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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The silence of God | Kindling faith instead of fire

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God. But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.

ISAIAH 50:1011

 


 

I love watching our log burner when it’s dark outside. The light of the flames, the fire’s warmth, and the occasional crack of the logs are all deeply comforting. Somehow fire holds darkness at bay. 

So why does Isaiah speak with such bite about fire? Why does he offer such a stinging critique of those who light fires, providing themselves with flaming torches? Surely light in darkness is God’s desire for us, a theme carried forward into John’s gospel with the light whom darkness cannot overcome? 

Isaiah’s concern, I think, is with the fires we light for ourselves. He’s warning the people not to pursue light at all costs. For sometimes the one who walks in darkness, without light, must be content to trust in the name of the Lord. Instead of lighting their own fires, they must rely on God himself as their light. 

In this Lenten exploration of God’s seeming darkness, Isaiah reminds me of my own tendencies. I do not easily accept spiritual seasons of darkness and silence. I struggle to imagine what fruitfulness the not-knowing and not-seeing of God might work in me. But John of the Cross reframes this for me. 

John wrote that God sometimes permits us to experience his glory as a light so bright that it blinds our intellect. Like Paul overwhelmed by God’s glory on the road to Damascus in Acts 9, it’s as if we’d stared at the sun. Everything now looks dark. Our mind is blinded, no longer working as before when it comes to knowing and perceiving God.  

Through this experience, God is establishing a new capacity for knowing him. John calls this new way of knowing God ‘faith’. Faith is not a denial of knowledge through intellect, but rather indicates a purifying of intellect. It sets our capacity to reason in proper relationship to God’s Word. 

John’s perspective reminds me of Isaiah’s. When God seems distant and silent, I can wrestle to return to my old ways of knowing: that is, I can light my own fires. Or I can allow these painful experiences to form in me a deeper trust, knowing that God’s light will break through my darkness when he chooses. 

It’s good to focus on what we do know of God, a basis on which to praise him. But how might we also sit in the dark mysteries of our everyday lives and frontlines, trusting that God will eventually lighten our darkness?  

Dr Chloe Lynch
Lecturer in Practical Theology, London School of Theology

Has there been a time when reading God’s word transformed your mind? What difference did this made to your day-to-day life? Join the conversation below.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this article. Could you provide the reference for the letter of John please?

    By Hannah  -  4 Mar 2024
  2. Darkness and silence are frightening. Or, at least, that’s what we’ve been conditioned to believe. I know that I default back to activity and noise and light. So this article reminds me that I neither need, nor is it wise, to run around setting my own fires and lighting my torches.

    By Alan  -  9 Mar 2024

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