A five-year-old runs house-to-house around her rural neighborhood in the early days of October just before dusk approaches. The sun is still entirely visible on the horizon, and she is oblivious to the impending darkness that has continued to approach earlier and earlier due to the recent fall equinox. After only five years of living with the shifts in the seasonal patterns, she has not yet come to expect them. In the days prior, she could play for much longer after dinner with her friends in her neighborhood. They could play hide-and-seek and race on their bikes for what seemed like an eternity before she was beckoned in for bath time. Still early in the evening, she shudders as she senses the darkness begin to descend upon the evening. A haze seems to distort her vision, and she realizes that the sun has disappeared when she wasn’t watching. Fear and foreboding flood her little body as she sprints for her home. She doesn’t even stop to bid her buddies a farewell for the day. She is too desperate to escape the canopy of darkness that chases her home. She does not understand this fear of the dark, but only knows the experience of dread, helplessness, and torment that comes with it.
Twenty years later, I still have the echoes of the visceral response that comes with the descending of the darkness on fall and winter evenings. God has undoubtedly healed, and I am still reminded of my early winter prisons as the temperature drops and the days shorten.
There is this disorder called SAD. How appropriate. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a mood disorder that awakens during autumn and goes dormant with the arrival of spring. There is a high correlation between decreased moods (depression) and a scarcity of light. Why is this? The scientific answer involves decreased levels of melatonin from the sun, serotonin, and circadian rhythm disruptions. SAD, a subtype of depression, involves absence of hope, energy, worth, motivation, concentration, and can even lead to suicide. SAD is directly related to a loss of light. Because we are complex biological, psychological, social, and spiritual beings, I believe that it is impossible do divorce this condition from what we know about darkness in the context of Jesus’ relationship with light and darkness. This does not downplay the physiological and psychological mechanisms involved in the manifestation of mental illness. It is real. And we are super-complex.
I’ve been wrestling with this whole issue of darkness as I study Genesis 1:3-5 and 14-19. Is the darkness intrinsically evil? I could see that in verse 4, it says “God saw that the light was good” (ESV). It never mentions that God says that the darkness is good, yet in verses 14-19, He created day and night, and he created seasons. He saw that these were good. In the midst of this question that lies in the safety of intellectual theological inquiry, I ask a more difficult question: God, where were you in my darkness, in my nights, and in my suffering?
Much darkness and light that we see mentioned in scripture is symbolic, but there is something about real, legitimate darkness that brings about fear, pain, and agony. Genesis 1:16 says, “God made two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars” (ESV). He created lights to “rule” the day and the night. In this text, I see His promise to me. The darkness may seem incredibly dark. The night might seem obscure and black. But His light is there, and it is ruling. He rules the dark. Always. He is always sovereign. Always supreme. He is the light, and He rules the darkness (literal and figurative). We are desperate for light. Our bodies reflect this in incredible ways as we battle physical struggles as the result of lack of natural sunlight and shortened days. Our spirits, however, do not have to ever be deprived of the light that Christ has to offer. We can always soak in His rays, even on the bleakest days or the darkest nights. When we aren’t soaking in H is rays, tiny pinpricks of His light are enough to exert control over the darkness.
God faithfully established His stars to light even those darkest nights for that five-year-old child. That child was hidden under the shadow of His wings. Darkness did not win, and darkness will not win. Light was created with complete dominion over its power. As days shorten and I begin to face reminders of the dark, I will continue to worship the King of light.