We know this: darkness does and will descend. The shadow of death will envelope us all, and it extends its reach into today through physical pain, disability, loss, unrelenting depression, the troubles of daily life, the dark deeds that shape the injustices done against us, and more.
All this darkness comes in different degrees. Though much of it can feel intensely painful and unbearable at the moment, some passes and some stays with us. The loss of a pet usually fades, the loss of a child or spouse does not. It is the persistent or enduring darkness that poses the most noticeable threat to our souls.
Emotional Health and Wealth
Overlay on this enduring darkness our era in which we do not have sensory experience of Jesus. For now, we do not see him or touch him (1 Peter 1:8). Those who occasionally hear him with their ears cannot rely on the timing of those visitations. This absence of sensory contact is tolerable when life is good, but it can seem vexing when life is painful.
“We know this: darkness does and will descend.”
And there are other challenges. Our emotions drive us more than we know. The world around us suggests that we have a right to good feelings. To be fully human, it would seem, is to lean towards the happiness and pain-free side of the emotional spectrum. Even Christians adopt this mindset. Health, wealth, and prosperity don’t have to be taught from the pulpit in order to be a guiding heresy.
Good worship, for example, is usually judged by its capacity to make us feel good. Public testimonies inevitably give thanks for good circumstances that satisfy some personal desire. So, we imagine, when bad feelings come, they must be driven away quickly if we are to maintain confidence in the goodness of God.
In other words, darkness can be spiritually complex. When it comes in earnest, we need ways to counter the thoughts and feelings that offer either incomplete or inaccurate assessments of what is true.
Faith Sees and Hears
Faith is a kind of sixth and most valuable sense. It is distinguished from our sense of sight, and the other traditional senses, in that faith can see more (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith can see even when our eyes are closed.
We typically think of faith as something we have or something we do not have: we have put our faith and trust in Jesus, or we have not. We see Jesus, or we are blind to him. Yet faith is also a gift that can grow. We can have weak or little faith, or we can be “full of faith” (Acts 6:5), stand firm in faith (1 Corinthians 16:13), fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12), and draw near to the Lord “in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:22). We can have less faith or more faith. Our aim is to have more faith so that, when darkness comes, we can see spiritual realities clearly.
How Jesus Heard
By faith we see the physical world and the invisible world, which sustains and surrounds what is visible (Hebrews 11:3). This faith is nurtured by hearing the words of God in Scripture, and hearing leads to seeing.
“Health, wealth, and prosperity don’t have to be taught from the pulpit in order to be a guiding heresy.”
Jesus himself lived by faith. He certainly had more faith, or clearer vision, than us, but make no mistake, his faith can be our own. Notice the seminal story of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–10). It occurs immediately after Jesus received the Spirit at his baptism.
While enduring the worst of human troubles, he remembered, “It is written.” Jesus lived “by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Those words were more real than Satan’s lies. And those words are more real and solid than our emotions, which beg to interpret our difficult life events.
Walk with More Faith
The way of faith is not easy. The task of remembering is not natural to us. As such, the triune God is fully engaged in our mission to know his faithfulness when our emotions see nothing but darkness. The Father speaks, Jesus is the fullest revelation of the Father to us, and the Spirit opens our ears and gives us more of Jesus. More faith — more sight — is ours for the asking.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)
To have more of the Spirit feels like confidence in God and his word. To have more of the Spirit is to be assured of forgiveness of sins, which means that absolutely nothing will keep God from coming close when we are surrounded by trouble. By the Spirit, servants have seen that they were surrounded by the armies of God (2 Kings 6:17), and psalmists have seen the God who is so close, his shadow covers us at midday (Psalm 121:5). And we see the close and faithful Jesus in a way that, though our emotions sense only darkness, we see light.
“If we can still see Jesus when darkness descends, the miracle has occurred.”
Meanwhile, we do not have to wait for the miracle of sight. If we can still see Jesus when darkness descends, the miracle has occurred, and we pray to remember and see more. As we pray, we feed on the words of God in Scripture and we ask others to help us see. Those who have used these means of God’s grace do, indeed, remember his faithfulness — even while we sit in the darkest shadows.