By Elizabeth Prata
Darkness is a primal thing. No one likes it. No one seeks it. We think we have beaten our ancient fear of it, but it is only the fragile light bulb that makes us think we are less primitive than we are.
Darkness is disorienting, you cannot see the ground ahead of you nor the prey sneaking up on you. As a child, the prey is the alligator living under the bed. As an adult, the darkness is a thing to be laughed at in the light and a thing to be dreaded while in the dark.
For generations and centuries, man hated to see the sun set, having no candle to ward off the night spirits. Even with a candle or kerosene lamp, its flickering glow seemed too meager to combat the oppressive night.
Sailors for millennia will tell you that the night watch from 2-4 am is the most chilling. Terrifying is the night, especially if there is no moon and the stars are obscured. Samuel Taylor Coleridge captured this in the stanza about sailing at night in his famous Rime of the Ancient Mariner,
Rime of the Ancient Mariner,
The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out;
At one stride comes the dark;
With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea,
Off shot the spectre-bark.
We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white;
From the sails the dew did drip—
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The hornèd Moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.
The River Styx is the Greek mythological river that separates the outer world from the underworld. It is a kingdom lorded over by Hades, and guarded by Cerberus the three headed dog. Charon is the ferryboatman who brings the lost souls across the river to their eternal doom. The term ‘stygian darkness’ comes from the Styx.
In Stories of the Ships, author Lewis R. Freeman described ‘the darkness you could lean against’ … so apt!
I was in total darkness once. I do not mean the dark night, or even the dark when I was sailing, though that is very dark. I mean under-the-earth kind of dark where there is no spot of light nor any particle of brightness nor any beam of luminosity…just oppressive dark. It was when we toured the Queen Copper Mine in Bisbee Arizona. The tour takes you down under the earth and as you go along, they explain about mining. Sitting in the little rail car, the tracks clacking, we rattled further and further away from the sun, from the warm light, into gloom that closed in upon us with the earth.
[I]f thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.~Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil/Chapter IV
When we got to the bottom, the tour guide told us to turn off your headlamps, and for 5 to 8 seconds we sit in a darkness so black is it alive. It suffocates, and permeates the brain to the extent that you want to scream and scrape your way out. It is a darkness that is palpable, suffocating you with its wild dementia. It is a darkness that claws at your sanity. When the lights come back on your mind relaxes at the soothing balm that brightness brings.
In darkness such as this, your eye has no opportunity to grasp a single detail, and instead, the mind is floating as a raft upon the darkness, free-wheeling and unhinged from the anchoring light.
The Bible frequently uses light and dark to contrast truths. John 12:35 says “So Jesus said to them, “For a little while longer the Light is among you. Walk while you have the Light, so that darkness will not overtake you; also, the one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.“
Sin is darkness. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” (Ephesians 5:11)
The power of satan is darkness. (Acts 26:18)
The LORD spoke much in the Old Testament about the Day of Darkness. His judgment brings darkness.
“Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light” (Amos 5:18).
But Jesus IS THE LIGHT!!
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
How wonderful we can follow Him, a Light that never goes off and never dims. We will never walk in darkness if we follow Him. He knows the way, because He IS the Way!
If you do not follow Him, O, my heart aches in sadness to say, but there the person will remain in outer darkness all their lives throughout eternity. A person who dies in their sin, will remain in that clawing, palpable, screaming darkness forever- in hell.
Hell is a place of outer darkness (Matthew 22:13) where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12). I dare not even try to imagine the stygian darkness of the hellish place Outer Darkness is. That it is named for its very absence of light indicates how dark it is, indeed.
But people, the precious Light has come!
“Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 12:36)
What an inexpressible joy to know we will have the Light, we will be in Light for all eternity, pure, bright glory Light, brighter than the sun and shining forth from the face that looked down upon his people and took pity on us, with compassion died for us, rose again to minister to us, and saved us from the terrible darkness.