“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?…The Shadow knows!” Back in the day, before many of us were born, this iconic line introduced a mystery thriller series on American radio. The Shadow was played by Orson Welles among other actors during the course of three decades on air. Each episode would sign off with a warning: “The weed of crime bears bitter fruit. Crime does not pay…The Shadow knows!”
Since the beginning of thought, evil and darkness have been tied together. By way of instinct we are wired to be alarmed when we can’t see what’s around us. Who knows what the darkness holds? Our minds tell us that whatever it is, it probably isn’t good.
I don’t know if you have ever been in a place where the blackness is total. There are a few caves and tunnels where I have had that experience, but always in a controlled way. One of the most dramatic times was in Hezekiah’s tunnel in Jerusalem. If you have the chance to go through there, there will be moments when everyone turns off their little souvenir lights and torches. Then you all go quiet and strain at the darkness. The only sound is the gentle run of the spring you’re wading through. And the blackness is so thick you can feel it like a heavy blanket. Your mind imagines shapes in the space before your eyes; after a while it can begin to get a little scary. Then, inevitably, someone taps a friend on the shoulder, there’s a little squeal and a lot of giggling. The torches come back on and you continue paddling towards daylight.
Imagine how fearful you might become if you were in such a blackout when the circumstances weren’t so friendly. I had relatives who were miners in the Welsh collieries. At one time or another they had all been trapped down the mines. As a young man my great uncle was down there for well over a day in total darkness: lights gone, communication gone, stuck under a section of tunnel roof that had collapsed. Even into his seventies he still had nightmares about that. The darkness terrified him.
So it should come as no surprise that the Bible associates light with goodness… and the absence of light – darkness – with the threat of evil. In his warnings concerning spiritual warfare in Ephesians chapter six, Paul refers to our current situation as “this present darkness” suggesting that even though the sun undoubtedly shone every day in Rome where he was under house arrest, there was a spiritual darkness that held a certain degree of power. John the Apostle also used the motif of light and dark to impress on our minds the clear distinction between a life that is righteous and a life that is darkened by sin:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But 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 John 1:5-7
Notice how our calling is to walk in the light, suggesting that our way is already illuminated by God’s righteousness. It’s a clearly lit path to follow, not a trail we have to blaze on our own. We don’t invent new ways of righteousness as if we were striking a match in a cave. No, it is shown to us as a way already established through the darkness.
God’s Word is a lamp to light the way, and obedience should be as easy as walking on the sunny side of the street. A wise man once said that the problem isn’t understanding some of the more difficult parts of the Bible. The problem is obeying the parts we already understand only too well!