The Heart of Darkness

There comes a time in everyone’s life when you realise that the world really is as dark as you feared.

If you’re new with us, this post will make more sense if you read my previous post first. See you soon.

The world really is a dark and scary place. We all know this of course. You know that many countries around the world know only war or oppression or famine. You know that horrible things happen to people away from the public eye. But when it touches you it’s like you never realised it before. My previous post was my reflections of what it feels like to be touched by it.

But today I want to expand a little on something I said in my previous post:

Jesus stepping into the meaninglessness destroying the world  to make something meaningful out of it.

Because I also want to reflect on what it’s felt like to have faith in a loving God whilst living in a world that’s intent on blowing itself to hell.

When Mum got sick it was like I’d been looking at the world through a filter. A rose-coloured filter that was suddenly and violently ripped off. I remember driving to the hospital, stopped at traffic lights. Across the intersection I was looking at the entrance to Brisbane’s South Bank Parklands. A very attractive set of parks and gardens along the Brisbane River. The sun was bright and the day was just the perfect temperature. Healthy attractive people were jogging, people strolled along, sipping coffee with family and friends. The perfect day to be out enjoying the beauty.

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That was the filter. But now it was ripped off to expose what I had always known but now felt in my heart and intestines in a visceral way. I saw clearly what had always been there.

Death. Everywhere.

It’s not that I realised there was and never had been anything good or beautiful in the world. There is and always has been, and they are precious to me. It’s that all of it, every single one, is being poisoned  and brought to nothing by death. Hiding behind every blossoming plant and the glorious sunlight, working quietly and unceasingly within every life. Corrupting every good thing and bringing it to nothing, to dust. To air. And in my own life too.

Looking back over my journal I found an entry early on where I described a potential artwork I kept imagining – an installation sculpture. I’ll never be able to make it and I’m sure I subconsciously ripped it off stuff that’s been done before anyway. But you’d set up a room, or even several rooms like a house, lived in, with furniture, family photos etc. But you can’t enter the rooms because it’s filled with a bulbous black mass, overwhelming everything. Swallowing every space of the place up. Nothing left untouched. Evil. Death. It didn’t occur to me at the time how much like cancer itself my image of death and evil was. Because cancer certainly is a form of evil, but evil is also, actually, a type of cancer. It’s the world just doing what the world does but doing it in rebellion to its original purpose and design; and in the process destroying itself. That is the Bible’s depiction of evil and it’s true to experience.

Near the end, when God felt absent, I reflected that for the first time I really understood why some people are atheists. I’ve never really grasped why someone might think an acceptance of science must preclude an acceptance of anything else. But there is a reason someone might not believe in God: in the face of a cruel, unjust and painful world for so many people, the world simply feels meaningless. Certainly at that moment, at the bottom of the pit it does.

But I didn’t go the way of atheism. Wasn’t tempted to. Because atheism is only engaging with half the data. It’s true that often this world feels meaningless… but at the same time it also feels meaningful. Deeply, vibrantly, vitally meaningful. More accurately – the world and life feels like it has a deep meaning and purpose which is being consumed and destroyed by meaninglessness one day at a time. The horror of our lives and the lives of our loved ones being cut short isn’t that we know our lives are just pointless. In that case who would care? It’s that we know our lives have a point. We have a deep, deep sense that they’re meant for something. They’re meant to be good. It wasn’t that my mum’s life was meaningless that made me want to kick and yell and throw chairs and scream helplessly into the night. It was that her life had real meaning and beauty and purpose; her love, her strength and courage, her selflessness towards those in her life, her thoughtfulness of others… and cancer came and ripped all of it – all of it – out of her hands for no other purpose than to throw it all in the river and watch it wash away to nothing. It’s a nightmare.

And so, does the meaningless win? Everywhere you look is beauty and life and purpose…and all of it infected with the corruption and decay of death. Everywhere is darkness. Where’s God? I was forced to stare into the darkness and it’s in the darkest spot, the very stroke of midnight, that you see him.

The very heart of the Christian story, it’s climax and centre is God revealing himself to humanity. And the heart of the Christian story is dark. Very dark. Because it’s the story of God entering the world as one of us – Jesus – to overcome the darkness, to destroy it. But not, like some hero in a fable, by swooping in on horseback and slaying the dragon. God destroyed the darkness by entering into it. He overcame suffering and death by submitting to them, suffering and dying. By reaching out in love to suffering people and being arrested, humiliated and tortured to death by the people he came to save.

At the heart of evil in the world is humanity doing what it does… but doing it in rebellion to its original purpose and design, to honour God; and in the process destroying itself and the world. That found fullest expression the day humanity gleefully executed God and stood around gloating as they watched him slowly die. But it’s in that act that Jesus overcame the darkness. Because in that act he was stepping in for us all in our rebellion against God and taking the punishment for it. It was all being punished and destroyed in his body and buried with him. And then he rose to life and left it there. And that is the way to a new life without the corruption of death and evil in it.

Every good and beautiful thing in this world is infected with the rot of death. Every single one ripped from our hands to be thrown away and leaving us empty. All except one. The one you see when you look at the heart of the darkness, the mob killing of Jesus:

Grace.

God repaying our hatred with costly, sacrificial love God giving himself for us, laying himself down at the greatest cost to bring us new life.  God overcoming darkness not from a safe distance but by willingly stepping into in and taking it onto himself for our good.

