The idea of removing oneself from the darkness and pain of the world was never a life Jesus entertained. Instead, over and over again in the Gospel accounts we see a Jesus who intentionally immersed himself within the darkness of the world around him and sought to bring the light of God’s love into the places where the light was needed the most.
From calling Matthew the tax collector, to touching lepers, to healing a Roman centurion’s servant, to enjoying a meal with Zacchaeus, to speaking with a Samaritan woman, Jesus intentionally walked into situations he “shouldn’t” have, touched people he “shouldn’t” have, ate with people he “shouldn’t” have, and spoke to people he “shouldn’t” have
Unfortunately, the message I’ve often encountered from Christian pastors and leaders is that we should steer clear of negative people in our lives if we want to be successful and move forward. We’re fed a message of separation from the world. Rather than model ourselves after our Teacher who lived and served within the mess of everyday life, we often try our best to avoid the mess at all costs — all in the name of “personal holiness.”
While I can understand this perspective to a degree, I kept asking myself, “Is this the way a follower of Jesus should respond?” Jesus is the one we seek to follow, and it seems that his life and public ministry demonstrated a completely different message than the one these Christian leaders preach. Rather than allow the message of separation to form our response, we should allow the life and message of Jesus to redefine what holiness within the world actually looks like.
Let’s face it, we live in the world – not up to a point, but completely and without reservation. Trying to escape the world for the sake of maintaining personal holiness is a concept that is nowhere to be found in the New Testament witness. Jesus command to “Go into all the world” (Mark 16:15) means exactly what it says. Go, live, and inhabit are all words that entail being with and for others, not away from them.
Likewise, we can only impact the world in positive and restorative ways by actually living within it, with the people who Jesus came to heal and restore, not by removing ourselves from it.
Learning to Walk in the Darkness with Jesus
It’s important to surround yourself with positive people, people who are generally optimistic, hopeful, energized, and strive for excellence. Being with people who consistently demonstrate these characteristics inspires us to emulate them and creates in us a passion to move forward in life, to make a positive difference in the world.
People who live on the other end of the spectrum have a tendency to pull us down. They seem to have a natural propensity to complain, be negative, and highly pessimistic. These people are taxing and have a way of draining our energy, while making us feel like the world is about to crumble beneath us.
I get it when people suggest you avoid the negative people of the world. I understand the rationale behind it. No one enjoys being around negative people. No one.
However, as followers of Jesus…
Shouldn’t we approach the issue differently?
Shouldn’t we approach people differently?
Shouldn’t we at least create space and time to enter into the negativity of the world with hope, optimism, and joy?
Isn’t our message one of faith, hope and love?
How will we ever expect to impact the darkness with light when we consistently seek to avoid the dark at all costs?
How will we expect to bring hope when we remove ourselves from the very arena where hope is needed the most?
For many Christians, it seems that practitioners who preach a message of positive-thinking and self-help formulas have successfully trumped the life and message of Jesus – a message that calls us to live amongst the darkness, negativity, and pessimism of the world and infuse it with light, love and hope.
Our calling as Jesus-followers instructs us to imitate the One who himself lived in the midst of the dark, downtrodden and disenfranchised and who called his followers to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
Maybe we need to rearrange and reimagine our controlling message – a message centered in the person and life of Jesus.
Maybe we need to embrace a posture of hope that allows God to move us towards the hopelessness of our world with his love.
There seems to be a deep contradiction here between the avoidance message we’ve come to embrace and the inclusive message of Jesus.
Instead, we need to center and re-center our lives and message in the life and message of Jesus, who consistently ate with all the wrong people, spoke to all the wrong people, touched all the wrong people, and associated with all the wrong people. Likewise, we need to walk into the darkness with the power of God’s light and allow the Spirit of life to flow through us to bring hope to the lives of those who need it the most.
Rather than seeking to avoid negativity, maybe we should follow Jesus’ example and enter into it. The people others try to avoid — the lonely, the homeless, the beggar, the drug addict, the bitter, the pessimistic, and the grumbler — are examples of everyday people who need the light of God’s love to shine on them and break them free from the tyranny of their darkness.
Learning to Live in the Darkness with Jesus
Maybe we, like Jesus, need to live in the midst of the darkness all around us. How else do we expect to impact our neighborhoods, towns, cities, and world with His light? A dark room needs light in order to provide clarity, vision and hope.
As Catholic priest Henri Nouwen once wrote, “The Christian life should not remove us from the world but lead us deeper into it.”
Let’s stop avoiding the darkness and those who live within it, learn to walk and live in the darkness with Jesus, and let God do what God does best – speak order into chaos, light into darkness, and life into death.
And, don’t worry about the darkness changing us into dark people. God’s light has the power to dispel the darkness around us, disarm its power, and guide the way home.
There will always be light at the end of every dark tunnel.