shines in the darkness, and He creates a tent (us) to shine through.
For Jesus’ light to pierce the darkness, shining brighter and brighter, we need to become more and more transparent.
For His light to shine continuously, we need to constantly be refueled by the Holy Spirit through prayer, studying and memorizing Scripture, and abiding in Him.
For His light to shatter the inky blackness of this world, we need to fearlessly move our tents into places of darkness where no other light shines.
There is a world of people who long for the safety and presence of Jesus–but they need a beacon to guide them. May we humble tents, who carry the Light, glow brightly everywhere as we travel through this world!
Dear Lord, thank You for allowing me to be a simple dwelling for Your Light. I pray that even as the priests were charged with maintaining the light, I would be faithful to let Your Light shine. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
That Safe Darkness
You have wrapped yourself with a cloud so that no prayer can pass through. — Lamentations 3:44
“I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer… Where I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — Love — the word — it brings nothing. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”1
These are the words of Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa, originally named Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu, was born in 1910 and raised in a pious Catholic home in Macedonia. At eighteen, she joined the Sisters of Loreto and was given the name Sister Mary Teresa. The Dublin-based order of Loreto ran missions in India, and that is where Teresa was sent.
While on a train from Calcutta to Darjeeling, Mother Teresa said she heard the voice of Jesus telling her to leave her own religious order for the sake of serving the poor. So she moved to Calcutta. She helped the poor and the sick and was known for helping the terminally ill die with dignity, joy, and comfort.
But it was not just good deeds that drew the world’s attention to the poor Catholic nun — a nun serving the poor doesn’t usually make headlines. Mother Teresa garnered a special audience because of her way with words. She has been called the “poet laureate of the soul” and the “sound-bite saint.” Her writings have encouraged millions into a more radical service of Jesus.
So it was no surprise that some of her letters were released following her death in 1997. However, the world was shocked to discover the extreme struggle with doubt her letters revealed. For nearly fifty years, from 1948 till her death, Mother Teresa wrote privately as one in spiritual anguish, with only one month of relief in 1958.
Listen to a few of her other laments:
“I did not know that love could make one suffer so much… of pain human but caused by divine.”2
“The more I want Him — the less I am wanted. — I want to love Him as He has not been loved — and yet there is that separation — that terrible emptiness, that feeling of absence of God.”3
Mother Teresa experienced the same desire as Moses — more wanted more. She was so in love with God that the absence of His actual and immediate presence was insufferable to her. A distance lay between her and God that some may see as closeness. But to a lover, even an inch of distance can seem like an infinite gap. An inch can feel like absence.
The more Mother Teresa loved God, the farther she felt from Him.
There is a great story of what it feels like to be far from God in the life of the prophet Jonah. As she told it, Mother Teresa was on a train when God spoke to her, but Scripture does not reveal what Jonah was doing when God came and audibly spoke to him.4 We can assume he was going about his normal life. However, this presence of God was far from normal. God revealed the presence of His voice to Jonah.
The prophet was chosen by God to take a message of repentance to the people of Nineveh, who were known for their violence and wickedness. Though a mighty call was now on his life, Jonah was fearful for his own safety and bitter that God would be willing to save such a wicked people. Nineveh, after all, was a horribly violent town — nicknamed “the city of blood.”5 Jonah wanted nothing to do with this call.
So Jonah did his best to flee from God. He quickly made his way to the sea, where he hired a boat bound in the opposite direction of God’s call. Jonah was now bound for a port city called Tarshish. He thought that putting distance between himself and the location where God showed up would put distance between his responsibility and the command of the Lord. Jonah was not only trying to escape the presence of God. He was trying to flee from the will of God.
The presence and will of God are inescapable.
This was Jonah’s first lesson regarding the presence and absence of God: we don’t get to decide when God is absent and when He is present. Only God can do that. When Jonah tried to run away from the location of God’s presence, he found his escape attempt as futile as trying to outrun the air. You may think that you have put too much distance between yourself and God over the years, but that is impossible. There is nowhere you can flee where God is not already present.6
Neither the presence nor the command of God can be escaped by any swiftness of the legs, any distance of the sea, or in any depth of the earth. When God sets His choice upon an individual, His chase is fiercer than any gale. Like a seasoned hunting dog after its prey, when the scent of our souls is placed in his nostrils, no escape can prove successful.
Francis Thompson, author of the famous poem “The Hound of Heaven,” captured God’s chase of us with visceral imagery:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat — and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet —
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”7
No matter how long it has been since you’ve pulled into the church parking lot. No matter how many times you’ve turned your back on Jesus. No matter how often you drop your cross to pick up old habits. No matter how far gone you think you are from God’s will. No matter how dark the night of your soul may be. You cannot run from heaven’s hound.
Your flight from God and His demand on your life is just as vain as Jonah’s flight to the ships sailing far from Nineveh. All your Christian life you may have thought it was you who was pursuing God, but all along it has been God pursuing you. So no matter how long it has been since you have looked toward the Father, no matter how absent you believe God is, neither the steps of your feet nor the sin of your life can move you one inch away from God’s love if you are in Christ Jesus. It may feel like absence now, but Presence is hot on your trail — even though it may come upon you like a storm.