When Darkness is the Last Word

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The last word of one of the darkest psalms is “darkness” (88:18 ESV). After detailing his crying out to God “day and night”(v. 1) for deliverance, the writer’s final line is, “You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.” Other translations read, “Darkness has become my only companion.” Either way, for the writer, the last word is “darkness.” Have you ever been there? Are you there now? If so, by the end of the article I hope that you will be enabled to see that, for the Christian, darkness never has the last word.

It was 39 years ago this week when, for me, darkness seemed to be having the last word in my life. To be frank, things often seemed so dark that I contemplated whether life was even worth living. I felt alone in the world without a friend who truly understood me. I had no idea why I was studying my particular course at university and, as far as my studies went, after several years of being a top student in high school, I was struggling with my university classes. To add insult to injury (literally), after dismal failure as an athlete on the university level, I was now laid aside with a stress fracture in my hip. For many, this would not appear as unusually significant problems, but for me, my idols—like those of Dagan (1 Samuel 5:1–4)—were tumbling down, with the result that I felt like I was in a spiral of unceasing failure and despair. Darkness was indeed having the last word, or so it seemed.

Like the psalmist, “my soul” was “full of troubles” (v. 3), and I felt I was in an inescapable “pit” (v. 6). I clearly remember feeling as though God’s “wrath [lay] heavy upon me” (v. 7) and that, regardless of trying to put on a happy face, “my eye [grew] dim with sorrow” (v. 9). I was a mess. And at the remembrance of the way that I was raised, surrounded by gospel truth, God’s “steadfast love” (v. 11) seemed to mock rather than console me. After all, for years I had tried to run away from the convicting call of the Holy Spirit to repent and follow Jesus. I had academic and athletic accolades. I had the approval of my peers and my teachers. So when God convicted me, well, I felt that I was doing just fine, thank you very much. But now, not so much.

I was to learn years later that the meaning of my given name is “dark waters.” I don’t know if that was prophetic, but in February 1980 I felt like I was drowning in them. And I was. Thank God.

The Lord knew what I needed. I neededthe last word to be “darkness.” Yes, I had a lot of artificial light in my life—such as the strobe lights of rebellion that sought to change the contours of reality—but the next morning, the dark shame would surround me and remind me that all was not well. I would reckon on the painful reality that I was living a lie, following the prince of darkness rather than the King of righteousness. The darkness was so thick that I could almost feel it. Thank God.

On the evening of 11 February 1980, I accepted what had been numerous invitations to attend a small Bible study in a room down the hall from where I was living at res. Within a few minutes, I was a blubbering mess, pouring out my heart to a few Christians and, most importantly, to God. The darkness lifted and, at least for that night, the light of the Lord had the last word before I laid my head down for a good night’s rest.

I will always be grateful to God for his refusal to allow me to be comfortable in the darkness of my sin. By his grace, he constantly let darkness have the last word. When I would feel a sense of success in an area, or if I had some flash of joy, the Lord would not allow it to remain for long. Rather, he would allow the darkness of conviction to encompass me. Thank God! God used the darkness of conviction of my sin to bring me to the light. When the light of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ shone into my heart, the contrast was literally the difference between day and night. Thank you, God, for your steadfast love!

I still face times of darkness, and though sometimes these are self-inflicted by my sin, in many cases there are other causes. Betrayals, pastoral concern for wandering church members, the ugliness of living in a broken world—including sometimes the ugliness of a broken church. Add to this the wickedness of our world and the slow (at least, in my view) progress of the kingdom. Yes, sometimes darkness seems to have the last word. What must I do? What must youdo? Like the writer of Psalm 88, “cry out day and night to” the Lord.

Though this psalm is perhaps the heaviest of all the inspired songs, it is interesting that the author continues to look to the Lord. He does not curse the darkness, nor does he curse others, nor does he complain about God to others. Rather, he keeps saying “you” and “your.” He speaks to God. And he does so honestly. Though he knows that the sovereign Lord is behind the darkness (in some way), he will not take his eyes off the one who is able to effectively declare, “Let there be light!”

Christian, when darkness seems to be having the last word, realise that you are in the company of a multitude of Christians who throughout history have experienced this darkness. This is a part of God’s strange and deliberate providence to turn our attention to him and him alone. Keep praying. Keep honestly speaking to God. Keep crying out to the only one who can deliver you from the pit. Yes, I know it is painful. I really can feel your pain. But I can also assure you that this is not the only psalm in the Psalter! In other words, darkness will not have the last word. The very next words prove this. Psalm 89:1 reads, “I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever.” In other words, for the Christian, though darkness seems to sometimes be the last word, in fact, the last words—words that will last forever—are, “The steadfast love of the LORD.” Meditating upon God’s undying covenantal love as experienced in the gospel of God’s dear Son is light that no darkness can overcome. Thank God, Christian, his gospel gets the last word.

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