A Thick and Dreadful Darkness

I’m not a fan of horror movies.  In the few I have seen, I found myself shielding my eyes and even trying to stop my ears.  It is rather embarrassing cowering next to my wife who, although not a fan of the genre either, stares at the screen through every gory detail.

A Field Trip Gone Wrong

I once took a film-study class during my senior year in high school, and the teacher thought it was a good idea for us to take a field trip and see Brian De Palma’s now classic prom night horror flick “Carrie.”  One guy in our class was particularly tough, the kind that wore army fatigues to class and cropped his hair very short.  He was “alt-right” long before anyone had ever coined that term.  No one messed with that dude; his gruff and unfriendly mannerisms kept us all at a distance, and he seemed perfectly happy with being a loner.  Anyway, at the very end of the movie, when Carrie’s classmate is placing flowers—in a brilliantly shot slow-motion sequence—on the smoldering site where Carrie, her Mom and their house got swallowed up in the earth, a hand (presumably Carrie’s) shot up from the ground and grabbed her classmate.  Everyone in the theater jumped, of course, but one guy truly freaked out, screaming loud and long, and continuing to whimper even after the lights came back on.  It was that tough guy, and the jolting scene had apparently touched something deep in his soul.

A Popular Theme

Have you ever noticed how many scary movies vamp off the theme of darkness? A quick Google search reveals movies called “Darkness” in 2002 and 2004, “Darkness Falls” in 2003 and “The Darkness” in 2016, none of which I’ve seen.  There are plenty of other films that work darkness into their title, as well.  The same is true for books, including even a 2016 book entitled “Darkness” by a NY Times best-selling author.  Amazon describes it as a “heart pumping romantic suspense novel” which delivers “the tale of a brilliant ornithologist trapped on the remote Attu Island in Alaska, fighting for her life.”  Really?  An Ornithologist? I admit it—I had to look that one up (and maybe you do, too)!

Scarier Than Fiction

The scariest darkness, however, is not the stuff of fiction, but rather is the real-life kind, whether physical or metaphorical.  If you have ever been in a cave when the only flashlight was intentionally or accidentally extinguished, the darkness is so “thick” that it feels like it compresses your chest.  And darkness has long been the metaphor used to describe all manner of oppressive, unjust and hateful behavior which is, unfortunately, quite real, scarier than any scriptwriter could concoct, and all around us.  In fact, as the Avett Brothers sing, “I’m frightened by those who don’t see it.” [1]

Light Overcomes Darkness

The Old Testament patriarch, Abraham, to whom God promised countless descendants which would include the Messiah, was overcome with “a thick and dreadful darkness” when in a dream he saw the 400 years of slavery and oppression in Egypt that his descendants would endure (Genesis 15:12-14). About 2000 years later, Jesus, who claimed to be that Messiah, candidly pointed out our tendency as people to prefer darkness because we want to hide our deeds that are less than what God wants for us, and avoid being exposed (John 3:19-20).  But he also said what we all know, whether we admit it or not: light overcomes darkness. That’s true in a dark cave, and it is true in the darkest examples of human behavior, although it may take more time to see it in the latter.

The Light of Life

Jesus ratchets it up, though—way, way up—by claiming to be the light, saying “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). Would having the light of life interest you? A light that dispels the darkness all around, whether that darkness be of your own doing or caused by others? It would me, and, having stumbled and hidden in darkness myself, such an exchange sounds like an incredible bargain and liberating to the core.  Songwriter Tonio K captures a sense of this liberation in his song “You will go Free”:

But in the midst of all this darkness
in the middle of this night
i see truth cut through this curtain like a laser
like a pure and holy light
and i know i can’t touch you now
and i don’t want to speak too soon
but when we get sprung
from out of these cages baby
god knows what we might do [2]

The Light We Need

In 1939, when Britain stood on the precipice of World War II, King George VI delivered a Christmas address to his troubled nation, reciting these stirring words from poet Minnie Haskins:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

And he replied, ‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!’ [3]

I suppose that is the practical point: even when we feel overcome, like Abraham, by a thick and dreadful darkness, if we step out in faith, trusting in God instead of our own understanding or perception, we will find that we have the light we need—a light that is true and reliable. We are not alone in whatever darkness we find ourselves.  The light of life is available if we but reach out and embrace it.  And, like King David three thousand years ago, we will come to realize:

[I]n God I trust and am not afraid. What can man do to me?…For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life (Psalm 56:11-13).


[1] The Avett Brothers, “Headful of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” (I and Love and You, American 2009)

[2] Tonio K, “You Will Go Free” (Romeo Unchained, What?/A&M Records 1986)

[3] Minnie Louise Haskins, “God Knows” a/k/a “The Gate of the Year”, 1940, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpLGZm8JGqI