A Twilight Musing
By Elton HiggsI just finished an astoundingly blessed conversation with a dear friend and brother in Christ who is in the midst of a struggle with severe depression. I am aware of the danger of being presumptuous in trying to help someone negotiate depths of horrible feelings that I have not gone through myself, and I can justify it only by believing that in our conversation God was at work spotlighting truths that go beyond either of us—truths that are the bedrock of the relationship that God has with us through Christ. In that spirit of belief, I will honor my friend’s request to put into writing the thoughts that God prompted during our conversation, so that both of us can refer to them later.
My friend (I’ll call him Peter, since the apostle of that name also experienced deep darkness when he realized he had denied his Lord) had already in an e-mail told me that he was having a really hard time, so after a couple of days I felt strongly urged to follow up that communication with a phone call. Peter was more than ready to hear from me and to share more of what he had been experiencing. It turns out that much of his present darkness hinges on unresolved guilt regarding his long-term attempts to care for and help his brother (let’s call him Andy), who, even now, when the two brothers are approaching the end of their two lifetimes, continues to be recalcitrant, angry, and accusatory in response to whatever is done for him. Peter feels he is and has been a failure, and he can’t get out from under the guilt.
He said that a counselor had suggested that he, through an act of will, detach himself enough from the situation to imagine hiring someone to care for his brother, not just physically but to minister to his deeper needs. What would be the job description and statement of expectations? If the worker did everything imaginable to help Andy, and still failed to get the desired results, would he be blameworthy? If not, should Peter hold himself any more responsible than he would hold the worker? We agreed that this is a good technique to use, and that it can help Peter to see his situation more objectively. But the problem—and the answer—goes deeper than that. Battling the darkness of guilt and depression requires embracing the Light, even when you don’t see it.
I reminded Peter of two things: the supremacy of God’s Light over the Devil’s Darkness, and the function of darkness in helping us to see the Light. As to the first, the apostle John, in the first chapter of his Gospel, tells us that through Christ, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). The Devil is called the “Accuser of [the] brothers,” who “accuses them night and day before our God” (Rev. 12:10). But even more relevant for us personally is the fact that he accuses each one of us, not merely to bring sin to our attention (the Holy Spirit also does that), but to speak the dark lie that the sin is so bad that we are unforgiven by God. But Satan is not only the Accuser, he is also the embodiment of falsehood, the great Liar. And his most effective agent for falsehood is unresolved guilt. So Peter (both in the Bible and my friend) needed to realize that the darkness of guilt he is experiencing is a direct work of the Adversary, the Father of Lies, the Master Accuser. It is a bedrock truth that in the Light of Christ the Savior, we are forgiven, and the only function of guilt in that realization is to lead us back to the incredible truth that we are forgiven.
That leads to the final point I felt needed to be articulated: It often occurs that one doesn’t realize the overwhelming beauty of the Light until he/she is enveloped in the darkness. I think I can do no better than to reproduce a poem that I wrote years ago. It expresses a truth that goes deeper than my wisdom can take credit for. I like to think that God knew when he gave it to me that it would speak to “Peter’s” predicament.
Shadows lengthen, deepen, merge.
Darkness is all, and I am there.
No thought of shadows when
The sun is full, for then
They merely accent the brightness.
When all is shadow, love may thrive,
Though hope be dim; when all is bright,
Shallow bliss holds sway.
Even the Arctic is both night and day.
Darkness gives more to defining light
Than light to the understanding of dark.
I will see the shadow grow,
And dwell in it even, to know
That light is its own verity,
And darkness but an island in its midst.
–Elton D. Higgs
(Dec. 31, 1974)
Image: “Wintertime is candletime” by Groman123. CC license.