As a physical feature, darkness is nothing in and of itself. Darkness is instead defined as the absence of light. Synonymous with emptiness, darkness is used to describe the earth at the very beginning of creation when “darkness covered the deep water” (Gen 1:2). Out of this absence, the first thing God created was light. In the beginning, Scripture pictures light and darkness as balanced parts of a single day and night: “So God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light day, and the darkness he named night” Gen 1:4-5). From the Psalms we learn that the separation between darkness and light does not binder God’s continual presence in our lives:
If I say, “Let the darkness hide me and let the light around me turn into night,” even the darkness is not too dark for you. Night is as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you (Ps 139:11-12)
If God can see us even in the night, we can be sure he sees us all the time.
HIDDEN IN DARKNESS
While the darkness doesn’t pose a barrier for God, darkness is often used to symbolize God’s hidden, inexplicable nature. God has “made the darkness his hiding place, the dark rain clouds his covering” (Ps 18:11; see also 2 Sam 22:12). Similarly, when presenting Moses with the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, God is picture as a loud voice “coming from the darkness” (Deut 5:23). Just as darkness literally obscures our visions, so the symbol of darkness represents a time when our spiritual vision is obscured.
Beyond these neutral descriptions, the majority of the reference to darkness in the Bible have negative connotations. Darkness is most often pictured as God’s judgment for the Israelites sin throughout the books of the prophets: “The day of the LORD is one of darkness and not light” (Amos 5:18). In Ezekiel, God says, “I will darken all the lights shining in the sky above your land” (32:8). In Lamentations, the prophets Jeremiah mourns the destruction of Jerusalem, saying, “God has driven me away and made me walk in darkness instead of light” (3:2). The terror of being in absolute darkness, suddenly unable to see anything, is a fitting symbol for the dark day of judgment.
THE LIGHT THAT OVERCOMES THE DARKNESS
Evil deeds are portrayed throughout Scripture as a form of spiritual darkness. Ephesians 5:11 tells us, “Have nothing to do with the useless works that darkness produces. Instead, expose them for what they are.” Not only are workers of evil destined for a punishment in darkness, but their very deeds are symbolized by darkness, and come form “misguided minds. . .plunged into darkness” (Rom 1:21). This was Jesus’ complaint about the Jews of his day: “This is why people are condemned: The light came into the world. Yet, people loved the dark rather than the light because their actions were evil” (John 3:19)
Pictured as the light of the world (John 8:12), Jesus was prophesied to be the ultimate conqueror of darkness: “The people who walk in darkness will see a bright light. The light will shine on those who live in the land of death’s shadow” (Isa 9:2). John affirms that the Word is also light and will conquer darkness: “The light shines in the dark, and the dark has never extinguished it” (John 1:5). Believers can have hope that Christ has the power to turn our “darkness into light” (2 Sam 22:29).
Just as introducing a source of light into a pitch-black room overcomes the darkness and makes us able to se everything around us with clarity, so the work of Christ has overcome the darkness of sin and death. He is the light by which we can make sense of the world. As believers, we have no need to fear the darkness around us, but can dwell in the light of Christ and spread light to those around us.