Chapter 2: Darkness for Light
Growing up a Trekkie, I found myself surprised when I enjoyed the Transformer movies, as my grandson introduced me to them. I liked the Autobots, of course. Especially Bumblebee. I was like a kid at Universal Studios when I discovered the real Bumblebee in the Prop House. That was a selfie I had to take, but since he was sooooo tall, I had to have another visitor snap the picture to get him all in as he towered above me. And I looked very tiny. (Now Bumblebee has his own movie, released in December of 2018.)
On a different trip, I encountered a life-size Iron Man. Got that picture too and showed it to a child at church, not knowing that Iron Man was his hero. His alter ego, in fact. You can imagine the response I received.
Quite frankly, I was shocked, having missed a whole generation of superheroes. I didn’t understand much about Transformers when my children were collecting them in the 80s, though I remembered Superman from my childhood, along with Zorro and the Lone Ranger. It seems superheroes have multiplied since the 50s. But what do they all have in common? Traditional superheroes seek the triumph of good over evil. In fact, most movies include a struggle of good and evil. And there’s the conundrum . . . .
When we say “good over evil,” we assume that there is a “good” and an “evil,” and that there’s a discernable difference between the two. Not everything is good. Some things are evil. Philosophers have wrestled with this question for ages. Literally. And all religions hinge on our discernment between the two. There must be an objective moral law or principle which enables us to judge between good behavior and bad behavior, a standard that tells us which is which. Otherwise, behavior is subjective, and the standard constantly changing.
Moreover, if we accept a standard, an objective moral law, we must also accept a moral lawgiver, because if there isn’t a moral lawgiver, then anyone can set or change the standard, and it would be no longer a moral law. Ravi Zacharias states this succinctly in his book The End of Reason:
• When you assert that there is such a thing as evil, you must assume there is such a thing as good.
• When you say there is such a thing as good, you must assume there is a moral law by which to distinguish between good and evil. There must be some standard by which to determine what is good and what is evil.
• When you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver—the source of the moral law.1
Thus, any time we expect good to triumph over evil, or even suspect that evil is winning over good, we must also accept the reality and presence of a moral lawgiver, one who defines what is good and what is evil.
This book takes the position that the Judeo-Christian God is that lawgiver. Otherwise, who gets to determine what is good or evil? As Ravi Zacharias often says in his speeches, “In some cultures they love their neighbors; in other cultures they eat them. Which do you prefer?”
If we let different cultures or groups in a culture determine what is good or evil, we end up in confusion.
And try as they might, the postmodern relativists cannot obliterate these distinctions, even with their mantras of “true for you but not for me,” “whatever you think is right is right for you,” and “there is no evil or good; it’s a matter of personal choice.” Being blatant denials of reality, these ideas give power and permission to the rapist, serial killer, kidnapper, and terrorist. They enable the identity thief, bank robber, and common burglar.
Thus, with even moviemakers acknowledging the reality of good and evil, enter Bumblebee and other Autobots to defeat the Decepticons; and enter Iron Man and other superheroes to set things right. But that’s only in the world of fiction. As they say, “Only in the movies.”
What about the real world? Who gets to set things right here in reality? Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. He defeated evil when he died on the cross. Through his resurrection, he gave us the ability to refuse evil. He brings love, peace, joy, hope, comfort, true righteousness, grace, and life abundant and eternal. He is and brings light that shatters the darkness. But how? Keep reading.
While it’s not likely that an evening walk, as described in Chapter 1, would turn out like that in reality, we may sometimes feel that we have ended up in the deepening shadows of a spiritual, emotional, or mental realm. And no wonder, given the present cultural norms of our society. With the entertainment industry and media saturating us with relative morality, situational ethics, and the removal of absolute moral truth, we may find it easy to compromise what we know to be truth and spiritual light.
In fact, secular Hollywood has begun making the “good” superheroes actually be the villains. They have given superpowers to evil anti-heroes, making them appear desirable and enviable. Some of their children’s movies are nothing more than propaganda tools for the immoral left. But the movies make it look so good . . . just a little shade of gray perhaps . . . surely, they must be right.
Just think for a moment what you saw on television last night. Just last night. Now, think back to what you’ve seen in the past week.
No, I’m not going to say, “Don’t watch TV or movies.” They can be a wonderful source of entertainment. However, when I find myself rooting for the good guy to hurry up and kill the bad guy to save the system the cost of a trial and to ensure that the criminal doesn’t “walk” on a technicality, I have to ask myself, “What am I thinking?”
