Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Daylight to Darkness

Photo credit: Chloe Garrett
Perhaps for you the solar eclipse didn't happen on August 21, 2017.

No, for you it was that day in the doctor's office that a shadow passed in front of the sun and the brightness of your life suddenly disappeared. Maybe it was the morning that you woke only to find that a loved one did not, that your world plunged into unexpected night. Or it could have been when your college-bound kid traveled clear across the country, leaving a path shadowed in darkness across your heart in his or her wake. For you, it was anything but a joyous event. Whatever the cause, like people everywhere on that August day, you looked to the Son to try and figure out what on earth was happening. And you risked being blinded by His Glory as a result.

Do those words tickle a memory? Sometimes it's comforting to know that what we're going through has happened before. Moses was likewise given an assignment that he knew to be impossible in his own strength alone. When God promised that His Presence would go with him, Moses asked God to show him His glory. He wanted to see God's face. Answering that nobody could see His face and live, God placed Moses in a cleft in a rock and covered him with His hand while His glory passed by.

Could it be that we are looking at things from the wrong perspective? God's Word tells us that in this life we will have tribulation; none of us will make it through life unscathed. But He tells us ahead of time that He has overcome the world so that we can have peace, even in the midst of the trial. His Presence will be with us, just as it was with Moses... and with the disciples in that storm-tossed sea, the Hebrew men thrown into the fiery furnace, Daniel in the lion's den...and in so many other rough times in biblical history. What if we looked in the hard places in our own lives for the cleft that is surely there, that space of safety and protection in which God shelters us, shadowing us with His hand while His Glory passes through our difficult days, working all the things we don't understand to our good, and giving us glimpses of His Presence as He passes by?

After the solar eclipse was all over, I was fascinated by the news coverage of the event in various cities across The Path of Totality, that swath across the United States in which the moon completely blocked out the sun for a few moments of time. Several things stood out to me as important in dealing with an event of such magnitude.

The first was that you had to be prepared. In the weeks before the actual eclipse, special glasses for viewing the event without damaging one's eyes appeared in stores everywhere. Just an item of interest at first, no one “visualized” that those stores would soon sell out of the same, and that people everywhere would be scrambling to locate a pair, paying exorbitant prices at times and waiting in long lines when word came that a new shipment had arrived somewhere. Many simply couldn't locate a pair in time and were left with only television coverage of the event. It reminded me of the biblical story of the bridesmaids who ran out of oil for their lamps at the critical time of the bridegroom's arrival and missed the party as a result.

It wasn't like they hadn't been warned ahead of time. And so it is with us. While we (mercifully!) never know exactly when disaster will strike, God has warned us to be prepared for it, not so we live our lives in fear of its arrival, but to expel fear and replace it with courage and confidence in His ability to handle anything that life throws at us through the security of our relationship with Him. Friendships don't develop overnight, however; they require time and attention to develop to their full potential. And so it is with a relationship with God. The time to foster it is while the sun is still shining brightly above and “eclipse” is just an entry on a sixth-grade spelling bee word list.

There was such a sense of community about the solar event. People everywhere put their lives on hold for at least a few minutes that day to look up in amazement together. A troubled nation had finally found something they could agree on and celebrate together. Total strangers became fellow campers under a unified sky, sharing glasses with each other and marveling together, telling their stories of travel and being inspired by the lives of others on the same road.

Isn't that what God intended the church to be? A place of community and discovery, shared interest, compassion and help? Divisions disappear as we focus on something so much greater than ourselves. Perhaps that's why God urges us to pause on the Sabbath and remember that we are fellow travelers who need to look up together for answers in difficult times. “Humbling” was a word used repeatedly to describe the eclipse experience. Trouble likewise has a way of reminding us that we are not in control. How like God to provide a safety net for us, a place where we can be surrounded and supported by people on a similar pilgrimage.

Finally, what struck me the most was the joy people found when the eclipse was complete. Day had suddenly turned to dark, yet people cheered and jumped, cried and celebrated, taking off their glasses and marveling at the sudden nighttime that had fallen upon them. I laughed and cried along with them, just watching the replay on the news.

Could it be a picture of that difficult verse in the Bible...the one that urges us to “count it all joy” when we fall into various trials? What if we looked at those difficulties through a different set of glasses, ones that allowed us to view this event as a once in a lifetime opportunity to see things in a different light, discover unexpected joy in even the darkest of night, giving us a story to tell when the difficulty is past and the sun is shining brightly over our lives once more?

News broadcasts ended their coverage with a reminder of when the next solar eclipse to cross our country would take place, knowing that people everywhere are already looking forward to the event, marking their calendars and making plans to head to the best viewing areas (and taking note to buy their viewing glasses in advance!). And surely that is the attitude God wants to see in us as we come out of whatever hard circumstances we are currently in: exhilarated, excited, confident in His ability to see us through whatever difficulty is just around the bend. When we know that He is near, the motto we speak over our hearts and lives can be “No Fear Here.” How pleasant are those words of faith to His listening ears!

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
(James 1:2-4 MSG)

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