Clouds and thick darkness surround Him;
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.Psalm 97:2, NASB
When I was a kid, I liked to scare my sister in the dark. However, it made me afraid of the darkness too, and it took me a long time to get over this fear. The psalmist reminds me that God is shrouded in clouds and thick darkness (Psalm 97:2), an idea that counters our common imaginings of God. We often hear that God is light and that “in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). While this is true, God has also said that “He will dwell in the thick darkness” (1 Kings 8:12).
I must be careful, however, not to project my ideas about darkness onto God because doing so only describes God according to my own thoughts and ideas. We can be certain that there is no darkness in God, for He is cloaked in non-human ways. God gives our human conceptions of darkness new meaning, perhaps as a way for us to make sense of His absence. Sometimes, it is hard to see what’s really there. As if by thick clouds, our vision is shrouded, and God’s actions are concealed from us (Psalms 18:11). Perhaps we can only see God in the shadows. After all, God comes to us in a cloud and dwells in the thick darkness (Exodus 20:21).
Though this darkness contains a supernatural light, only once in a while do we receive clear glimpses of the divine. Most of the time, God appears absent to us, but He is not. He is only concealed from us by the thick darkness. Understanding that God’s presence is often hidden in a spiritual cloud is perhaps the greatest realization possible. Like the Israelites at Sinai, most of us can’t bear more than a mere shadow of God’s glory. We prefer “dark sayings” over the most spectacular encounters (Numbers 12:8, NKJV). It is too difficult for us to press into the thick darkness “to see the form of the Lord” (Numbers 12:8), because in our fear, we avoid personal exploration. Moses entered the thick darkness where God dwelt because he knew that such darkness contained glory.
Life is hard; we all experience seasons of darkness. Who has not felt the darkness of discouragement and depression as Elijah did when he ran away to save his life? In his dark moments of sexual dominance and betrayal, David cried out for forgiveness and renewal. In deep agony over his sin, Jacob wrestled in the darkness. Job’s suffering became dreadfully dark when his prayers went unanswered. Even Jesus suffered in dark Gethsemane, shedding great drops of blood in anguish and distress. Instead of shying away from difficult and dark situations, I want to find God’s majesty there, His ravaging and raw love exposed. I understand that God does not always come in bright and sophisticated ways. He meets us in the grim clouds and thick darkness. He comes onto the scene of human suffering—even into raging storms—under a veil of darkness.
This is perhaps the most profound thing about God: He becomes human and dwells in our fallenness, taking us in our sinful humanity and meeting and loving us amid our darkness. I know no other way for God to take on the mantle of human flesh than in its fallen, degraded, and sinful state, but I am careful not to portray Him as altogether like me. When God becomes like us, He doesn’t lose His holy majesty. His divinity sanctifies our fallen humanity, bringing healing and redemption to every sinful taint. Though He did not possess their passions, Jesus welcomed sinners so openly that he was accused of being a drunkard and glutton Himself (Matthew 11:19). Even in his death, Jesus consorted with criminals, “becoming sin for us who know no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21), as He hung naked on a cruel Roman cross. God likewise associates with us at the risk of being described by the pervasive sin and darkness around Him. After all, God dwells in the thick darkness (Deuteronomy 5:22).
And what of the thick darkness that covered the land as Jesus took on sin itself? Was God in that darkness? Did He abandon Jesus, or was He compelled to dwell in this most agonizing moment? We meet God in the thick darkness where He is both hidden and revealed. We see Him delivering us from the power of darkness by submitting to us in our darkness (Luke 25:53). God’s heart was ripped apart, yet He chose to accept us when He had every right to be against us, thereby meeting us in our darkness. God’s connection with us through the person of Jesus was nothing less than divine accessibility; He opened His heart to this world (Hebrews 10:19–20).
God, who is light, surrounded the cross in deepest darkness—His justice enveloping the cross. It was He who sent the darkness and the terrifying earthquake that split the rocks and tore the massive temple curtain (Matthew 27:5 0–51). It was a shaken God who did so at the holiest place on earth. Suffering and injustice had rent God’s heart, exposing a weeping and grieving Father mourning the loss of His Son (Genesis 37:34–35). The thick darkness encompassing the land enclosed a terrifying storm of wrath and gloom (Zephaniah 1:15). We may prefer more pleasant language, but anger and wrath are parts of God’s emotional range. Though such anger could easily be dark or arbitrary, it takes the form of love rather than violence (Deuteronomy 32:16). It is like the anger of a jealous lover who cares. The more one loves, the more deeply passion resonates and the more one can feel pain.
God was passionate precisely because of His love. He could have laid the tormenters in the dust, but He chose to dwell with us in the thick darkness. Though we humans mocked, brutalized, and tortured Jesus, the merciful Father spared us condemnation while groaning in the deepest darkness of human experience. When God looked into the eyes of the prince of darkness, what did the power of darkness see? How does God really feel about us who have also abandoned and crucified Him? No doubt, He offers divine compassion and accessibility (Hebrews 10:19–20). Even in the thick and deep darkness of the tomb, God was there—the light that bring’s life into a dark world.
If you want to find God, you must pierce through the thick darkness where He dwells. I shouldn’t be afraid of the darkness because God is shrouded in it, and I don’t want to miss the opportunity to experience Him for myself. I want to let God embrace me in the darkness and change me into a reflection of His radical love. I realize that I will not always have clear vision and that God’s behavior may sometimes seem dark and obscure, but I know it embodies glory and compassion.
Craig Ashton Jr.