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Apr16ThuLearning to encounter God in the dark. April 16, 2015 by Major Danielle Strickland
I recently read Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. I've always been fascinated by how often God comes in the darkness ... at night … in the mystery and struggle. From the top of Sinai, Moses received a foreboding invitation to meet with God and he entered the dark cloud in order to find him. Perhaps that's how and why Moses came to not just do great things for God but to be his friend. He was willing to go to the scary, obscure, mysterious, dark places … willing to take the risk … willing to journey to a place to encounter God, where his fears might not be relieved after all. Maybe after encountering and struggling with the real God we end up weaker instead of stronger, like Jacob; broken instead of solid, like Peter; or dependant on his grace, like Paul. An uncontrollable God—that's what he offers when he offers us himself.
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We seem to have this love affair with all things easy and comfortable. We want our faith to be like that, too. We want a teddy bear for a God (and by “we” I mean “me”), who gives us the desire of our hearts—and by that we often mean whatever we want or think we need. We resist wrestling with a God who will realign us to a posture of dependence, weakness and surrender. We are afraid of that kind of faith—we want easy answers for a shallow faith, just enough to make us feel better for the immediate future but not enough to change our lives.
At my small group, we've been watching a video series on the 12 steps of recovery, made popular by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Step Six (“We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character”) is about encountering God in the dark. It has been fascinating to study this step while reading Taylor's book. It's about meeting God, not in the darkness outside you, but in the most terrifying kind of darkness—inside you. It's about accepting God's invitation to climb the mountain covered in a cloud. That cloud, with its foreboding sense of danger, may have kept you away for a long time. But on this day, you summon the courage to climb. Admitting that you are willing to risk everything, you encounter the God you can never really understand, but the God who completely understands you.
And you meet him there. In the muck and the mire of your own human condition. No hiding. No lying. No pretending. No controlling. Just you and God. And what you find is much like what Moses, Jacob, Paul, Peter and someone near you in an AA group found. God—uncontrollable, indescribable even, but full of mercy, compassion and love. Exuding forgiveness, grace and a way out. Not ignoring your condition—simply willing to change it.
For some of us, that will mean strengthening us from the inside out. For others it will mean weakening us from the outside in. Whatever it takes to change our posture from defiance and self-reliance, to dependency, humility and honesty. It will mean a clean slate, a new day, a different you. It is exactly what the angels said when they told the shepherds Jesus had come into the world in the middle of the night, and it's what the prophets spoke about when they called him the “bright and morning star,” which is the star that shines at the darkest hour of the night to usher in the dawn.
I don't know about you, but to encounter this kind of God, I'm willing to learn to walk in the dark.
Major Danielle Strickland is the corps officer at Edmonton Crossroads Community Church and leads Stop the Traffik, an anti-human trafficking campaign. She is a speaker, writer, justice advocate and church planter, passionately committed to seeing God's kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. She is married, and is the mother of three boys. You can read more of her writing here: daniellestrickland.com.