There is a song which is sung relatively often at St. Peter’s Church in Ashton-under-Lyne. It starts like this:
‘Deep is the darkness that covers the earth, oppression, injustice and pain. Nations are slipping in hopeless despair. ………’
While the song goes on to call on Jesus to: ‘Pour out [his] spirit on us today’, the first words of the song have always seemed to me to be a very negative beginning.
The song is based on the words of Isaiah 60:2 …… ‘See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.’
Our experience of life over the end of May and beginning of June seems to be very appropriately summed up in the first words of the song. ‘Deep is the darkness‘ ….. This has been a very difficult time. The bomb in Manchester Arena killed 22 and maimed many more. Two attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan have killed over 100 people and left so very many injured. The attack on a church in Egypt was devastating for the Christian community there. Then came the van and knife attack in Central London. ….
‘Deep is the darkness that covers the earth, oppression, injustice and pain.’
We feel unable to make sense of all that is going on, we feel anger and despair, we grieve for the loss of innocent young lives. Why does God allow these things to happen?
‘Why’ and ‘How could’ questions are important, often they challenge our faith. How could a God of love permit such atrocities to take place? Ultimately, however these questions don’t take us very far, especially when the darkness we encounter is the result of human actions.
We are sentient beings who make our own choices. It is only when we are free to make our choices that love can thrive. It is because we are not automatons that we are free to make mistakes, free to make wrong choices, but also free to love. Freedom allows us to place others ahead of ourselves.
Love, peace and joy are offered to us as we faithfully follow Jesus. It is when we look elsewhere for meaning, that we open ourselves up to the darkness. It is when we think that we know best that we lose sight of the light and allow the darkness in.
The song goes on to say: ‘Come Lord Jesus, … pour out Your spirit on us today. May now Your church rise with power and love, [your] glorious gospel proclaim. In every nation salvation will come to those who believe in Your name. Help us bring light to this world. ….’
No doubt you watched some of the concert held at Old Trafford Cricket Ground on Sunday 4th June. The call from so many of the artists at that event was for love to triumph over darkness and hatred.
Just as darkness only thrives where there is no light, so hatred only wins where love is absent. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the 4th June was Pentecost, the day when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the first disciples. It is the Holy Spirit at work in each of us that enables us to love others, to place their needs first. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to be those who bring light into the darkest places. It is the Holy Spirit that reassures us that we are loved, that we are safe in God’s loving embrace. It is the Holy Spirit who sets us free to love others because we are sure that we are loved.
The better questions are not, ‘Why’ or ‘How could …’ questions. The better questions are ‘What next’ questions: What can we do to overcome hatred with love in our own communities? What can we do to shed light into the darkest places of our own lives and communities? What can I do to ensure that I do not act out of envy or hatred, but rather act out of love?
“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.