My Grandpa and Grandma who raised me picked me up after the last day of eighth grade in 1973 to leave on a two-week vacation to Oklahoma and Arkansas to visit relatives I’d never met but heard a lot of stories about. The polar white ’66 Mercury Colony Park station wagon was loaded for an exciting road trip, and I couldn’t wait for the adventure to begin. They had promised to stop at a lot of really neat places along the way, and I was anxious to see the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, the Giant Meteor Crater (I was a NASA nut), Carlsbad Caverns, and Fort Courage (the “home” of F Troop, one of my favorite TV shows at the time). Armed with my black & white Polaroid Swinger instant print camera and three packs of film plus a box of AG-1 flash bulbs I had purchased by saving up my $5 a week allowance, I was ready to travel and document the journey with self-developing pictures.
As we traversed mile after mile of the seemingly unending now-historical Route 66 (which wasn’t nearly as much fun as anticipated in my imagination) I started seeing signs for a cavern I’d never heard of. It didn’t take much convincing to get Grandpa to take the detour to Peach Springs, Arizona, since Grandma was a real travel-bug and always open for unanticipated amusement. Plus they spoiled me a lot.
But rather than the grand entrance to a colossal cave I had expected from the name, we paid the admission and along with the rest of a small group of tourists squeezed into a slightly larger than normal elevator inside a visitor’s center. Two hundred and ten feet below the surface the doors opened into the world-famous — at least according to the signs — Grand Canyon Caverns. After a short walk along a roped-off walkway though a smaller cave we entered a large cavern about the size of two football fields. It was incredible to see such a huge expanse so far underground.
And there were interesting things there. For one, I had never seen so much food. Barrels and boxes were stacked three and four layers high in 1963 during the Cuban Missile Crisis by our US government with the thought that the cavern would be a perfect fallout shelter. There was enough food, water, and toilet paper to sustain 2,000 people for two weeks. It’s still in good shape and is still stored there today. Further ahead on the trail was a mummified bobcat, allegedly dying there in 1850. Still in pretty good shape, considering….but definitely not the most attractive feature of the cavern.
…God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. – 1 John 1:5 ESV
You may have experienced physical darkness. But my hunch is most of you haven’t. You may believe you have, but I’ll contend you’ve probably only experienced dimness. It’s not really dark when you close your eyes. A room with the lamps turned off isn’t dark. A moonless midnight with a clouded sky covering all the stars a hundred miles from the nearest house is not dark — it’s merely dim.
If you want to know what darkness really is, descend twenty-one stories under the earth where sunlight cannot penetrate and have the tour guide extinguish all artificial sources of luminescence for a full minute.
When the lights went out, the people around me giggled nervously and made joking comments to lighten their discomfort. This was not the natural surrounding for humans, and their uneasiness was clear. We were created to live under the sun, and I certainly shared in their distress.
At first your eyes still perceive the light within, and colored blotches swirl in your line of sight. But it quickly fades into deepening shades of gray, becoming darkness, and then descending into blackness. Pitch blackness. A blackness that feels like it’s not only enveloping you, but consuming you. A blackness that pushes against you, attempting to move you, yet you stay frozen in place, afraid, unable to see any part of your body, unable to navigate except by touch, so you remain still, knowing in such a strange place you would be immediately lost.
This is darkness. Utter darkness.
It is not a thing in itself. No more than a hole dug in the earth is a thing in itself. Just as the hole is the absence of soil, so is darkness the absence of light. Evil is not a thing in itself, it is the absence of good.
There are those who question how a God who is good, who created all things, could have created evil? The answer is that everything God created was indeed all good (Genesis 1:31). God is not the creator or originator of evil, but God did give us each a choice. Otherwise, humanity and angels would be forced into predefined roles and would not be the free-willed beings God intended. We can choose the light of His goodness, or we can choose the absence of His goodness and thus fall into an evil darkness — the darkness of being removed from the light. This is what Satan and his fallen angels chose. It is what we can also choose by rejecting God.
The guide lit a single candle.
It hurt my eyes for an instant because is was so bright. The entire cavern was illuminated by this single point of light, and I could see relief move across the faces around me. All shared in the splendor of this so small a light that completely banished the darkness. While darkness tried to hide and lurk in the corners, behind stalagmites and stalactites, when the light touched it, darkness was immediately and completely removed.
I was touched deeply by this moment. Even though I did not yet grasp its spiritual significance, I wanted to record and never forget it. I lifted my camera, which had been readied for immediate use.
Needless to say, it got everyone’s attention.
It was brighter than a lighting strike in the cavern, filling every shadow, every crevice, every crack for an instant. Then darkness tried to creep back in.
But the light of the single candle remained and commanded the darkness.
Today, God spoke to me from the past, in the light of His goodness and wisdom and love.
Like the tour guide did with the candle, when we simply choose to let God’s light into our lives His goodness floods forth, commanding and banishing the darkness, replacing evil with warmth, love, kindness, blessing, and salvation. Darkness tries to hide, but indeed trembles at His voice.
God lives beyond time. It’s incomplete to say that He knows the future. Instead, He lives in the past, present, and future all at once, unbound by the flow of moments as we are. “I AM” (Exodus 3:14) was the name to be given when Moses asked. And consider, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8). He is ever-present at all times, in addition to being all-knowing and all-powerful.
Today I remembered this when He spoke to me through a demonstration that was given to me four decades ago in a vast underground cavern that was appropriately named Chapel of the Ages.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5 ESV
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” – John 8:12 ESV