Every man must read the Word for himself. One may read it in one shape, another in another: all will be right if it be indeed the Word they read, and they read it by the lamp of obedience. He who is willing to do the will of the Father shall know the truth of the teaching of Jesus. The spirit is “given to them that obey him.” But let us hear how John read the Word—hear what is John’s version of the gospel: “This then is the message, which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and him him is no darkness at all.” Ah, my heart, this is indeed good news for thee! This is a gospel! If God be light, what more, what else can I seek than God, than God himself! Away with your doctrines! Away with your salvation from the “justice” of a God whom it is a horror to imagine! I am saved—for God is light! My God, I come to thee. That thou shouldst be thyself is enough for time and eternity, for my soul and all its endless need. Whatever seems to me darkness, that I will not believe of my God. If I should mistake, and call that darkness which is light, will he not reveal the matter to me, setting it in the light that lightest every man, showing me that I saw but the husk of the thing, not the kernel? Will he not break open the shell for me, and let the truth of it, his thought, stream out upon me? He will not let it hurt me to mistake the light for darkness, while I take not the darkness for light. The one comes from blindness of the intellect, the other from blindness of heart and will. I love the light, and will not believe at the word of any man, that that which seems to me darkness is in God.
Wrestling Until the Break of Dawn
by Jess Lederman
There are some passages in Scripture that can make it hard to love God, or to believe that Scripture is truly the Word of God--the command to slaughter the Canaanite men, women, children, and animals, for example. After all, how many wild-eyed zealots have used God as an excuse for genocide? Doesn't that passage sound like an ex post facto justification? It can certainly be tempting to decide that the command of God was in fact a human invention.
Of course, one might say, isn't that exactly what MacDonald is saying in today's entry? After all, the mass murder of women, infants, and other non-combatants seems like darkness to most of us.
Perhaps; but perhaps not.
Before picking that thought back up, let me say that this is another passage in Unspoken Sermons that has been foundational for me. We have a God-given conscience that tells right from wrong; after all, Paul wrote in Romans, not that he we are hopelessly confused about what is right in our fallen state, but that we simply can't do it without help from God. So, if something supposedly done or commanded by God seems evil--seems like darkness--then I'm going to push back, rather than assuming it must be so.
The question is, how do we push back? One approach is to dismiss outright any such passages. They can certainly depress and distract us, so this is an appealing option, and, early on, I took it often enough. But, of course, this can be a slippery slope; in the end, we might be left with our version of Thomas Jefferson's Bible, and a thousand verses will be snipped out and lying on the floor. A few hundred of them might end up simply being ones that made us uncomfortable, or offended our reason, rather than our moral sense.
There's another way to "push back", however: to live with the tension--to wrestle with it. To ask ourselves, suppose the verses in question really are the words of God? Is there another way of understanding them, where I can begin to see a glimmer of light? It's clear that there is much in Scripture that only yields to our understanding over time--and, as MacDonald makes clear, only after much obedience! The more perplexing parables of Jesus are just the most obvious evidence that that is true. How many years of both struggling to obey, and wrestling with the text, might it take? A lifetime might not be long enough.
Personally, I'm grateful that some wise pastors encouraged me to keep coming back to difficult, dark passages, rather than jumping to the assumption that they are human distortions. I now think of this process as akin to Jacob, wrestling with the Angel of God, then limping, wounded but wiser, into the light of dawn.