The Darkness Will Not Avail You
Old Testament Reading- Isaiah 9:1-2; 6-7
New Testament Reading- 1 John 1:5-9
By Henry J. Rafferty CP -October 24, 2021
When I was a young boy, around 10-12 years old, my family went on a vacation to, well let’s say, parts south. We often didn’t have just one destination but would make use of anything we saw along the way. In those days there was no internet, we would pick up brochures at truck stops or roadside rests, we would watch for billboards along the interstate, or we would just chance into something. It was a great way to travel and see the sights, exciting really, like a box of chocolates, as Forrest Gump would say, “You never know what your gonna get.”
On this particular excursion, I think our ultimate destination may have been Nashville, Tennessee. I can’t be sure, but anyway, as you are going south from Louisville, KY on I-65, about an hour north of Nashville you run into a city called Bowling Green, KY. Bowling Green is the home to the National Corvette Museum and, at least it used to be, one of the places GM had a factory that made Corvettes. Bowling Green is about thirty minutes from Mammoth Cave National Park, which was a place that we stopped along the way.
I had never been in a cave before, but growing up watching adventurous cave trips on Disney and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, I was well aware of how neat visiting a cave might be. I couldn’t wait to crawl and climb through those caves with a hard hat and light attached to my head, just like Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler, looking for bats and other creatures along the way.
When we got to the cave visitor center, I was so excited to see people exiting the area with the lighted hard hats and ropes, off on their trek. After we got the tickets, I asked where we get all our gear? My Dad, said, “What gear?” “We can’t go on that kind of trip. I’m pretty sure your Grandmother wouldn’t do so well, and besides that, your probably not quite ready for that kind of trek yourself.” I was a little disappointed, but ready for what ever came next. I remember that a Park Ranger guided a group of us on our tour of the cave.
I couldn’t get over the difference in air temperature, it was a hot, humid, 90-degree August day in Kentucky, but as we approached the entrance to the cave, it felt like someone turned an air conditioner on as the 90 degree temperature cooled to a consistent, year round 50 degrees in the cave. It was like being in another world, with all the textures and colors in the rock of the cave system, let alone the stalactites and stalagmites. The wonders of what the combination of water, rock, and time will do. I remember that the cave system was well lit and this tour, which was for all ages, it was even lined with many handrails. We finally got to a large, cavernous room in the cave that was equipped with many seats, like stadium seating. The Ranger had everyone sit down as he explained much of the history of the cave and the artifacts that had been found within. He talked about how much work had gone into making this particular guided tour easy for all ages to enjoy the wonder and beauty of this large part of the cave system, by making stairs and railings, as well as seats and, of course, lights.
We hadn’t really thought about it up to that point, but all that he said made sense, it would have been much harder with out all those things. After we had been seated a while, he asked us all to remain seated as he turned off the lights so that we could see what it would be like without them. After the flip of a switch, there it was, utter blackness. He told us to wave our hands in front of our eyes, completely dark, you couldn’t see your hand at all. We are often in the dark in our everyday lives, but mostly we can still see something, especially once our eyes become accustomed to it. The rods in our eyes are designed to pull in as much light as possible to see what we are doing. In that cave though, there was no light at all. You could have sat there for days, and your eyes would never pick up an ounce of light, we were too far underground for any light to enter from outside.
It was scary really, to think that this is what it would be like to be blind. Utterly helpless to move around without the danger of falling or injuring yourself, let alone if you needed to get back out of the cave. How reliant we all are on our sense of sight, and how much we miss it when it is gone. After a few minutes of this complete blackness, the Ranger explained that many of the first people to use the cave did not have the luxury of electricity for lighting or flashlights, but he said they did have this, and he struck a single wooden match. You wouldn’t believe it, but that one little match lit up that room like a Christmas tree. I just couldn’t believe how it went from so dark that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, to having one little match light the cavern, which was as big as the inside of the Warner Theatre, to the point where you could see as much as you needed. That was amazing to me, and I was struck by it, not knowing then what this event would show me later in life.
