I remember as a child being afraid of the dark. It was in the blackness of night that the monsters, the “boogey man” and all my unspoken fears, manifested. Unlit buildings paralyzed me with fright. Sleeping with the light on seemed like a good idea. As a child it was always easy to see that bad stuff hides in the shadows.
So, how can the statement in John 3:19 be true? “People loved the darkness more than the light.” What could possibly make darkness so alluring that humans feel affection for it and prefer it?
The Attractive Side of Darkness
As I got older, games in the dark became fun. We played one where an individual, “the wolf”, would hide in a wooded area at night. A group would search without lights, then run back to base before the “wolf” could catch them. Shadows were my friends when I was the one hiding. As the wolf, darkness emboldened me. I would terrorize people with sounds and movements that imitated wild animals—or maybe even worse things. Often it worked, with the searchers timidly feeling their way through the underbrush, jumping at the slightest rustling of bushes, screaming with fright. The ability to easily hide made me feel powerful, and energized an annoying side of my personality. Perhaps darkness wasn’t always undesirable after all; it felt nice, like a comfortable, protective yet exhilarating blanket.
But we can’t see things for what they really are under the covering of dark (I careened off an unseen six-foot embankment playing the “wolf” and bruised myself badly). Darkness cloaks. Light exposes. Therefore a love-relationship with the dark implies that we have something we don’t want seen. It is in darkness, after all, where many unhealthy and unacceptable secrets in a person’s life flourish. To walk in the shadows means we can hide, but it also means we cannot see clearly.
To step into the light requires the blanket to be pulled off, to let everything be seen for what it really is—the good and the ugly. The presence of shame and evil within us are two primary motivations for choosing darkness. We either don’t want others to see what feels wrong about us (shame), or there is something we do that violates God’s holy standard (evil). We still love it and don’t want to let go or look at it for what it really is.
One of the very first mentoring relationships I had in YWAM was with a young man who shocked me with a confession. He claimed he was a werewolf. I laughed as he described going out under a full-moon and transforming into a beast. But he was serious. Then I was speechless. As I later pondered what this was all about, it hit me that he still had a fascination with “dark things.” He had been steeped in occult practices before turning to Jesus and they still shaped much of his identity and affections. Over the next few months I challenged him to renounce his preferences for darkness and explore the virtues of living a transparent life exposed fully to God’s light. He didn’t take it well at first. But after nearly a year of walking with him, he finally shared with me, sheepishly, that God had shown him that the werewolf transformations he envisioned had all been in his mind, a cover for his insecurities. He decided after that that he didn’t need it anymore.
Loving darkness, whatever the reason, doesn’t mix with following after Jesus. We have to honestly identify the shadowy love-affairs still present in our lives. It could be an affection for occult-like images and practices, or it could be as seemingly mundane as habitually lying, seeking out porn, taking what isn’t ours or secretly nurturing any other habit that we’re trying to convince ourselves is not actually harmful or sinful. What is it that we don’t want others to know about us?
A love for darkness and hiding often go together with a drive toward self empowerment. Our inner rationalizing convinces us that to be exposed (by light) is too risky and ultimately weakness. To be hidden in darkness is safety and a place we can at least imagine ourselves to be strong. In God’s reality, however, our façade of darkness always has a self-destruction timer. One day, sooner or later, everything will be exposed for what it really is (Matthew 10:26; Luke 12:2-3).
Choosing to Love the Light
Regardless what we try to hide, we must learn to call what is dark “dark.” We can’t get around the fact that darkness cannot coexist in the presence of the God of Light. So, if we choose to retain some darkness, what will we miss out on? Perhaps God Himself.
Walking in the Light means giving up a lifestyle of hiding. True transparency is scary, but it is the way of redemption. It often means facing the fact that I am actually the “boogey man.” Crying out for mercy while acknowledging the shame and evil still lurking in my heart is the only way to begin a journey into the beauty of bright, cleansing Light.
We must never forget that this is our promised eternal destiny as followers of Jesus—living in light with God Himself as its source (Matthew 13:43; Revelation 21:23). And thus we must never stop asking ourselves, “Am I properly preparing for living in the full-exposure of His presence?” Am I choosing to grow in my love for the Light (openness and vulnerability before God) right now so I’m not terrified of it in eternity?