Are You Afraid of the Dark?
By Michelle Fleming
As a small child, I was a little afraid of the dark. This is a common fear for most young children, and experts attribute it to a toddler’s growing cognitive abilities—including the development of the imagination. The dark becomes a place where monsters live, and fear creeps into a child’s mind.
As adults, we know we need the dark for good health, and light exposure at night can affect our bodies’ internal sleep rhythms and hormones, like melatonin. Children, though, have to develop trust that darkness can be good for us.
In scripture, God’s presence is sometimes referred to as light and God’s absence as darkness. This can give us a mistakenimpression of what the faithful Christian walk looks like. We can mistakenly think that when we experience doubt or difficulties, we are in darkness and God has left us. One biblical passage that shows the wide range of the Christian experience is Psalm 27. It begins like this:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; who shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27: 1 (NRSV)
This is what we think of when we define faith in God. We believe that in this world of great beauty and great suffering, God is with us, and we don’t need to be afraid. But the truth is, we often are afraid or worried. Does that mean our faith is weak?
Let’s consider some other verses in the same Psalm:
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! ‘Come’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
Psalm 27:7-9 (NRSV)
These verses seem to be a sharp contrast to the over-the-top faith of the first verse. Here, the psalmist speaks of his pain and his fear, but he isn’t worried that his lament will drive God off. Instead, the psalmist helps us understand that part of faith is believing in God’s faithfulness even when that faithfulness doesn’t feel present. Even in the midst of doubt.
Trust in God doesn’t prevent hardship or keep us from experiencing times when God feels distant. We can find examples in the Bible, like this one, or in the lives of the early church fathers that illustrate how we can experience what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” God understands that faith and doubt are not opposites. In fact, questioning our faith can often lead to growth and transformation. Like light and dark, faith and doubt need each other.
When we were small children, we had to learn that the dark would not hurt us. We had to understand that we needed darkness to sleep and to be healthy. Similarly, as Christians, we learn that doubt and questioning can be our means toward growth in our relationship with God.
“Being afraid of the dark” is a normal part of faith. Let us continue to grow in our understanding that the Light of our Salvation, our living Triune God, is always there to lead us from darkness into his light.
I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life