The Gift of Darkness
Satisfaction versus hunger, it is one of Scripture’s many paradoxes. On the one hand, there is a certain satisfaction or contentment that we are expected to have, especially when it comes to our worldly status. That is why Paul wrote to Timothy:
But Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Timothy 6:6-10
Some have taken this passage to mean that we are not to pursue wealth. However, the Bible clearly gives a different message. After all, Moses instructed the Israelites to “…remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:18); Solomon instructed us to pursue wealth, because “…a righteous man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children” (Proverbs 13:22); and Jesus told us to leverage money for eternal influence when He said, “…use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9).
So, the idea that poverty is somehow a more spiritual state of existence is clearly not a biblical one. What Paul is warning against to Timothy is a general discontentment that can lead one astray, and is often fueled by an underlying love for money. In contrast, as he stated in verse 6, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” There is a certain ability to accept one’s circumstances that reflects a mature spirituality. That is why we are instructed to “give thanks in all circumstances” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:18).
However, there is also an acceptance that reflects spiritual immaturity. It is the sort of acceptance that is often passive and lazy. Nearly half of Jesus’ teachings on righteousness deal with simple responsibility rather than morality. That is why the critiques in His parables often start with things like, “You wicked, lazy servant” (e.g. Matthew 25:26). It is why the Thessalonians were instructed to, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should tend to your own business and work with your hands, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). It is also why Paul told Timothy that, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Each of us has a responsibility to work in a hard and honest way.
Yet, there is a deep dissatisfaction that we are to carry with us as we pilgrim through this earthly life and eagerly await the age to come. We see the Lord urging us to have that dissatisfaction when He says, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21). In case we are not clear on His message He turns around and offers the converse truth, “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25).
Jesus offers us here a sort of spiritual gauge, so that we might be able to discern our spiritual state at any given point along the path. He is telling us that we need to carry with us a certain spiritual hunger, a dissatisfaction with this world. If we do, we can rest in knowing that we will be satisfied for all of eternity. In contrast, if we find ourselves too filled up on the things of this world, or a little too happy with the current state of affairs, we are being set up for a great disappointment.
Given this truth I am concerned about my ability to maintain such perspective in the midst of living with such affluence and abundance as we do today in First World countries like my own. I confess to some of the bad type of contentment, and that is a good place to start. But how do I create the dissatisfaction and hunger that Jesus instructed me to carry? If you also struggle with this do not worry. That is why God has given us one of His most uncelebrated gifts. It is the gift of darkness.
Do you have some low-grade aches in your soul? Have you been stung by gossip? Kicked by injustice? Are you battling depression? Struggling to smile? Or perhaps your pain is not so subtle. Have you received news that is not just overwhelming, but devastating? Are you convinced that you cannot face the thing that is in front of you? Has your world been shattered beyond repair?
Here is the good news. You have received God’s gift of darkness. It is an opportunity to hunger again, but not for the unsatisfying things of this world. You have a new invitation to hunger after the things of God, the things of eternity. It is in the midst of darkness that you are finally willing to let go of all the trivial things that have held you back. Right now, perhaps more than ever before, you are willing to turn and face the brilliant fire of God.
So, welcome back to the path. That hunger in your belly is strength here, not weakness. It is fuel for the journey, not a lack of it. You have been given the gift of darkness, so make the most of it.