I write this on the weekend between the national conventions of the two major political parties in the USA. The Republican nominee for the next president of the USA was Donald Trump. In his closing speech, he laid out what his opponents describe as a very dark view of the world. Crime in America’s major cities has wildly increased. 180,000 of those who immigrate illegally to the U.S. have criminal records. And on he went listing all of the reasons that America needs someone to save us and he alone could do it.
Immediately, mainstream media jumped in to point out that overall our crime rate is at its lowest in 14 years and that there are a smaller percentage per capita of crimes committed in the USA by illegal immigrants than there are by those citizens who were born here.
Republicans think that the Democrats are trying to polish a turd. Democrats think that Republicans are tarnishing the Obama record by looking only at the dark side. Who is right? Is the country in a dark place or is it “a shining city upon a hill”?
A moment of thought and most will realize that such a question poses a false dichotomy. Chinese philosophers looked at the world in a more nuanced way as made up of yin and yang. Yin refers to darkness and shadow. Yang refers to sun and light. The philosophies, and the religions that utilize them, recognize that there is both darkness and lightness in the world and that they are interconnected and in some ways both opposing and complementing one another.
But there is one more little touch to how darkness and light are related. Even on the sunny side of life there is a touch of darkness represented by a black dot and on the dark side of life there is a touch of light represented by a white dot.
The Christian faith describes how humankind was led to rebel against our Creator by partaking of the forbidden fruit. Something that seems to receive little notice, however, is that before the Fall, there was already evil in creation. It was the Satanic serpent who played upon human desire to entice Adam and Eve to sin. Humanity had been shielded from sin and its consequences in Eden but they made the first choice to reject that protection and we have continued to make that choice to this present day.
Thousands of years later, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8 about how creation, the environment, groans and is in bondage to decay as a result of its inhabitants fall into sin.
But just as in the yin and yang, those who live in darkness have light in them. Even after the Fall and the Flood, God describes fallen humanity as bearing His image. Even after Paul had converted on the road to Damascus, he described himself as chief among sinners.
As a Christian, I am not surprised that there is either darkness or light, shadow or sun. The Fall throws shade on our environment, global politics, regional differences, interpersonal relationships, and who we are in our deepest souls. But the sun also rises. There is wonderful light in this world. Christian or not, we can find in one another what C.S. Lewis called the “weight of glory”, the very image of God.
Concepts like darkness and light are very pretty in the abstract. But when we leave the library, the halls of academia, our meditation mats, or our pews, the presence of darkness is felt in often painful and harrowing ways. Bad police officers shoot law abiding citizens because they have been taught to both hate and fear those of another race. Bad citizens shoot police officers because they have been taught to hate and fear those visible representatives of the present order.
We live in a world where the darkness is great. We are literally raping, starving, torturing, bombing, and killing one another. It doesn’t matter that none of this is new. This darkness fell over humanity at the first bite of the forbidden fruit. The darkness and its thirst for destruction is real and frightening. Dark figures both in religion and in politics have risen to great self-serving power by playing on our fears of the darkness. They exploit our fear and feed the darkness within ourselves until we too become filled with hate and become motivated to think of others in such an evil way that we no longer see the light in them, no longer see God’s image in their beings.
Christ took the eternal darkness our rebellion deserves to the cross. He suffered our separation from God and His light in our place. He rose up on the third day victorious over sin and death. He offers this way of escape from the darkness to all who would trust in what He has done on our behalf. In return, He asks that we will forgive and show grace to our enemies. He asks that we not become self-righteous but see not just the light but the darkness in ourselves. He asks that we see not just the darkness in those who are different from ourselves but also the light. He asks that in a world of hate, we love; in a world of takers, we give; in a world of pain, we heal. He asks that when we see someone, some group, a tribe or nation, that is descending into darkness we lift them up.
Today we hear voices saying, “America first!”. They want to close our borders not only to immigration but to trade. They want to stop helping others-fighting for justice, a safe environment, and food for the hungry and hoard their resources. They have some light in their room and fear the darkness outside. So, they rush to close all of the doors and windows. If the exploitation of their fear succeeds, the light they think is their own will be extinguished.
“Fear those of another race. Fear those with a different ethnicity. Fear those of another religion. Fear those with an alternate lifestyle.” Historically, many a tyrant has risen to power on the backs of human fears. I don’t care what country you come from, I’m sure you can find examples of this across its history continuing up to this present day.
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love,” 1 John 4:16b-18.
Do not be afraid. Yes, the darkness is real. Yes, the pain is real. We don’t need to bury our heads in the sand. We need to recognize darkness and its consequent suffering. We need to recognize that bit of darkness in ourselves that could lead us to respond with disrespect and hate. But we need to become light if we want to overcome darkness. It will never be overcome by our lowering ourselves to the level of our enemies’ darkness. If we are to war for justice we must be armed with truth and love. When we hide our light under a bushel, we ourselves fall into darkness. We must let our lights shine for everyone or there will be light for no one.
In this election season, both parties will play upon our fears of those on the opposing side. But we must remember that little good can come out of our fear. You’ll see the nasty, sarcastic, and disrespectful treatment of the opposition that tells you that the source is coming from a place of fear, hate, and self-righteousness. You will also hear discussions characterized by humility, facts, and mutual respect. Which approach is the most likely to produce light? How will you love your enemies in this election season?