I don’t have answers for why the world went dark and in the pit I have to admit I don’t like it. But I saw God’s beautiful grace in darkness, the one beautiful thing worth living for. In destroying evil and death ‘from the inside out’ as it were, Jesus has overcome the meaninglessness destroying everything and he has made it meaningful again. Nothing else good in this world can carry the weight of our hopes but grace carries the hopes of all the good and beautiful things in this world. Shortly before she died I gave mum a photo I’d taken over a decade earlier when travelling in Jerusalem. I gave it to her as a reminder that because Jesus died things won’t be like this forever for those who put their trust in his grace. It was a photo of an empty tomb. Almost certainly not, as it turns out, THE empty tomb. But a reminder none the less. She had me blow it up to poster size and put it on her wall.

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As it stands, the world is dark. The aesthetically pleasing culture and society and life we surround ourselves with is just a thin veneer over what’s really going on. And I hate it and want to kick and yell and get angry and sad. And I do. But when I look at the grace God showed in Jesus dying on the cross I see the one most beautiful and meaningful thing that will bring meaning and beauty to everything being swallowed by meaninglessness and death for those who trust in him. I see the one thing worth holding onto and living for and trusting in.

And I trust him.

 

happy resurrection day!

‘Why are you looking for the living among the dead?’ asked the men. ‘He is not here, but he has been resurrected!’

Happy Resurrection Day! Also known as Easter. A day we Christians commemorate the rising of a certain man from the dead which will precipitate the rising from the dead of all those who put their trust in him. Death brings all our efforts and joys and desires to nothing… but death need not be the end. New life is the prize won by Jesus going to the cross to pay the penalty for our rejection of God. Trusting in his death and coming under his reign is how we take hold of it.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

1 corinthians 15.54-55

Does Easter have any significance for you? Do you have something to say or ask about its significance for Christians? 

good news indeed

The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem

I was reading my Bible this morning, where Jesus rebukes some religious leaders for teaching there’s no life beyond death. That God isn’t the God of the dead, but the living (Mark 12.18-27). And I knew I had been doing it again. That though this life is fragile and broken and passing away, and though a new life is found beyond the brokenness of death which is perfect with God, worth living for now…I haven’t been. As usual, my focus, my vision has been gazing firmly into my navel, and at what’s going on for me in the here and now, getting the right circumstances, finding the stuff to make me feel good about myself now.

Not that this life is bad or lowly or to be suppressed or repressed or denied or anything like that. Just that there’s no actual hope in this life. But I’ve been trying to find my hope here, futilely, in relationships, in comfortable circumstances, in exalting my own reputation. And here Jesus is saying that there’s this incredible hope, which would be realised by him going to the cross and then rising, that all the brokenness and pain of this life that ends in death – isn’t what it’s all about. That even beyond death God is my God and I belong to him, if my hope is in Jesus and not in…whatever else.

I can’t deny I felt pretty futile when I realised this (again). Like I’m in this rut, this trough, locked into a pattern of stupidity and sin that I just keep doing and no matter how often I tell myself at the start of a day I need to be different, I roll into bed knowing nothing actually changed. That i just don’t have the resources or power to change this pattern. So I did the only thing I could do. I told him that, and I asked for him to rescue me. And I felt also this great comfort, because I know that it’s not up to me. Yes God calls me to change, but he is the one who changes me. And I know that he is. I don’t live by my moral capacity but by his grace to me. Not a grace that says ‘do whatever, it’s cool with me’, but a grace that keeps working with me, that never gives up on me as I struggle to grow and change and become a man who actually loves God and loves other people instead of just a jerk who loves myself. A kindness that will never let me go, until one day when I see Jesus face to face, I’ll become exactly as I should be.

And that’s good news indeed.

How has God’s kindness affected you? Have you ever experienced it?

on dying

1 2/3 what I’ve already lived so far. That’s how much time I have left on this earth, if I have a really good run. That’s not long, in the grand scheme of things.

I’m studying the Bible at Bible college at the moment, and last week one of our lecturers took a small group of us out to a cemetary at a local church and told us to wander around and contemplate our mortality. And I did. 50 more years, on a really good run. I could have 1 more day.

Sobering thoughts, when I consider my life so far, choices made, relationships formed and lost, opportunities missed. What do I want my life to have been at the end? What do I want those at my funeral to remember about me? As I gazed at weathered headstones over 100 years old, names fading into oblivion under the elements, all sense of what I might acheive and accomplish faded from view. What will matter is whether I knew God and walked with him, and whether I loved people; the man I was, my character. How I loved people, or not. Whether I was strong for people, kind. Whether I helped them. Whether I showed them a bit of who God is. It stirred me to seek to change some things in my life and relationships.

It might seem depressing to reflect on your coming death, but it hasn’t depressed me at all. Sobering, but not depressing. In our hectic, frenetic lifestyle of going and doing, striving and getting, attaining and ammassing, very few of us ever take the time to reflect on where it’s all headed. We all end up in the grave.
For the Christian, there is no need to fear death, because our trust is in the One who overcame death and rose to life, so that any one who trsuts in him would have that eternal life. It’s secure in what he’s already accomplished, not any thing I can do. It really settled on me that it’s not about what I get in this life, because for the Christian, true life begins after death. It was good to reflect and realise that what I have always beleived to be true in my mind is starting to become the reality of my heart. That’s not at all to deny the grief and sadness from the loss that death brings, but the enduring hope that Jesus won for us.

At the end our lecturer had someone read out a poem by a man named John Donne, a Christian from the 19th century, who spent many years very sick and facing his own mortality. And yet he could right this:

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill mee.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Death Be Not Proud
by John Donne