God did not dominate darkness with light that was made to shine on the ‘dark and void earth’ but separated the two. We were formed in light but we surrendered to darkness and allowed it to dominate us. Even though we are ‘in the light’ now, we are surrounded by darkness all around and the devil moves around us ‘like a roaring lion’ seeking his next target. But at times our this trip into wilderness becomes such that we feel all alone and abandoned, even by the LORD who has promised to never leave us. Our fervent prayers go unanswered and the storms seem to overwhelm us with no visible sign of escape, leaving us in a state of complete bewilderment and helplessness.
Why do we land up in darkness? – God had separated light and darkness and we were given dominion over the created things, an authority that we surrendered to the devil. Darkness was all around the light but could neither comprehend not control it (John 1:5). Before being saved through faith in the Messiah, we were also in the same darkness, not a part but one with it. But now we are “light of the world” separated but still surrounded by it (Ephesians 5:8). Our nature is sinful for we are “born as sinners” and as such we play hide and seek with the forces of evil, even though we are saved by the blood of the Lamb of God. Our past sins were forgiven but we sin daily and need to be part of the sanctification process of repentance, forgiveness and transformation through the Holy Spirit. We need Divine help to stay away from sin and overcome our sinful habits. Without this there is a gradual but steady shift away from God where first Scripture reading/meditation, then prayer and finally fellowship with others gets sacrificed. A stage comes when, without realizing, we go so far from God that we become only nominal believers and worst sinners.
The reasons may be many and the first and foremost may be a test of our faith by God. We are richly provided with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17) in much the same manner as Adam and Eve were in the Garden. After a while the same blessings of God – the pleasures – become ‘choke points’ for us suppressing the good seed (Mark 4:19) and leading us astray. Even in our total commitment God may still subject us to a test by allowing our shift into the wilderness. Job was commended by God for his faithfulness, “there is none like him” and Satan was allowed by God to subject him to great suffering (Job 1:8-12). Even the Son of God, our Savior Lord, was ‘led by the Spirit’ to severe testing in the wilderness and suffering on the way to the final test on the cross. Job was rewarded with double of what he had and Lord Jesus ascended to heaven to reclaim His original glory.
The second cause may be our deliberate falling to temptation much like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. King Saul was commanded by Prophet Samuel to “go down ahead of me and I will surely come down to offer burnt offerings…. But you must wait seven days until I come to tell you what you must do” to face your enemy forces (1 Samuel 10:8). The command was to teach him patience and dependence upon God but the waiting period made the soldiers restless and many started leaving for their homes. Fearing that his whole army may leave him, on the seventh day, Saul went ahead to offer sacrifices and did not wait for Samuel. He not only disobeyed but performed an act that only Levites were permitted (1 Samuel 13). Satan leads us away from patience and obedience forcing us to face negative consequences of our act that are sure to follow.
The third may be due to a curse, divination and evil practices of magic – voodoo and Tantric cults of Africa and the east. Balak, the Moabite king, out of fear of the Israelites, called for Balaam to “come and curse these people for me, because they are too strong for me. May be then I will be able to defeat them” (Numbers 22:6). The Tantric uses evil spirits and demonic powers to curse others and cause great harm – physical, social, financial and spiritual. Broken relationship with God due to all of above further alienates us from God causing self dependence instead of God dependence. We generally perceive most of the problems too small compared to our own capabilities and plan to sort it out. But suddenly we find everything spinning out of our control with no visible solution.
The period of wilderness may be a God designed test to assess suitability for promoting the sufferer to greater responsibilities in His kingdom. In the letter to the seven churches the message is clear – overcome and claim your reward (Revelation 2-3). Lord Jesus was subjected to the most difficult test and after declaring ‘It is finished’ He had to still be in the darkness of the tomb for three days before emerging victorious over death to ascend to His throne. Many situations of turbulence in our life precede a period of abundance and joy later.
How can we escape or survive in the darkness? – The usual reaction of everyone is to assess most of the situations causing despair as minor and try to handle the same on our own without God into it. In pitch darkness the light or torches of our efforts that we ignite are sure to cause grief sooner than later (Isaiah 50:11).Some examples from the Scripture will help us understand our reaction under difficult circumstances in our life.
Abraham waited 25 years for Isaac to be born and that too after Sarah had crossed the child bearing age. God commanding him to take Isaac to Moriah mountain range and offer him as a sacrificial offering would be the darkest hour of his life. Abraham did not waver in his faith and started off on the journey and after leaving the servant the two of them moved on. Isaac asked his father about the absence of the sacrificial lamb while they had the wood and the fire. Abraham called God “Yehovah Yireh” to answer that God would provide where Yireh means to see, assess and meet the need. The test was for both father and the son, for Isaac was a teenager or older by then and he allowed his father to bind and place him on the pile of wood, till God intervened. “Abraham and Isaac walked on together” on to the mountain and their faith in God did not waiver and not only God provided but their faith was counted as righteousness by God (Genesis 22:1-13).
David still not of age to join the Israelite army found himself surrounded by fear and despair for the giant Goliath had been challenging King Saul and his army to take out one person to fight him to decide the winner of the battle. David convinced the king to allow him to face the giant and went into the fight declaring to Goliath, “The LORD will deliver you into my hands”. Neither did he boast of his own prowess nor tried to use some special tactic but used his shepherd’s sling to kill the giant with a stone. Unaffected by the darkness all around him, David secured victory placing his faith in God.
