One of my absolute favorite Bible verses comes from the book of John. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) It’s a remarkably short verse, but the quiet hope it instills is deep and lasting given the world in which it was spoken to. It’s quite easy to open the book of John and just pick up the narrative as one continuous timeline from the last book of the Old Testament. For us reading the Bible from our modern vantage point, the start of the gospels often inadvertently read to us with a voice of “the next day”, but the reality is anything but.
No one knows the exact time, but historians estimate that the time between the last prophet speaking in the Old Testament and the appearance of John the Baptist was a period of around four hundred years. Four hundred years of silence from God. Consider the implications of that length of time on the people of Israel. They came to live in a world where no one had memory of God speaking to his people. No one knew what life was like in the time of God so directly leading his people. They had rebelled again and again and again, and now the consequences of those actions had come home. The words of the prophets changed from leadership to doom and ruin to a promise that rescue was still possible. And then even the prophets stopped. God was silent.
For four hundred years the people of Israel got exactly what they had been lobbying for. They got God out of their business, and it turns out it was far more horrible than they ever could have dreamed. The world had been horrifyingly quiet from God’s presence and was feeling the weight and sorrow of that. The Jewish people were living in a world of oppression and submission. The might of Rome had a hand clasped tightly around their throats with no relief or end in sight. Those who fought back were dealt with brutally and swiftly.
So when John penned the opening lines of his gospel. He was keenly aware of the long absence of God’s goodness in the world. He felt it himself before knowing Jesus. He writes, knowing he was writing to a world that felt darkness was prevailing. And then comes a whisper. It’s so soft and gentle it must have been hard to believe you’d even heard it, but it’s there. Centuries of silence, and now a promise is being remembered. It couldn’t have come at a better time. John introduces John the Baptist being that whisper growing in volume with the words that address four hundred years of silence. “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Hope stirred, and as we know, that hope roared into an inferno.
You will have periods in your life that most certainly are going to feel like your own four-hundred-year silence. Bogged down by the weight of your world and its trials, the inevitable feeling will be one of doubt. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe this was too much to try. Maybe I was wrong to go for it. Maybe it's hopeless. Doubt will creep in from every possible angle and try to convince you that your situation is overcome and hopeless, but know this.
The same light that shines in the darkness is shining on you.
The light isn’t for everyone else but you. It’s not something that was promised to the people waiting after four hundred years but not to you. It’s shining on you. You are covered in its glare. You are not overcome because the darkness can’t do it. This is not a story where the ending is uncertain and up for grabs. In the same way that God himself is now and forever, so is his victory.
You are not doomed to darkness
If I would have you take away anything from this post, it would be that same whisper of hope that came to people in the opening remarks of John’s gospel. I would have you remember that the purpose you’re called to as a Christian is not defined by the long, expansive waits that the world slings at you. You are not forgotten in the waiting. God is still moving. He is not the type of God to bank all of human history and leave you behind out of forgetfulness. He is not that type of God. God has planned for every contingency the darkness can throw at him.
This is not actually a matter of light versus darkness. John didn’t write, “A light shines in the darkness and they’ve been battling ever since.” In John’s words, this is no contest. The darkness can’t get a foothold. It doesn’t stand a chance. It never stood a chance. It cannot overcome the light. That same light that whispered hope after four hundred years of waiting is also whispering to you. Live in that light and hope.
Let’s find some joy,