The Thick Darkness…Where God Is
God is light. We all know that. So naturally we think we should only look for God IN the light. But sometimes that isn’t so. Sometimes we need to press in to the darkness and THAT is where we can find God. Need proof? I don’t know if I would have agreed with that statement if I hadn’t read it myself in the Bible. It arrested me.
“Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21, emphasis added).
Here’s the story. Moses and the Israelites are at Mt. Sinai and God had just given Moses the 10 Commandments. He told Moses to go back down, tell the people to consecrate themselves, and then they also were to encounter God and hear Him explain the law. As “Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God” (Exodus 19:17), they got scared.
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid[d] and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. – Exodus 20:18-21
We can talk for a while about how God tested them, about how seriously He takes obedience, and His holiness. We can talk about applications about how they were supposed to get the law first hand from the Lord, but instead, they were violating the very law Moses was receiving on their behalf. There are any number of things we could discuss, but I simply want to focus on this—God was in the thick, scary, stormy, noisy darkness.
It was a tempest. Clouds. Lightning. Smoke. Trumpets blasting (from where?! That’s not scary in itself…, right?! Trumpets blasting out of the storm played by no one?!) (And while we’re talking scary – the mountain was smoking…so…I think we call that a volcano about to blow!) Scary. Dark. Turbulent.
This isn’t some light, beautiful, happy scene where Jesus is out healing children and feeding the masses while rainbows encompass the scene with God’s promises from above. This isn’t the situation you generally think you should run into; it’s the kind you run away from. Except, the people had been told that God was there. In the darkness.
They decided they didn’t need to meet God, after all. It was enough for Moses to do so. He could fill them in later.
So Moses pressed into the darkness where God was while the people came unhinged…where God wasn’t. The thing is, the people needed God. They needed to experience Him in a sensory kind of way (and a powerful, not a fluffy kind of way). Since they ran from the darkness where God was and the sensory experience He was offering, they created their own fabrication of that via an idol, therefore breaking the 10 commandments almost immediately as they received them.
Why? Because they ran from the darkness. Because in doing so, they ran from God.
As the New Year is well into its first month, most of us have spent time thinking about our hopes and dreams for 2017. We pray for more joy. More peace. More love. More breakthrough and success and any number of things. Good things, no doubt. Light things. We pray for our lives to be filled with more light in one way or another. We almost never pray for more dark. Who would? Maybe we don’t have to pray for darkness, but for the wisdom and strength to press in to it when it comes. The Bible says that in this world, we will have trouble, so rest assured the dark times will come. There will be storms and scares and noise and smoke and threats of disaster. There just will be. There will be sorrow and loss and grief.
The real issue for us isn’t whether or not those things come, but rather, when they do, how do we respond? We may think we don’t have a choice but to face them, but that’s not true. There are always ways to avoid them. We can numb ourselves and check out and run away with any number of distractions (relationships, drugs, alcohol, entertainment, work, etc.). OR, we can do as Moses did and draw near to the thick darkness, expecting to meet with God.
I’m reminded of Hannah Hurnard’s beautiful work, Hind’s Feet on High Places, in which the young Much Afraid is given two guides to help her on her journey, Sorrow and Suffering. I remember how she was “much afraid” to embrace them, to put her hands in theirs, to trust them. I also remember how the Shepherd promised her that they would be faithful companions, the perfect ones that she most needed to get her where she wanted to go. Such a beautiful truth. And in the end, not only did Much Afraid find them to be wonderful companions, she also found that they were transformed into beautiful things as sorrow and suffering always are in our lives if we treat them as the friends God means them to be for us. (I believe they became Joy and Mercy, but don’t hold me to that!)
When the darkness comes, it’s not bad to pray for deliverance, but maybe it would be better put to say, “Thy will be done.” It’s a matter of priority. For the Israelites, their comfort was more important than their desire to meet with God. For Moses, His desire to be with God was primary, above all, and in that, not only did he meet with the Lord, but He also avoided the sin in the camp of Israel. We never know what blessings that thick dark, tumultuous, scary storm may hold for us, if only we have the courage to press in and see. Let meeting with God be our top priority this year, far above our comfort. Let that priority embolden us to press in when darkness comes.