During Christmas season we often reflect upon Luke and Matthew, the only gospels containing the Christmas story as we celebrate it. Mark is a quick, immediate, story to story, action to action gospel & John, well John is different. But I would argue that John begins his recollection with the heart of the Christmas story, from the beginning of time with the Word (1:1) to the Word becoming flesh, one among us (1:14). Yet as I read the text, anticipating meditation and reflection upon the impact of the incarnation in this Christmas season, one simple phrase jumped out.
In 1:4-5, John’s contrast of light and darkness begins, a motif that is carried through both this gospel and his letters found later in the New Testament. At the end of verse 5, this phrase “the darkness has not overcome it,” lit up to me (pun intended with John’s motif). King James and New American Standard translate it, “darkness did not comprehend it.” I think both those translations hold significance.
This relates to everyone, but I think so much to a bipolar person who experiences extremely low lows and extraordinary high highs. While my own personal manias have not reached the point of expensive splurges, cliff diving or other radical endeavors (though the thought does cross my mind in manias and I’ve actually been able to “go there” mentally when attempting what some may say are insane activities), my lows have been to the point of literal overwhelmingness and unfathomably dark moments. Thoughts of life without me are rationalized and make sense to be true. But the darkness cannot overcome the light. It cannot overpower the Word God who’s always been and always will be. Even the darkest darks cannot overcome Jesus.
Yet in those moments which I sadly can remember with amazing clarity, it feels so dark and unconquerable. In fact, my darkness cannot comprehend the light. I have so often prayed in those moments, memorized Scripture (probably over 500 verses in my darkness believe it or not – which goes in to my compulsiveness, something which again became enlightening as I looked back in this whole process), I’ve sung worship songs, I’ve talked with my counselor and wife, and I feel I’ve done all the “spiritual, Christiany” things, but in those dark momenst it seems as if I cannot understand the light.
Now I know I’m not alone in my down times, everyone has them. And for most, I would assume you’d agree that in those dark times, you cannot comprehend the light. And while we know the darkness cannot overcome the light – we have God the Spirit dwelling inside of us! – it seems so true.
So what was God saying in verse 5? I mean, what about Christians who have been so overcome to the point of taking their own life or trying to? If they have the light in them, how does the light of the Holy Spirit not help them overcome the dark? Some would say they weren’t saved to begin with and they didn’t have the light in them. Others would say they had the free will and they chose that selfishest of all acts. But I wonder. I wonder what God’s perspective is on this. I mean, clearly, believer or not, His heart is broken. God longs to redeem every one of His creation. And He does his best work when we are at our lowest. And He cares most, it seems (through Jesus & the prophets), for the weak, downtrodden, poor and outcast.
What I do know is that the darkness can’t overcome the light. And I know also that all genuine disciples of Jesus do hold the light of God – God Himself – within them so they cannot be overcome by the darkness. We may feel that way, as the Psalms and even epistles indicate, but we cannot be overcome by the darkness, even when we can’t comprehend it.
Addendum less than 24 hour: So as I kept reading (yes, I paused immediately after v. 5 and wrote everything above), I came across 3:19 and it echoed the concept that we have the choice between light and darkness. “…this is judgment: the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” Is one evil if they have the light, God the Holy Spirit, within them? No. But can their works be? Yes. We do choose darkness – even when we are depressed (in an extreme way or not), but certainly some have this inclination more than others. The phrase, “people loved the darkness rather than . . .,” I understand, but I wrestle with it. Clearly there are impish, enabled individuals who like to wallow in their self pity and they’d prefer to be depressed than be well because they use it as a crutch, but in the times I’ve been seemingly hopeless and down, I remember clearly telling Sherry that I don’t want to be like this, I just am. It’s almost like it hasn’t been a choice. We all have bad days and “wake up on the wrong side of the bed,” but quite often I find myself in a “funk” out of nowhere. More often than not my lows are triggered by things (as most people), but they spin quite a bit to sink me lower, but those times when nothing situationally initiates the downward spiral, I know I’m not choosing darkness over light.
So . . . I get that my works are evil. I am born into sin. I am a sinner saved by the grace of Jesus Christ who died on the cross and conquered death physically and as a result eternally for all of us if we choose to follow Him. But in the continual depraved nature our human race finds itself, I wrestle with how much I, and others struggling neurologically, choose darkness over light within our will. Again, this is not an excuse in the least, but my curiosity remains.
While this addendum may appear to be more confusing and add to my perplexity, I’m actually quite comforted and clarified as a result of it. The darkness and light, flesh and spirit, remain. They will always remain in battle until we each meet Jesus face to face, in judgment and in grace.
We have hope in that.