I have great fun studying the Bible. I never know what I’m going to learn and yet I always know I’m going to learn something new about the Father revealed in Jesus. It’s an adventure every time. Which doesn’t mean it’s easy. I will start studies and find I’m utterly confused. It is difficult to come to a study without preconceived notions about what the study passage means. I have a background where I’ve experienced different denominations and each one has left behind echoes of its belief systems. I read commentaries and expositions on the passages I study that tell me these passages mean one thing and then, through conducting my own studies, I find these passages mean the exact opposite.
I have already mentioned reading interpretations of Isaiah 45:7 where I’m told God is saying he “permits” or “allows” darkness. The Hebrew word there is “create” and is translated such in other passages. That God says He creates darkness was not easy to understand once I discovered I came to this passage with a bone deep conviction that the light is good and the darkness is bad. I wasn’t aware I felt this way until I was deep into the study and analyzing just what it was I already believed compared to what I was uncovering. Just over the last week there have been multiple times I’ve either read or heard someone say “Jesus is the light that shines in our darkness”. That is absolutely true: He is. Yet I’ve been listening with every fiber of my being not just to the words but the intent and feeling of the context in which they are spoken and I find others have this same conviction that the darkness is bad the light is good. More than that, I see this conviction carries into how we believers view ourselves: I was bad while in darkness and now that I’m in the light Jesus makes me good. Is this true? If God created the darkness, and Isaiah 45:7 directly quotes Him as claiming He did; did He create something bad?
The Hebrew word in Isaiah 45:7 for darkness is choshek (H2822) and is defined in the Strong’s Concordance as: “from 2821, the dark; hence (literally) darkness; figuratively misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, wickedness–dark(-ness), night, obscurity.” This doesn’t sound good at all and yet this exact word is the same one for darkness in Genesis 1 which God calls “night”. Night isn’t bad, it just is. And yet, if I read slowly and carefully, I find that in verse 4 God sees the light, that it was good and then divides the light from the darkness. In verse 5 He calls the light “Day” and the darkness “Night” and then the First Creation Day comes to a close. God never actually calls the darkness “good” although verse 31 says, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” These are all interesting points, but I don’t find an answer to my question.
I open the Strong’s Concordance to the scripture listings of occurrences of “darkness” and begin to look at them. At once, I find the subject of darkness to be far more complicated than I imagined. There are eleven Hebrew words translated “darkness” in the Old Testament and an additional five Greek words in the New. I am currently focusing on the Hebrew words and some aren’t distinct per se from choshek but rather are familial words and come from the same root. For example, Psalm 139:12 says, “Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.” The first occurrence of darkness is my study word choshek but the second is chashekah (H2825). According to the Strong’s Concordance, this word is also from 2821 and is defined as “darkness, figuratively misery”.
The two words translated “darkness” in Job 28:3 are a different story. My New King James Version has this verse translated, “Man puts an end to darkness and searches every recess for ore in the darkness and the shadow of death.” The first occurrence of darkness is again choshek but the second is ophel (H652) and means, “dusk–darkness, obscurity, privily.” For those of you wondering: privily is the adverb form of privy and means, “private, hidden, secret, clandestine.” Here we do have two different words coming from different roots and with different meanings although they’ve been translated by the same English word. As I continued to look at scriptures containing my study word, I found plenty more to confuse me. There are scriptures where my study word means physical darkness or night. This is true in Genesis 1 and is also true in passages like Exodus 14:20. And yet, while the meaning of darkness or obscurity doesn’t change, there are far more occurrences where “darkness” is used in a metaphorical rather than physical sense. I found this to be true in many passages of Job, Proverbs, and Psalms but reading all of these did not make it any easier to discern whether darkness was good or bad.
Chapter 20 of Job is titled “Zophar’s Sermon on the Wicked Man” and verse 26 states, “Total darkness is reserved for his treasures”. Those who lose their treasures would call this bad but there are many who would call it good. Then I read in Isaiah 45:3 quotes God as saying, “I will give you treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places.” There is nothing bad here at all. Proverbs 2:13 speaks of men who “leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness,” which of course is bad. But then Psalms 107 speaks of those who rebelled against the words of God (very bad) and thus sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; when they cried out to the Lord in their trouble He saves them out of their distresses and “brings them out of their darkness and the shadow of death” (verses 10-16). That’s good: the darkness was no match for God. Then, most confusing of all, I read in Amos: “Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord! For what good is the day of the Lord to you? It will be darkness, and not light” (Amos 1:18). The darkness does sound bad in this passage but how can it be in any way associated with such a certainly good thing as the day of the Lord?
Good or bad. How can I know? I certainly can’t rely on my own judgment because there have been so many bad things that have happened to me and yet, as the transforming light and life and love of Jesus has come in to the circumstance I called bad and redeemed it, it has become good. I can attest to the truth of Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Nor can I rely on anyone else’s judgment because one person will say a thing is bad and another will say the very same thing is good. I can attest to the truth of Isaiah 5:20: “woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.”
I think a great deal about the first few chapters of Genesis, specifically the two trees named in the Garden. There was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. I have a book I have not yet read in its entirety but there’s a passage that has stuck with me. The book is Is God to Blame? by Gregory A. Boyd. He addresses the Serpent’s lie in the first chapter and writes, “Our role as God’s creatures is to receive, enjoy and reflect our Creator’s love and goodness as we exercise the authority over the earth he entrusted to us. But we can’t do this if we try to be wise like God, “knowing good and evil”. To fully reflect God’s image in the way he intended, we must resist the serpent’s temptation to be “like God” in the way God has forbidden. Unlike God, our knowledge and wisdom are finite. We simply are not equipped to make accurate and loving judgments about good and evil…When we try to go beyond this boundary and try to know what God alone can know, when we try to be “wise” like God, it destroys us.”
I don’t yet know whether I agree or disagree with this statement. Perhaps the truth is closer to I see where Mr. Boyd is coming from but, in Jesus; I have His life and mind and wisdom because His Spirit lives in me and teaches me to think as He thinks and know as He knows. “In Jesus” is, I think, the key. I find my confusion begins to clear when I cease trying to understand darkness in terms of good and bad and begin to think of it in terms of Life of Jesus Christ and Not-life of Jesus Christ. Can there be life in the midst of darkness? Since life is Jesus, His life is the light of us all, and the life and light that He is shines in the darkness, then I would say that answer is yes. I would also say this subject of darkness requires further study.
Unless noted otherwise, all scriptures are quoted from The New King James Version of The Holy Bible, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, 1982
- Boyd, Gregory A., Is God to Blame? Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2003, Page 23
- Guralnik, David B., Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, William Collins + World Publishing Co., Inc., Cleveland • New York, 1970/1976
- Strong, James, LL.D., S.T.D., Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990