It was Thursday. It was also a day of darkness; a horror of darkness. I had come back into the hospital because the wound from a recent surgery was not healing. The initial biopsy report looked good. But there was the final report looming at any time. That Thursday I had a great sense of foreboding. I also had a hard time even meditating on Scripture. I couldn’t get verses into my mind to think about. Throughout the day, wave after wave of unsettledness washed over me. My wife prayed for me. She quoted Bible passages. Still, I felt something of what
Abram had felt after the Lord had counted his faith for righteousness but showed him dark days of his people’s future.
Abram had made the sacrifice God told him to make; a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove and a pigeon. He divided them and laid them on the altar. Then the birds of the air came down and he had to chase them away. Be sure that when you make your offering to God malevolent forces will swoop down to corrupt the sacrifice. You must chase them away. Jesus told us that a major danger for His followers would be the thorns that choke out the word; the cares of life, the deceitfulness of riches, the lust of other things. We must keep a constant vigil lest they take up all of the room and leave none for the Word of God. Like the fowls of the air they will defile and diminish God’s word.
You would think that after keeping away the birds Abram would have been rewarded by some kind of blessing. Instead, as daylight waned, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him” (Gen. 15:12). Darkness is not pleasant. It has a sense of the unearthly about it. There is an oppression of darkness that is difficult to shake. That is what I felt as the report from the doctor continued to be delayed. In that darkness I sensed that the report would not be good. I prayed. I asked the Lord for grace to face whatever was in the future. It is easy to preach about glorifying God by life or by death, but I struggled to pray those words. Eventually, I was able to pray that for myself.
Friday evening the doctor came with the report. Yes, there were microscopic cancer cells in the biopsies. The news seemed neither new nor shocking. During Thursday I was prepared for that possibility. It seemed that the horror of darkness can have a positive side. Did God warn me ahead of time about what the report would reveal? It seemed likely. The possibilities were outlined by the doctor, none of which were pleasant.
The next several days were days of recovery. While there, we continued to pray and find Bible verses that were helpful. Yet there was an undercurrent of unsettledness. The darkness was lurking, but not as horrible as it had been on that Thursday. Monday I was discharged and we went home. There is something welcoming about going home. It has a good feeling to it. Yet the angst continued, though buried under the activities of getting resettled. It was like the night just after sunset.
Tuesday I was at home alone with a low grade headache. I leaned back and began to meditate on God’s promises. “Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” A phrase from a gospel song kept going through my mind. “Justified fully through Calvary’s love, Oh what a standing is mine!” Justified. Fully. Somehow the wonder of the gospel took on a renewed and sacred meaning. And in that moment the horror of darkness was dispelled. From deep inside a fountain flowed with peace and assurance and light. That’s when I went back to the account of Abram and his horror of darkness.
“And when the sun went down and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.” In the dark, God revealed Himself to Abram. Imagine the contrast. After his horror, when night had fallen, he saw a revelation of God. God was confirming His covenant with Abram. God’s promises are sure. There in the dark was a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passing through the sacrifice that Abram had placed earlier on the altar. He had kept the fowls from defiling them. He had passed through the horror of darkness. Night had fallen. But now he was witnessing the revelation of the God of creation. God revealed Himself as the One who keeps His covenant. He would perform what He promised.
As I read that account my heart leaped with joy and gratitude to the Lord who has given us “great and precious promises.” Another phrase of a hymn captured my meditations. “Beyond the sacred page, I seek thee Lord…” Yes we need the Bible. Yes it is the written word. But Jesus is more than paper and ink. He is the living word. It is in Him that we have hope and comfort and peace. Beyond the words on a page of the Bible is the Lord Himself. He has given us His wonderful assurance that “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee!”
God told Abram that there would be some bad years ahead for the generations that followed him. Yet, for him there was comfort. “And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.” Abram would yet have time to continue to serve the Lord. I was not sure how to process what I was reading. Pastor Loper often calls me “Ainch” – short for Ancient. At seventy, King David died “in a good old age.” I’m not there yet but it is not far down the road. How that particular aspect of this story plays out is in the hands of the Lord who “loved me and gave himself for me.” In the meantime there is the Lord and His divine presence and help.
The horror of darkness is not pleasant. Yet it can be helpful. It can turn us to seeking. It can help us to realize the importance of keeping the sacrifice undefiled on the altar. And when the night falls and there is nothing we can see, then the “smoking furnace and the burning lamp” opens our eyes to our Lord Jesus whose faithfulness is great, whose peace is past understanding, and whose love draws us with cords to bind us to the sacrifice that Christ made for us on the altar of the cross. There we are safe. There we have confidence. There we have hope. I have found it so.