Alone in the Dark – God is Still There
God IS Near! Growing A Relationship with Our Creator
First Baptist Church Laurens
September 30, 2018
Though I am not an avid hunter or fisherman, I do enjoy the outdoors. It really is a moving experience to be in the woods when the sun comes up or in a boat on the water when the sun goes down. These truly are special experiences of God’s natural world.
When I think about these sorts of moments, I am reminded of a Friday afternoon spent with my dad that happened on the day after Thanksgiving back about ten years ago. While I am not a hunter, my father loves to hunt. Our family owns some property near my parents’ home and on that particular day, dad had suggested I go into the woods with him. As I recall, it was a beautiful day. The sun was bright and warm with the temperatures well beyond what should have been normal for the day after Thanksgiving. It was deer season in Alabama and we climbed into a shooting house well above the ground and were enveloped by the quite. While we waited and watched, we listened. We listened for the sound of a deer moving through the trees or across the creek that ran below us. We listened carefully but we didn’t hear what we were listening for. Yet, we did hear something. I heard it first and wasn’t sure I knew what it was. But then my dad heard it and was the one who quickly identified the sound. It was the noise made by a beaver’s tail as he splashed in the water while working on a dam or a lodge in the water nearby. It was one of the more unique sounds I have ever heard and it has remained a moment and a noise burned in my memory.
I think about that moment almost every Fall for it reminds me of a couple of things. For one, it reminds me of that special, beautiful afternoon sitting in the quiet with my dad on the day after Thanksgiving. At the same time, it also reminds me of a lesson that this particular moment illustrated. Sometimes, we go into places and situations to hear a particular sound. When we do, we must be careful lest we fail to hear other sounds that are equally important yet altogether unexpected. In life, we don’t always hear what we want to hear but this doesn’t mean we have heard nothing.
This I think is the secret of recognizing God’s presence and nearness in the midst of the dark places in life. What I mean is that when we seek God in life’s hard places, we invariable enter into them straining and struggling to hear God say some very specific things. We listen for God to say “you will be healed”; “I am going to get you out of this” or “this is going to turn out just fine”. These are the words we try so hard to hear. And, as a result these are often also the only words we are willing to hear.
The result is that when God doesn’t say what we came to hear, we struggle to hear what God does say. God’s “I love you” or “I will not abandon you” are not enough in these moments and our temptation is not to listen.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that there is a phrase that earlier Christians have given to describe these moments when we need God most and yet when God seems profoundly absent. We call these moments “the dark night of the soul”. Our soul yearns for God’s voice and yet what God doesn’t speak we feel abandoned and alone in the darkness.
I want to suggest to us, however, that maybe we have it wrong. Maybe it isn’t that God isn’t speaking. Maybe it is simply that God isn’t saying what we want to hear. Maybe God is saying “I am with you” but since it is not “I will heal you” we ignore it. Maybe God is saying “I will not leave you” but since it is not “I will make this all better” we dismiss it. Maybe we are listing for a deer walking in the woods and since that is not the sound that is heard, we fail to hear the beaver’s tail splashing in the water. After all, that is not the sound we were seeking. But the truth remains, just because God doesn’t say what we wanted to hear, it doesn’t mean God didn’t speak.
Romans 8 is one of my favorite places in the Bible. I love its comforting words and its beautiful reminder that God is always there. But, let’s be honest. In spite of its grand nature, Romans 8 is not what a lot of folks want. Romans 8 never says God will heal us although God sometimes does. Romans 8 never says God will make sure there is a happy ending though sometimes that is what we get. Romans 8 never says it is going to all turn our exactly the way we want. Yet, it does say to us that nothing can separate us from God’s love and that nothing ever will which is God’s ultimate promise even if it is not the one we want.
In one of his books, Frederick Buechner writes about the death of a friend of his named Dudley. Dudley’s death wasn’t immediate but happened over a number of weeks and was preceded by his loss of eyesight. To support his friend, Buechner would go and sit with Dudley and read to him. Before Dudley died, the two finished several books with Frederick reading and Dudley listening. Dudley’s last days were spent in the dark, but, Buechner wanted him to know he wasn’t alone – the words were still there and so was his friend. Sometime after Dudley died, Buechner and several other mutual friends began to keep the tradition. They gathered on a set day of the week, read aloud to each other and remembered Dudley. They were now living through their own darkness, the loss of a friend, and somehow being together helped. (Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner, pg. ix-x, 1988)
It helps us too. When we are in the dark, the last thing we want is to be alone. When we are in the dark the best help is companionship. That is what our God who is always near offers. It is enough. Amen.