Darkness, Our Old Friend

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

This Week at Plymouth, July 5, 2024

“Personal redemption cannot take place apart from the redemption of our social structures . . . The gospel, then, is not a message about the salvation of individuals from the world, but news about a world transfigured, right down to its basic structures.”

Walter Wink, The Powers That Be

A few weeks ago, I received a call from a person who said that God led him to quit his job and travel around the country to give churches a message. He wanted to know if he could visit me to share the message. Years ago, I decided it was unhelpful to argue with people about their personal experience of what they consider divine revelation. So, I welcomed him and his wife at the appointed time, eager to hear the message. The man told me that humanity is facing a great darkness that needed the faithful to unite to counter. Yes, this made sense. I was thinking of Paul’s idea of the rulers and authorities, powers and principalities, and cosmic powers of darkness, the forces that reinforce the world’s greed, idolatry, and violence. But as the visitor continued to speak, I soon discovered the darkness to which he was referring was private, personal sins. According to him, it was more important for the faithful to police personal sin than to address the social, cultural, and economic failures that foment war, poverty, sickness, and division. He even dismissed our “Black Lives Matter” sign as a distraction.

However, the visitor’s idea of countering the darkness was more disappointing than his narrow conception of it. He did not reference love, service, justice, or neighborliness as the antidote to the forces of darkness. There was no vision of a transformed world in which God’s covenantal promises of shalom (peace) and unconditional hesed (loving-kindness) are made tangible and relevant for the whole creation. Instead, he talked about putting on “the armor of God” and leaned into the martial images of fighting an enemy, who just happened to be those whose religious understanding was not like his.

Darkness is a familiar presence, but we cannot counter its impact by solely focusing on the personal faults of those we dislike, misunderstand, or look down upon. The world has convinced us that working together for the common good is impossible, that creating a united and loving community is just a fantasy, and that we can never truly experience lasting peace. Many of us go through life with our guard up, distrusting the people and institutions in our communities and always protecting ourselves from what we see as a jaded, threatening world. Sometimes, even unconsciously, we communicate that we are not entirely convinced that love and peace are attainable and that self-protection is the only way to respond. But our greatest asset is love. We can be empathetic, empowered, peaceful, and loving people. Darkness doesn’t stand a chance against us when we unite in love to make change.