Following WeWo last week, Rick Harper handed me a copy of the latest Time Magazine. The cover article was about Barbara Brown Taylor (the brilliant preacher/theologian/professor from Georgia) and her latest book, a memoir entitled “Learning to Walk in the Dark."
Dr. Taylor wrote something Christians need to hear. We can’t live in denial of the world around us, nor do we ever want to fall into the trap Marx described when he called Religion “the opiate of the people.” Faith has always been lived out in the world, replete with its hard and harsh realities. Ultimately, it is our Faith that gives us the power to cope with (not to escape) that. And sometimes, as Barbara Brown Taylor points out, it is in the darkness that we are encountered by “the Light of the World.” (John 8:12) “If we turn from darkness on principle,” she writes, “doing everything we can to avoid it because there is simply no telling what it contains, isn’t there a chance we are running away from God?”
Some of the greatest figures in political, literary, or religious history from time to time wrestled with a sense of melancholy (even depression), but found creative insights by listening to what those moods had to teach. John Adams, Agatha Christie, Emily Dickinson, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Paul Gaugin, Audrey Hepburn, William James, Micheangelo, Mark Twain, even Mother Theresa and St. Paul had seasons of darkness and doubt. They did not give up or give in, but neither did they deny. Instead, they listened to the whispers we sometimes find in the dark moments, and they discovered creativity and hope from them that helped create future moments of light.
Our Faith never said that we can escape the realities of life. All the biblical heroes occasionally had to sail through troubled waters. Our Faith teaches instead that we find a Presence Who can navigate us through them, and help us learn from them, and at last give us victory over them. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, says the Lord,” Isaiah wrote, “and when you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.” (Isaiah 43:2) We are not told that we can get “around” those experiences, but rather that we must go “through” them. And when we do, God walks with us, holding us up, and teaching us lessons if we are willing to learn.
When doubt creeps in, it usually comes in the form of questions. And questions, far from destroying one’s faith, helps us explore it. When sadness comes, there is an opportunity for comfort (through friends who stand with us or counselors who help us find the answers we already carry around inside ourselves). When guilt attacks, there is a chance to learn lessons from past mistakes that help us build future successes. When all around us seems dark, there is the solace of prayer and meditation in which we feel cradled by unseen arms. And often from those moments of mysticism are born seasons of happiness and peace we could have found in no other way. Remember, we do not give up. We do not give in to despair. Not at all. Instead, we simply do not beat ourselves up if we do not necessarily feel chipper twenty-four hours a day. God is with us in the good times and the times not so good, teaching us valuable lessons in each. And do not forget Isaiah’s word: “through.” The dark moments of life are never permanent. God always leads us “through” them to light and healing on the other side.
Get a copy of Time. Read the article. It’s worth pondering.