The God of Darkness and the Darkness of God

Hidden God
His chariots of wrath
The deep thunder-clouds form
And dark is His path
On the wings of the storm
– Sir Robert Grant MP

Good is light and evil is dark. Knowledge is light and folly is dark. God is the father of light and the devil is the prince of darkness. Isn’t that so? Well, yes…and no. 

God is light and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). He is the Father of Light, without flicker or shadow (James 1:17).  And the domain of the devil is the power of darkness (Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:13). What more is there to say? 

There are (at least) five ways in which the Biblical literature ascribes a dark side to God. 

Firstly, God created darkness and night as well as daytime and light. The nocturnal hours do not belong to witches. God make the night as well as the day; God owns and controls the night as much as the day. 

The day is yours, the night also is your…You make darkness, and it is night, in which all the beasts of the forest creep forth.

Psalm 74: 18; 104:20

This is why darkness doesn’t hide anything from God. The hour makes no difference: “the darkness and the light are both alike to you.” Psalm 139:12 

Secondly, the darkness of God represents the hidden, secret side of God’s plan. Many aspects of life and fate are dark to us. But some of those dark things are revealed by God.  

He reveals the deep and secret things: he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.

Daniel 2:22

Other things, other secrets, God keeps to himself, for his own purposes (Deuteronomy 29:29). We can do our best to search them out (Proverbs 25:2) but some things are ultimately a mystery that belong to God alone (Acts 1:7). The God of the Bible is a God who not only creates darkness but hides himself and his ways in it. 

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things…Truly, you area God that hides yourself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.

Isaiah 45:7, 15

Third, shadow and shade are images of divine protection. The Psalms frequently talk about God’s people as hiding under the shadow of God’s wings (Psalms 17:8; 36:7; 57:1). To live in God’s shadow means that you’ve found a place of protection, a secret shelter from your enemies (Psalm 91:1), a shade from the heat of the day (Isaiah 25:4; 32:2). Day or night, hot or cold, God protects from both alike. 

The LORD is your keeper: the LORD is your shade upon your right hand. The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD shall preserve you from all evil: he shall preserve your soul.

Psalm 121:5-7

Forth, some aspects of God’s nature are forever incomprehensible and unfathomable to us. This is why Solomon said that God dwells in the thick darkness and cloud (1 Kings 8:12). Even God’s light is so bright it acts as a form of darkness to us. It means God is ultimately invisible and inaccessible to our finite and temporal minds. 

Who only has immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting.

1 Timothy 6:16

God not only hides his plans and purposes from us, but he hides himself too. Theologians call this the Hidden God, the One who can be expressed in negative terms. But even this is a revealed truth about God. The positive and negative imply each other.

Finally, darkness is a tool or means God uses to confuse and destroy his enemies. For example, darkness was one of the ten plagues that God used against Egypt in the Exodus story. 

And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.

Exodus 10:21

Speaking of this event at a later time, the psalmist said that this darkness was not natural but a miraculous wonder that God sent, making the entire region dark (Psalm 105:28). But, more widely, God uses darkness to hide the brightness of his presence and plans from his enemies, so they don’t see his approach…until it is too late! We see an example of this in Psalm 18:11:9-12.

He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With darkness under His feet.
And He rode upon a cherub, and flew;
He flew upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness His secret place;
His canopy around Him was dark waters
And thick clouds of the skies.
From the brightness before Him,
His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire.
– King David

The ultimate expression of this is hell, a place called the Outer Darkness (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:13). It was designed by God for the devil and his demons, into which he casts them and binds them forever in chains of darkness (2 Peter 2:4). 

In light of all this (excuse the pun), you may better appreciate how God can be dark but not evil, never evil. This is what explains those dark, gothic cathedrals with their gargoyles and grotesques. This is how angels in the Bible are more like benevolent monsters than cute cherubs. And this is how an ancient instrument of torture – the cross – could become the chief symbol of Christianity itself. 

And remember this – Satan can transform himself into an angel…of light! (2 Corinthians 11:14) 

Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash

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