Jesus' Darkness

Sadness and Death when Light has Won


Darkness. Children tend to be afraid of it, and it has been a symbol of everything from evil to fear to ignorance throughout human history. From the perspective of the Church Age, darkness has been overcome by the light, i.e. Jesus. We celebrate victory over darkness every Holy Week, every time we observe Communion, every time we teach kids to sing "This Little Light of Mine" in Sunday School. Because not only is Jesus the light of the world (John 8:12), so are we (Matthew 5:14). Jesus conquered all the metaphorical meanings of darkness: death, fear, tears, sadness, pain, evil, and yes, even ignorance of who God truly is.

How should our identity as lights affect the way we interact with the darkness we still encounter? I am specifically concerned with how we should respond to the darkness of sadness, pain, and death. Jesus overthrew death, and our tears will be wiped away (Isaiah 25:8), but that obviously hasn't "kicked in" yet. So, Christians must live in a dialectic of praising and thanking God for saving us and overthrowing darkness in the ultimate sense, but also having to interact with that darkness in the moment. Let's take a closer look at the source of light, Jesus himself, and how he dealt with darkness not yet removed from this world.

John the Apostle loved referring to Jesus as the light, presumably keying off of Jesus' own references to himself as the light recorded in John 8:12, 12:35, and elsewhere. In his famous gospel preamble, John says, "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). The Greek word used in this verse translated "darkness" has almost the exact range of meaning we apply to the English: simply dark, dark for lack of light, and as a metaphor for evil and ignorance. The Greek word translated "light" can refer to light itself, brightness, or the thing that emits the light, such as a lamp or star. So John tells us that the metaphorical meaning of darkness has been overcome, defeated, conquered, routed, overwhelmed by the thing that emits or creates light: he who said in the beginning, "let there be light" (Genesis 1:3).

Light of the world though he is, Jesus encountered darkness throughout his ministry, and never so strongly as during his Passion. His betrayal by Judas, though expected, still brought the pained reply of, "'would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?" (Luke 22:48) and "'friend, do what you came to do" (Matthew 26:50). Just before Jesus' betrayal, his emotional state was one of deep sadness and pain, such that both Mark 14:34 and Matthew 26:38 record him saying "my soul is very sorrowful, even to death," and Luke 22:44 says that, "being in an agony he prayed more earnestly." The disciples with him in Gethsemane were also in deep sorrow (Luke 22:45), and acted out of fear, it seems, until the Holy Spirit came upon them nearly six weeks later.

The emotional agonies that Jesus experienced, and the physical ones which he knew he was about to encounter, are a time that Jesus called darkness, when he said to those who came to arrest him, "Why didn't you arrest me in the Temple? I was there every day. But this is your moment, the time when the power of darkness reigns" (Luke 22:53, NLT). We remember that darkness every Holy Week. During a traditional Stations of the Cross service on Good Friday, all lights are eventually extinguished, and the congregation sits in darkness for an extended period of contemplation. That service is modeled metaphorically after a real event: the hours leading to Jesus' death were also literally without light. From noon to three in the afternoon, the entire land was dark (Matthew 27:45, Mark 15:33, Luke 23:44).

Bottom line: Jesus knew darkness in all its forms. But in the emotional pain and sadness, how did he interact with it? There are two events that I think can give us great insight. One we nearly touched on above: he told the disciples that he was in deep sorrow, and proceeded to speak to the Father about it as well. Jesus made it very clear he was in pain, and begged the Father to give him another option. He remained willing to go through it, but he was equally honest that he did not want to.

The second comes from a passage that often gets passed over because it comes just before another incredibly important one: John 13:1 reads, "When Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." The surrounding passages indicate that Judas was already planning to betray Jesus, that Jesus knew, and that he still went on to wash all the disciples' feet, including Judas'.

Jesus knew the pain and the betrayal that was upon him, yet he continued to express care for those he loved. Equally, Jesus openly expressed his sorrow to and asked for support from those he loved. He expressed frustration when his friends fell short, but again, he continued loving them.

So we finally circle back: in this Church Age, how should we, as lights, interact with darkness having seen how The Light did?

Those who are grieving deaths, walking with Depression or other mental illness, or carrying deep emotional pain can look to Jesus' pain and know that being a follower of the light does not mean never admitting to darkness. Our God came to Earth, cried tears, asked for help, sweat blood, and begged for a different path. Jesus never stopped loving and caring for those around him, and also asked their help — doing one is not to stop doing the other.

Those who encounter others in our churches and lives who are in difficult situations can remember that even Jesus desired the emotional, physical, and prayerful support of his friends. Jesus loved deeply on the cusp of a horrific time, and he even helped those whose loyalties were untrue.

When I look at Jesus' encounters with the darkness of this world, I am reminded of the reality of difficulty. No matter how close we are to God, no matter how much love we show others, we will encounter things in life that bring darkness. We are not to pretend that darkness does not exist merely because we are eternally in the presence of the light. Rather, let us see the darkness, do what we can to help others or ourselves through it, and in the words of an insightful song, remember that "sometimes darkness can show you the light" ("The Light", by Disturbed).

Image Credit: Unsplash; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Depression  | Jesus-Christ  | Personal-Relationships

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Published on 4-11-16