Fast forward twelve years to a point where now I am in my twenties. I have been reading the Bible, maybe even devouring it, for all the knowledge and wisdom within its covers. Scripture is full of the use of light and dark to illustrate God’s ways as opposed to not God’s way. Isaiah 42:16 tells us what God says to the Israelites,
“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”
The Gospel of John 1:1-14 says it best,
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
When I read that for the first time, it was like a light bulb going on in my head, the kind of revelation that sends God shivers through your body and makes all the hair on you body stand on end. In that passage I had just read and recognized the divinity of Jesus, the Christ. The Old Testament had always talked about God as light, even blinding light, or as fire. The burning bush or the Pillar of Fire from the Book of Genesis come to mind. Here John is telling us that the light had now come into the world for the benefit of all of us.
"In that passage I had...recognized the divinity of Jesus, the Christ." ~Pastor Henry Rafferty
I couldn’t get over how I felt, in fact, it instantly took me back to my time in the cave. John 1:5 says,
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
There it was, the dark cannot overcome the light, just like when I was in that cave and all the lights were gone, one small match chased the darkness away, just one small match. Darkness can only happen when all light is extinguished, it cannot defeat light in any way possible. Imagine if just one small match can make that difference, how much more the light of God or the light of His believers. We are not that light, but we reflect the light of God for others to see.
Scripture describes the absence of God as darkness or evil. God is all good and His absence must surely be the absence of all good and all light. Not where I want to be. Again, I was reminded of the cave when I read John 12:35,
“Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going.”
Jesus is warning His disciples, that He will soon be going back to the Father and that they must walk in His path, the lighted path, if they don’t want to fall to darkness. The darkness is dangerous, in fact, extremely dangerous, but it has no real power to consume the brightness of light. 1 John 1:5-9 tells us,
"This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
I can’t imagine trying to walk around in the cave in the dark. After my trip as a kid, I had another cave trip later in life. I was nineteen and in college, four of my friends and I went over one weekend to Laurel Caverns in southern Pennsylvania, near Uniontown and Hopwood, in fact not very far away from where flight 93 went down on 9/11. This trip was much different from my first, this trip we really did wear hard hats with a light attached to it. We carried ropes and flashlights and were well equipped with water in canteens. Our young bodies were in their prime, we might have gotten stronger later on, but we were still very flexible and skinny then, which was a must on this trip. We traveled for five or six hours in that cave system, standing in rooms that were the size of a gymnasium to areas that you could just squeeze through. We crawled on our bellies to get through some areas, just to find that we had reached a dead end and that we would have to go back and find another way. There was only a very rudimentary map, hand drawn and photocopied, by which to guide ourselves and we were told that if we didn’t make it out by a certain time, Rangers would be sent in to rescue us. What were we getting ourselves into? We had a blast, but we were all extremely tired and dirty when we got done. None of us could have imagined what that would have been like had our lights given out on us. No way could you find your way out before you died of thirst or starvation. Isn’t life the same way? Don’t we feel sometimes like we are just feeling our way around, trying our best to make our way? John 3:16-21 tells us Jesus’ words,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
So, what will it be? Will you feel around in the dark, tripping and falling every other step, but stubbornly telling yourself that you are in control and can do it on your own? Or will you use the map that God has given us, Scripture, the words in which we are given instruction for this world and the one to come on how to live and how to make it to the next stage?
God has given us the map, His Word, and He has given us light, Himself to guide us. This light can never be extinguished, and it never fades. No darkness can ever overcome it and it will never fail you. God has chosen you to go on this journey with Him, a trip where He is the guide. Take His hand, won’t you, and let His Awesome Light guide you to places that you could never imagine possible. 1 Peter 2:9 tells us,
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
Thanks be to God for calling us out of darkness to meet Him in His Light, where we will be bathed in His Glory forever and ever. Amen.