A Deep and Terrifying Darkness

…and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
— Genesis 15:12

God’s promise in the dark

One of the psalms in today’s daily lectionary is Psalm 84, which ends triumphantly: “O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.” I’m inclined to qualify that pronouncement. I know many very good people who confidently trust in the Lord, whose lives have been rocked by tragedy and heartbreak. It’s hard to face the death of a parent or spouse, a divorce, a terminal illness, or a seemingly impenetrable systematization of violence and still be, as the psalmist puts it, “happy.”

The Bible does not give us reason to believe that life—even in the blessedness of covenant with God—is always euphoric. In today’s Old Testament reading from Genesis 15, for example, God’s establishment of a covenant with Abraham does not inaugurate utter joy, but instead belief (v. 6) mixed with doubt (v. 8). Shortly after God declares to Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars (v. 5), a “deep and terrifying darkness” descends upon him (v. 12).

Even in the covenant, there is darkness. But within this darkness, God speaks truth and love.

That’s where the joy the psalmist speaks of comes from. We are not expected to be oblivious to the deep and terrifying darknesses of our lives and the lives of those around us. Rather, we can rejoice in God’s promise to be with us always—even into the darkness of Golgotha.

Mary Nickel
MDiv Senior

Read more reflections like this from the Princeton Theological Seminary here