It was easy to root for Carl Lee Hailey (played by Samuel L. Jackson) in A Time to Kill, because his ten-year-old daughter, Tanya, had been brutally raped and injured for life by two young, white racists who likely would have been acquitted in the Mississippi Delta in the 1980s. Hailey kills the young men before they go to trial. When the KKK rises up, the audience cheers their demise and rejoices when Hailey is cleared of all charges. His white attorney brings his own daughter over to play with Tonya, leaving us with a feel-good attitude about the much needed end to racism.
The movie was based on the John Grisham novel of the same title, itself a riveting story. But would the same end have been reached if the father had not killed the perpetrators, but instead the trial had been of the two racists—and they, of necessity, were found guilty? Would that have been believable? This movie makes a good case for situational ethics and relative morality. And there the darkness begins.
Many viewers found it easy to accept Paul Kersey’s relentless revenge on gang members in the series of 1970 movies starring Charles Bronson, the Death Wish series. This series, above all others, seemed to usher in the acceptability of revenge killing—at least in the movies.
It’s not a bad thing to want to see the scales of justice tipped in favor of the good person who is horribly wronged by the bad person. But situational ethics, relative morality, or whatever else we might call it, is dangerous. It is dangerous to the individual, to the family, and to society. It is dangerous because once we blur the lines between good and evil, right and wrong, we lose safe boundaries.
Once we accept gray areas as normal, expected, and dominant, we are left with a multitude of shades of gray. And once everything becomes “just another shade of gray,” it is easy to slip into the darkness, to call good evil and evil good. It is dangerous because such relevance spreads to other areas of life, injuring the innocent, destroying relationships, and defiling the culture.
Our society has programmed us for this compromise. In addition to the entertainment and media industries, our public educational system, as well as higher education, all too eagerly has rushed down this path. One has only to look at the reading material in middle schools to see how the stories forced upon our children and grandchildren are secular propaganda (and often atheistic). Moreover, political correctness and a redefined tolerance are the new laws by which society tells us to live. If we look to the past and to the Bible, we see that the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20). That’s exactly what is happening in our culture today. And the result will be “woe.”
I have seen a certain quotation attributed both to Booker T. Washington and to Rick Warren. It’s possible that Rick Warren quoted Booker T. Washington, and the person who attributed the quote to Warren didn’t catch the citation. At any rate, it’s a wise statement: “A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right, and evil doesn’t become good, just because it’s accepted by a majority.” I might revise that to say, “just because a warped culture of political correctness says so.”
Whew! This is heavy, huh? And yet, who among us has never been convinced that a certain action, attitude, or behavior was relatively right, even though we knew in our heart that others would disagree, and that even the Bible would contradict our decision? But our minds were conditioned to yield to natural urges and reasoning so that we could justify our choice.
There have been people in my life who have done so. There have been times in my life when I have been deceived (or deceived myself) into taking a course of action which I knew was contrary to the Word of God and to my faith. If we’re honest, we all can admit to compromising, however slightly, even if it’s just validating activities which we know are wrong. Studies show us that 61% of single Christians are okay with casual sex and that only 11% of self-identified Christians think that sex should be reserved only for marriage.2 That’s just one example of the eroded morality of our time.
We may argue that ours is a special situation . . . a gift from God . . . a special but secret ministry . . . and so on . . . but once we start down that road, look out. The darkness closes in fast. The walls and fences disappear. We can’t even continue to walk by feeling our way. We fall into a dark pit and plunge downward. Not literally, of course, but figuratively. Spiritually. It’s not that we lose salvation if we are born again, but that we lose our way. We lose the presence of our light.
And our present culture helps us head down this path. Evil doesn’t show up boldly and proclaim itself as evil. It sneaks in, under the guise of being good. Former Literature Professor and Provost at Patrick Henry College, Gene Edward Veith writes, “Evil associates itself with a noble cause or with high-sounding words. Abortion associates itself with the emancipation of women. Illicit sex associates itself with love. . . . Thus, even manifest sinners cling steadfastly to their own righteousness.”3 Indeed, when we call evil “good” and good “evil,” perversion runs rampant and self-righteousness reigns.
