This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
(1 John 1:5)
I did not expect to meet God there.
At least not my God. My God is the God of light. Of purity. Of beauty. Of Sunday mornings in contemporary cathedrals.
My God is the God of 1 John 1:5—and I encounter Him in places of light. In the words of the Psalmist, He restores my soul—and He does it in places that feed my soul.
And none of those descriptors fit that place, but God was there.
I was surrounded by children, teenagers, young adults, a few with just-started families, who had spent much of their lives face-to-face in immediate encounter with darkness, with a world evil at its very core.
A teenage girl sold for years by her mother in a shed in her backyard.
A barely adolescent young man who had seen his parents butchered—literally—in front of him for stealing from drug lords; he still grieved because not enough pieces of his mother had been found that she could be buried.
A twenty-year-old mother with her nine-year-old daughter.
And they worshiped.
They worshiped a God who was their deliverer. Who loved them even before they knew Him. Who truly restored their souls. A God who came to them in their places of darkness.
They worshiped with joy, with songs, with tears. They celebrated His presence. They gave, not out of their abundance, but out of their want.
And God was there. Clearly, evidently, obviously, there.
In that place of darkness and shadows where He should not have been, God was there.
He was there gleefully celebrating an encounter with those He had redeemed.
I am going to be very honest here. I do not believe that I experienced His presence that night the way they did… because my God doesn’t act like that. He is much more reserved, and pays a lot more attention to the structure of worship.
He is much more concerned with what we believe than how we follow. And He is rarely gleeful.
Since He lives in places of light, I did not expect to find Him there.
Not in a place where evil seems omnipresent, where the suppression of goodness and light is palpable. As always, I realized my expectations.
But in spite of my resistance, I knew He was there.
Perhaps He is a God of the shadows.
Are we missing something here? Could it be that my picture of God—and of the Church—is wrong? Might God be more comfortable there, in the places of darkness and shadows than He is in my well-lit church? Could He be more at home in a dirty street than He is in soaring beams and richly stained glass?
A friend put it to me this way once: “These are His people; these are the ones He identifies with. Not us. Them.”
Maybe… but that is not what I look for in God. I want God to make my sojourn here easy, comfortable. I want Him to be the God of the pastoral Psalms—the way I understand them. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. My cup runs over.
I want my soul to be restored—especially the way I define it. Restored. It means that our hearts are not heavy, that we feel good about the world and ourselves. You know… generally upbeat and positive, blessed. It means we and our God live in a place of light and brightness.
Could I have gotten this all wrong? . . .
More next week.