to a world used to darkness;
to a people completely blind;
light is not a savior . . .

but a threat.

The light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the
light, for their actions were evil. They hate the light because they want to sin in the
darkness. They stay away from the light for fear their sins will be exposed and they will
be punished.
—Jesus of Nazareth explaining the human condition to a
Jewish supreme court judge (John 3:19-20)

We live in an upside-down world.

All of us know we’re going to die someday soon, but none of us live like it. We busily grasp at the mists as we step over the cliff. We hurt those closest to us and then spend our time worrying about what strangers think of us. We strive for positions of influence so we can control others, even though we fail daily at controlling ourselves.

Life is shadow and mirage. We spend our careers pursuing the two things we know corrupt people the most—power and money—all the while telling ourselves that they’ll never corrupt us and that we’re immune, even though we know we’re not. We want popularity and fame and a good reputation, even though we know they’re all vaporous and can be lost in a single day, or shattered by a single rumor.

We try to fill our eternal hungers with self-esteem and good grades and designer shoes. We pack our lives with distractions in a desperate attempt to fill a hole in our lives we tell ourselves isn’t there with things we know aren’t important. We keep watching the commercials and we keep buying the stuff.

We wander farther and farther from home, convincing ourselves we’re on the right track, until we finally arrive at the very state we’ve been fleeing from all along.

i’m walking through the desert
and there’s no place for me to hide from the sun
so i keep going, thinking that surely i’ll eventually
make it back to civilization and water
and shade.

but the sun doesn’t rest and i grow more and more tired,
too exhausted to scream at the sky and too weary to
tell it to go to hell.

i take one step after another, until a mirage appears.
and even though i know it’s all just vapors
hovering above the sand,
i’m comforted by the illusion
once again.

All that matters in the end is the state of the soul, yet we worry instead about zits and hair color and abs and looking cool. Everything is upside down. We spend our lives planning for a tomorrow that never comes, dreaming of a someday that will never arrive, watching moments pass us by. And when you string enough wasted moments together, you get a wasted life.

We turn our backs to the flame and stare into the darkness because we think we already know what the fire looks like. But all too soon we forget about the fire as our vision is wrapped in shadows again. As God told the Israelites:

Doom to you who call evil good
and good evil,
Who put darkness in place of light
and light in place of darkness . . .
Doom to you who think you’re so smart,
who hold such a high opinion of yourselves!
Isaiah 5:20-21 Message

Darkness isn’t too tough to find in our world. We don’t have to look very far to find dark thoughts, dark deeds, dark words, dark and writhing shapes in our souls. The shadowy side of life is all too visible in the daily headlines, on the nightly news, or in the break room at work. Every one of us has secrets. All of us have a shadowy side.

Evil quietly slips through the doorway and into our souls when we leave the door open only a crack just to see what might happen. And when evil moves in, it moves in to stay.

Shadows stalked Jesus from the very beginning of his life.

Just after Jesus’s birth, Israel’s king found out about the prophetic child and sent executioners to kill him. But God warned Joseph, Mary’s husband, in a dream, and he was able to escape to Egypt with his young wife and infant deity.

Later, when Jesus began to preach and heal and search for lost souls, the division between light and darkness became more stark. The more he ministered to the people, the more the shadows of anger and doubt and treachery began to deepen all around him.

As the light of his teachings spread, so did the shadows that were chasing it. Light and darkness. Yin and yang.

Jesus spent most of his ministry in the crosshairs of the darkness.

Then, toward the end, even his closest friends began to question him, to peel away at his resolve. The hypocritical religious leaders tried to trap him in blasphemy or perjury. People left him in droves when his teachings offended their sensibilities. His buddies began to plot and scheme ways to get a place of honor in his new kingdom.

The pathway before him became overgrown with thorns and overshadowed with death. And amidst the growing division surrounding him, one of his friends saw an opportunity for himself: “Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests to arrange to betray Jesus to them. The leading priests were delighted when they heard why he had come, and they promised him a reward. So he began looking for the right time and place to betray Jesus” (Mark 14:10-11).

As Jesus headed toward Jerusalem and all the turmoil it contained, the shadows loomed larger and larger around him. But he didn’t turn back. “As the time drew near for his return to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

His mind was made up. There was no turning back. His love for his bride and the dream of being with her forever drove him on.

Shadows pursued the light all the way to the cross.

touching the unseen

shadows hunted you,
shadows loomed before you,
but you did not turn back.
i need some of your light to glow in my life
and burn away the darkness
that dwells in the basement of my dreams.

i still have an echo of your image within me,
battling with this creeping stain upon my soul.
touch my heart with your fire
and cleanse me of the shadows
that i’ve been in love with for so long.

illumination.