The days in which we live are dark indeed. You need only watch the news for a brief time to discern that we live in a time of evil and darkness. Ironically, despite living in the most scientific age in history, with more knowledge and information accessible to humanity than ever before, we regularly experience barbaric, inhumane, and sadistic behavior. You would assume that as civilization became more sophisticated, it would likewise behave more rationally and, well, civilized. But that has not been the case.
The public is continually learning of corruption and greed among government officials who were elected to care for and serve society. It is common to see government leaders in countries around the world living luxuriously while their citizens subsist in squalor and starvation. The aggressive Muslim movements in places such as Nigeria, Afghanistan, and the Middle East insist that women remain uneducated and that people not study or learn from the wisdom of western culture. These religious movements insist their people live in poverty even while their leaders often live in opulence. The barbaric cruelty meted out by ISIS in the name of religion is appalling. Yet even in America, it can be disconcerting to see the violence, brokenness, cruelty, and hatred experienced in the most advanced country in the world. The United States can put a man on the moon and develop enough nuclear weaponry to annihilate humanity, yet it cannot solve illiteracy and poverty among its own people. It boasts the most enlightened political system in the world and yet its government shuts down because it cannot adopt or live on a budget. You don’t have to look far before you realize that darkness still hovers over much of the globe.
As bad as human affairs are today, I would be overstating the case to suggest that things have never been worse. For although humanity was previously incapable of obliterating itself in a nuclear holocaust, it certainly has sunk to abysmal depths before. One of those eras was the First Century. The Roman Empire had marched across the known world and subjugated much of it under their legionnaire’s boots. Roman Caesars were often appallingly immoral and corrupt. Christians were thrown to the lions and lit on fire as human torches. In fact, Scripture tells us that when Jesus was born, the “light” shone in the darkness “and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). The darkness certainly tried! Have you noticed how many accounts there are in the Gospels of demons as well as self-righteous religious leaders? Satan did everything he could to spread his dark, evil presence over society. In many ways, people were as blind and confused and misguided then as they are today.
Yet in Jesus’ most famous sermon he declared: “You are the light of the world . . . Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14, 16). Jesus, in His typically countercultural manner, declared that dark periods in human history are the greatest times to be a light bearer. God designed His people to be light. If my purpose was to be a light, and I was given the opportunity to choose which time in history I could live, I would hope I would choose history’s darkest days. If light is to make the greatest difference, it must be exposed to the greatest darkness.
I regularly hear Christians bemoaning the sorry condition of America and the world at large. Many post comments in social media expressing their anger or disappointment at their nation’s condition. Many Christians follow political movements and campaigns with religious vigor, hoping that their preferred candidates can finally set the nation and world aright. But the truth is that politicians have rarely been effective at dispelling darkness. Generally they have merely been consumed by it themselves. What is most needed in dark times is light. Many lights, all shining in the places God positioned them.
I have the privilege of ministering to people who are fulfilling their divine calling to be light in strategic places. I work with Christian business leaders who realize that God placed them in corporate America to shine a light on those who have been captivated by the god of money and materialism. I speak to chaplains in the armed forces who minister to those who enter dark places. I minister to parents who battle the darkness that is striving to consume their children. I will soon be addressing a gathering of law enforcement officials who regularly combat darkness while trying to prevent it from entering their own soul or family.
Clearly it is difficult to be light in a dark world. But the truth is that soon enough we will be swept into an eternity where we will be overwhelmed by the celestial lights of glory. Then the heavenly lights will be breathtaking. There our individual lights will make little difference in the presence of the King of lights. It is while we dwell on our darkened planet that our light can make its greatest contribution.
So, if God has placed you in a darkened family, or workplace, or community, don’t embrace self-pity or despair. Rather, ask God for the courage and strength to shine your light as brightly and fearlessly as any light-bearer who has gone before you.