I’ve walked a few miles around the halls of the National Gallery today, looking for dark paintings. I’ve been hunting for an image with a clear delineation between the light and the dark. It’s a bit too specific of a lens, but it’s helping me think through a Biblical concept I have been learning about.
In Scripture, there are three visual metaphors for nothingness. The raging sea. The desert wilderness. And darkness. Each one represents a place where no life exists – in a sense, the pre-creation state, before God breathes and speaks life into it.
In the past, I’ve mused on those chaotic waters. Today is for darkness.
The first painting I find is this one by Courbet. In it, dark caves look like a great mouth (with its stony uvula) about to swallow the man in the foreground. Interestingly, right next to it is this painting by De La Pena which is a reverse of the light and dark. Here, the darkness surrounds the light, threatening to close in on it.
Why do I personify darkness? Because there is an enemy of creation, that spiritual being aligned against God and his kingdom, who wants nothing more than to pull the world back into nothingness. For every exhibit of God’s gracious rule, Satan wants to counter with an example of pointlessness and cruel randomness. He wants to undermine our faith and lure us back into unbelief. Into the despair of the empty, echoing dark.
What lets in the darkness? In my experience, it has been unconfessed sin. A refusal to forgive. Focusing on the failings of other believers rather than my own. Seemingly unanswered prayer.
What’s our defense? Using this biblical concept of the realm of darkness, read now these verses:
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 1 Thess. 5:5
But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. 1 John 2:11
This painting by Albert Bierstadt pictures it well for me. There is a foreground line of shadow that seems to be advancing on a valley of glorious beauty. The darkness presses in. Will it swallow all the light?
But then, look closely.
Right at the edge between sunlight and shadow is a church, set on a hill. Jesus says that we belong to him, so we are of the light. And our job is to live in such a way that we push back the darkness. We rescue those who have been swallowed up by despair and unbelief.
But first, we must love other believers.
Look again. I think I misread it. The church is actually on the edge of the advancing light.
Father, we want to be your agents of light, dispelling the despair, fear and unbelief around us. Deal with the darkness in us first.