King Jehoshaphat learnt about the impending attack by the armies of Ammon, Moab and Syria and prayed to the LORD for saving the nation from the enemy. Expressing confidence in the saving power of God, he prayed, “If disaster comes upon us – we will stand in Your presence and cry out to You in our affliction, You will hear and save”. The word of the LORD to Jahaziel assured them that they will not have to fight the enemy and the ‘LORD is with them’. After words of encouragement and faith, the king got ready with the army to march towards the enemy, but placed singers praising God to lead them. “Now when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against” the enemy and they fought each other. When Judean forces reached the site they found only dead bodies and ‘no one had escaped’ ant it took them three days to collect the ‘abundance of valuables – more than they could carry’. On the fourth day they got together in the Valley of Barachah and ‘blessed the LORD’ (2 Chronicles 20:1-26). Barachah is derived from root word ‘barak’ meaning ‘knee, bless or praise’ and the psalmist sings out “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name (Psalm 103:1). The act of blessing is to endue with power for success, prosperity, fruitfulness, longevity etc.
Application points – From these examples some important points emerge for our daily life. First, faith in God essential to survive in and come out of darkness of our lives for without faith we shall be prone to light our own torches and use power of self rather than depend on power of God. Second, the word of God in reply to my prayers may not come to me but to a friend or a co-worker in His kingdom. It is essential, therefore, to share your burdens with others and seek their prayer support while including in the prayer group only those who can maintain the sanctity of confidential personal information thus shared. Third, battle, as in the past, today is also of God and only He can lead us out victorious for He has promised to be with “His children” to the end of this age”. In Him only is abundance of everything and He alone is our strength and shield. Forth, worship of God, while faced with a situation of wilderness, is essentially an act of acknowledging His sovereignty over our lives. It is through worship and praise that we seek His presence to lead us out and overcome our fears. It is then that I can say with confidence, “Though I walk through the valley of shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4) and then shadows become light in His Word.
How to avoid wilderness? – God commanded the Israelites to go and possess the land that He had given them. Instead they decided to send the spies, listen to the majority report and thus doubt God. As a result of that generation all men above twenty years of age perished in the desert while roaming around for forty years. God uses darkness and wilderness to expose what is truly in our hearts, the beautiful hills and valleys of blessings of the promise also offer caves to hide our idols of prosperity, success, married life and other self created assets of confidence. The Israelites were enjoying Manna but they craved for the delicacies of Egypt (Numbers 11:4-6). While looking back on our past we start grumbling and complaining, forgetting the daily blessings coming our way from heaven, all that we in any case do not deserve (Exodus 15:24). In wilderness what is in our hearts comes out in the open for us to realize and repent though God is always aware of all our thoughts and desires. God teaches us through this to hate and bury our idols of self sufficiency and depend on Him for “man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:2-3).
Secondly darkness and wilderness creates desperation which never comes out in comfort wherein we live as if Satan does not prowl around or we can’t fall into sin.King David prays, “Lord, light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (Psalm 13:3) for it is only in pain that every waste land of our life gets filled with desperation to know God. It is in darkness that we despair for His light and pray for His hand of mercy.
Thirdly, wilderness creates brokenness of heart and then God given wilderness becomes a blessing. God uses our stay in darkness for chastening when we stray from Him and it is this period of lack that helps us enjoy God’s gifts and not abuse them. It is in this state that we learn to keep ‘looking unto Him’ and not forget Him for it is only then that we realize that “the steadfast love of the LORD is better than life” (Psalm 63:3).
How not to waste this period of turmoil and darkness? – God does not desire that we perish but He desires a close relationship with us. This closeness is only possible through an openness of heart and soul before Him. We may grieve, sorrow and cry in despair when in pain but He definitely hates murmuring under His hand of protection and blessings. “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and righteousness” (Psalm 25:10) – and the important part is all the paths and not some, even those paths that led ‘His only begotten Son into the wilderness’. The path into the valley of darkness and death leads into His bosom where there is fullness of love.
God does not send us into this period of darkness of the desert to starve, but to teach that ‘man does not live by bread alone’ or by the pleasures of the earth. All things of life are ‘by Him and for Him’ and are not hidden in their abundance but in the Creator, Lord Jesus. He entered our darkness of sin to save and lead a wretch like me into new life.
Turn to Him for He wants us saved for Himself – He is the light of the world and without Him there is total darkness and He wants to give rest to all carrying their heavy burdens (Matthew 11:28).Even sufferings will reveal God’s goodness to us for all things work out for the good of those who love God – even the deep darkness of pain (Romans 8:28).
Apostle Paul reveals the fact of “being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12). He was one person who was chosen by the Lord to be shown ‘how much he must suffer for My name’s sake’ (Acts 9:16) and this man of God accepted all things rejoicing and praising Him. When that is the attitude then the devil also will give up for how can anything shake such a person who fears nothing else but God and moves in His strength in all weakness. God desires to express His love on us in each and every situation and His hand is never far from us to save us from drowning.