This is the second of our series of articles through the year from Spectrum, on the theme ‘Darkness and Light are both alike to Thee’. This month the article is by Inderjit Bhogal.
In this presentation I explore a model for ministry.
If I asked you to give me a summary of the Bible in a couple of sentences, what would you say?
In my view the first two verses of the Bible provide the key to unlock the rest of it. These two verses are a summary, and what follows in the rest of the Bible illustrates this summary. Use the wisdom of these two verses to reflect on where you find yourself now. I offer a few thoughts.
“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, and the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2)
This is the beginning, not the end.
There is a formless void, darkness, and what is termed “the deep”. God does not create this. It is just there. But God dwells in the midst of it all. This is where the spirit of God is, creating something new.
The “deep” is described elsewhere in the Bible as a trembling, a disturbance, a stirring, or a storm within a person, in the mind, in circumstances or in the environment around us. It is a stirring, which can also be scary, but in which new things happen. See for example, Jeremiah 23:9, Daniel 7:2 and John 5:2.
In Sanskrit the word is “vritti”, which signifies a whirlpool.
This is what is being described in the two opening verses of the Bible. And such scenarios are real throughout the Bible.
The stories of the Bible are reflections of a people, their journeys in life, and how they experienced and interpreted God in the midst of the harsh realities of their meanderings and troubles, conflicts and hurts, and the points at which they found meaning and hope.
The Word of God is discerned by the people of the Bible as they reflect on their often terrifying and troubling experiences. Their reflections reveal God who is with them in their travel and travail as the still and secure and creative presence at the heart of it all. When everything seems out of control the love and presence of God holds firm. Biblical witness illuminates and unfolds this insight.
The life of God flows in the “deep”, and is the ground of all creation. God weaves darkness and the deep into all creation, makes new and beautiful things, and calls human beings to share in this work, to protect and take good care of life and all created things, and to do all things with wisdom (Genesis 1:26-28).
The work of any true guru, and ministry, is to model exactly that. To be prepared to dwell in darkness, to accompany people in darkness, and to do all things with wisdom. A true guru will not lead people from darkness to light. A true guru will sit in the darkness with people and help them to find wisdom from the deep, and stillness within the stirring of life and the whirlpool of the mind. A true guru does not say there is a silver lining to every cloud, and does not speak of light at the end of the tunnel.
A true guru is tuned in to the attendance and echo of God in the storm, points to God in the shadows, and helps people to see darkness as a place of sacredness. So, a true guru will not hurry people out of darkness, or speak negatively of emptiness, and will be healing not hurting, hospitable not hostile, holding out hope not despair, modelling holiness.
This is a model of ministry I have found helpful.
- What does the concept of ‘darkness’ mean for you?
- What do you envisage, positively, will emerge from the pandemic experience?
- What is your ‘model of ministry’ as a Christian disciple today?
4 thoughts on “Illuminating darkness: where is God in all this?”
Many thanks for this article. It is beautiful. I don’t want to answer the questions but I will read it every day this week so that it seeps into my being. It alters my whole perspective on darkness from being a bad place to being a place of possibility and new life.
I feel there is something about love missing in this article. God “in the darkness” is a mystery that is “out there” and we are alone, in “here”, whereas I find God here, now, in relationship. The God of Love that comes to mind in the context of our ethical relationship with each other.
Darkness, for me, is an event that generally arises through broken relationships or death. I lose sight of the essential goodness of life. I know I have to live through these events. The amazing thing is that I find I can live through these events, and find beyond, or behind the loss, an unexpected love. For me this is from God, the God that is the goodness beyond being. Hard to explain this: Here is a poem that tries!
You have gone.
Our intense world stretched high and as far as forever:
But now it has gone.
It wasn’t your leaving, but my endless arriving at
This world where you have gone.
The colour has gone.
It is a grey tasteless pain of a world,
Flat like wet cardboard, rotting, dying.
Now you have left, and I have
Found a world in which you have gone.
You have gone
In your place grows a place full of raw meaning.
A stinking pit of vast and profound otherness,
Not in the world you left, but in this new world,
This nothing world, in which you were gone.
Where has sanity gone?
Will this heart burst its bony cage
Will its pain redeem this horror?
What can be the point of pain in a pointless world –
An ache of a world in which you were gone.
But here is mystery;
I search the strange space of your absence and
In spite of all the emptiness, in spite of all the pain
Within my heart so lost in love
I found a love of everything.
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It is just the first four words of the Bible that sum it all up for me: “In the beginning God”. (Translation slightly different from that used by Inderjit.) Perhaps that helps Robert too; I find it helpful to know that God has always been there – and will always be, no matter how dark it gets.
More to say! My answer to all three questions is to identify unconditional love as the nature of God and the importance of responding to that love in all our dealings with others. I suggest this ethical spirituality is universal and secular – all that matters in life is to love and be loved.
I am well aware that the response of many people to “darkness”, unfairness, injustice, illness and death is pessimism, but I affirm that life in inherently good: However bad things get we can always find forgiveness for past errors, courage to face the present and hope for the future. We have reason to be optimistic. For me this is the meaning of creating something new and is where I find the spirit of God. The two statements in the Bible that provide the key to unlock the rest of it are: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbour as you love yourself.