However, all is not doom and gloom. There is hope. There is peace. There is love. There is forgiveness. There is redemption and reconciliation. There is light in the shadows, waiting and longing to show up and shatter the darkness for us, to set us free. See 1 John 1:8-2:2. My paraphrase of the kjv passage follows.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and we are not telling the truth. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have never sinned, we are calling God a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, I write these things to you so that you would not sin. But if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
That’s God’s promise of forgiveness. The three-in-one God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) does not look at our departures from what is right as something which isolates us forever from his love and presence. He does not demand our holiness or righteousness as a condition of our acceptance by him. He knows that we can never, in ourselves, measure up to his holiness and righteousness.
Thus, he has made a way for us to be forgiven of wrong and to be made right with him. His love reaches to us where we are, even standing in the gray areas. His love reaches to us when we are in the dark areas. And his love lifts us to a place of light. Jesus spoke words of comfort: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17 mev). And even to the woman taken in adultery, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11 mev). For believers, here is the pledge of our Father God: “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Isa. 43:25). He shines light into our lives and forgives our sins, as the guarantor of our salvation.
As we saw earlier, Jesus is that light, and he told us to be light; furthermore, the apostles confirmed that commission. But if we are to be light, we must know the difference between the true light and the culturally-accepted false light of the deceiver, Satan. We must know the difference between light and dark, right and wrong. Even King David had to learn this the hard way. He let his eyes lead him to lust after a married woman who was beautiful and alluring. David convinced himself that he had a right to have Bathsheba, the wife of one of his most faithful soldiers. But she became pregnant, so David devised a plan to trick her husband, Uriah, into thinking the baby was his own. But the plan failed, and David’s adultery compounded into murder (2 Sam. 11:2-27). Adultery and murder from the man who is called a man after God’s own heart, as we see in Acts 13:22.
Did David feel the darkness of his error, as though in a dark pit when, after all that, the baby that resulted from his sin fell sick? Hear what he says in Psalm 88:3-6:
For my soul is full of troubles,
And my life draws near to the grave.
I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man who has no strength,
Adrift among the dead,
Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom you remember no more,
And who are cut off from Your hand.
You have laid me in the lowest pit,
In darkness, in the depths. (nkjv)
However, as we see in Psalm 51 and others, his despair turned to hope when he repented and returned to the Lord, his “light” and “salvation” (Ps. 27:1).
1. Discuss movies or TV shows you have seen recently that opened you up to accepting as “right” some behavior which you previously believed to be wrong (such as stealing when in need, taking revenge when justice seems to have failed, having an affair, or committing other sexual sins).
2. What Bible verses can you find that address that behavior or attitude? What do these verses say about it? Be sure to look at them in context and in coherence with other Bible verses.
1. Have you ever found yourself lost in the shadows or darkness (like Chapter 1 depicts) because of feelings, attitudes, or actions that took you off course and away from the Light of the Word?
2. Think about how that came about. Did it happen suddenly or did it come gradually, as you moved into the deepening shadows? Did you feel far from the Lord?
3. Have you found peace for that situation? Remember, our Lord is faithful and is only a breath away. He longs for us to call out to Him in our despair, to surrender to His gentle rescue.
Verses to Consider
1. Read Psalm 27:1 and 119:105; John 1:1, 9 and 12:46.
(a) What is the connection between the Word, the Lord, and light?
(b) What other Scriptures do you find that refer to Jesus as the light?
2. Read 1 Peter 2:9 and Colossians 1:13.
(a) What general darkness have we been called out of?
(b) What specific darkness have you been called out of?
3. Read Acts 26:18 and Ephesians 5:8-10.
(a) What is God’s purpose in delivering us from darkness?
(b) Would you say that God desires to bless us with light, rather than to limit or stifle us?
1. Ravi Zacharias, The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 55. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
2. Morgan Lee, “Christian Dating Culture (Part 1): Majority of Christian Singles Reject Idea of Waiting Until Marriage to Have Sex,” The Christian Post online, https://www.Christianpost.com/news/christian-dating-culture-part-1-majority-of-single-christians-reject-idea-of-waiting-for-marriage-to-have-sex-114422/, Feb. 12, 2014. Retrieved 30 June 2018. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
3. Taken from Loving God with All Your Mind: Thinking as a Christian in the Postmodern World, rev. ed. by Gene Edward Veith, Jr., Original Edition © 1987, Revised Edition © 2003, pp. 88-89. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
To purchase the book, click here.