Sunday, January 2, 2011

walking in the dark

There is a big emphasis in the post-Christmas readings from 1 John on walking in the light. "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn. 1:7). And again: "He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes" (1 Jn. 2:10-11). This is a beautiful meditation but for me can be a little disheartening. I don't hate my brother, but I often feel that my way is dark and I don't know which path I should take. What am I doing wrong that I don't see this light which is surrounding me?

I'm sure that my sins create some of the darkness in my life, but some of it is simply a cloud of unknowing. After all, we who are still journeying don't yet see God face to face, so it makes sense that we wouldn't see the way to Him perfectly clearly at all times. "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face" (1 Cor. 13:12). It's scary for me at times to act without a clear idea of what I'm doing. However, I know that I'm in good company.

I just discovered a little postlude to the story of the multiplication of the loaves in John's Gospel. In order to prevent people from taking him away by force and making him king, Jesus had withdrawn to the hills by himself. The disciples must have been confused what to do, where to spend the night. There may have been some heated discussion. Should they sleep out in the open? Look for lodging? Go looking for Jesus? Take the twelve baskets of leftover bread and find hungry people to give it to? It definitely doesn't sound like Jesus had left them with any instructions. The passage reads: "When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark and Jesus had not yet come to them" (Jn. 6: 16).

Let's recap: 1) It was dark, 2) Jesus could not to be found to tell them what to do. Exactly the situation I find myself in so often. In the end, His disciples decide to Jesus behind on the far side of the lake, seemingly stranded. Yet I think this was actually a beautiful act of trust on their part. They chose to believe that Jesus could arrange things perfectly, whatever they did. And Jesus' response is not to rebuke them for leaving him behind, but rather to reward their act of trust. To continue the passage: "The sea rose because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat. They were frightened, but he said to them, "It is I; do not be afraid." Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going" (Jn. 6:18-21).

So perhaps we can also learn to believe that Jesus can accomplish His will in spite of, yet perhaps somehow because of, our ignorant actions. After all, we are seldom in a situation where the right course of action is simply to do nothing. We, like the disciples, have to sleep somewhere. Jesus will always reward us for taking steps toward Him in the dark. His timing is mysterious, but we must not lose hope. "The men signed with the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark" (Chesterton, The Balled of the White Horse). We must use His gift of reason, make a prayerful decision, and act to the best of our ability. And He will enter in and meet us where our own feet have taken us.

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