“For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.”
Philippians 3:18There are dark places in our souls. We’re not born with them, but sometime before we can speak our names and claim a toy as “mine!”, they’ve begun to grow. A slow, spreading cancer, they seep into our thoughts, our words, our relationships. The courses of our lives are mapped by choices they push us to make, by the rippling of choices others have made out of their own dark places.
None of us is immune, none of us has the power to defeat them. We may deny the dark places, hide from them or call them by another name, but when we’re quiet and alone, we know they’re there. Pain or numbness, shame and fear - these are signs of their presence, little blue flames of loneliness creeping along the floors of our hearts. Our bodies show scars of illness and brokenness, our minds, scars of anxiety and depression - the dark places wound and war with us until our bodies succumb. Death is the cry of their victory.
It’s no wonder long-time inhabitants of earth, themselves stained by selfishness and greed, bearing scars of the dark places, discovered ways to keep the pain at bay. Temporarily, at least. Drink to make the mind forget, a physical thrill to mimic intimacy, overindulgence in anything which made them feel valued or important by his or her own strength. Distraction, entertainment, comparisons to one another - they would gladly try anything to forget the shadows of pure humanity lurking in their souls. We, who have inherited their world, have inherited their tendency towards such defenses.
But we are not doomed to use them. There is a greater defense against the dark places. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light - it’s impossible. It’s a dynamic built into the fiber of the universe, another picture to help us understand the God who unbelievably claims us as His own. When He turned up as Jesus on our shadowed planet, His friend John described it this way: “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5). Dark places in any soul simply dissolve when light of Life shines in. The darkest moment in human history (the cross) threw open the shutters to everlasting morning. Light is the greater victory.
When Paul speaks of those who are living as enemies of the cross, he speaks of them with tears. I can understand why, because they’re friends of mine, too, and I know how he feels. They defend themselves against the dark places the only way they know how, and from their point of view, earthly things offer the only relief; of course they worship the god in their gut (“If it feels good, do it”), of course the only glory they understand is in their shame. It’s in their blood.
Knowing Christ does not make me better than them - it only makes me honest. I know the dark places hiding in my own soul when I am unwilling to let the light of Christ shine in, and I know who I am without Him. It’s not pretty. My citizenship is in heaven, but I was born into it when I was born into a new life, with new blood I didn’t pay for or earn. Jesus did. I, myself, was once darkness, as Paul reminds me in Ephesians 5, but now I am light in the Lord. I should live as a child of the Light.
This means many things. It means that while I remain in this broken body on this broken planet, I will continue to war against the dark places in my soul. It means that victory is my right (as a citizen of heaven), but the source of it lies not in my own strength - victory lies instead in my willingness to surrender to the Light of Christ. It means that as His light shines in me, it will also shine through me, spilling out as words and actions which mimic Him. It means I must be willing to face the dark places in myself and in those around me, loving them as Christ loves them, reflecting His light for His glory, whether any of them acknowledge Him or not. It means I will share the true Light with everyone I know, loving them even unto tears, because I so desire their relief from dark places, not because it is my Christian “duty” to do so.
It also means that I eagerly await my Savior. Someday, dawn will break on that everlasting morning and the war against dark places will finally be over. My Savior will come for me, gathering my brothers and sisters who have also struggled with borrowed weapons for the sake of one another, who have also prevailed through surrender and we will be welcomed home - where we are safe, where we are known, where we are loved - with great gladness and joy. All that is broken and scarred will fade into distant memory, our lowly bodies finally transformed into glory, forever and ever and ever. This is our hope, our destination, the final result of our faith. Souls will dance with the joy of it for eternity. Until then, may the Lord, the Light of this universe, use us to bring His light into every dark place, no matter the cost, so that the ones we dearly love may join the dance and cry with us sweet tears of joy.
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
2 Peter 3:9