My early adult years were spent wrapping up graduate school, making an attempt at figuring out how to be married, and working at a home for troubled children. I worked in the Shelter Care program for Bethany Children’s Home where residents in need of short-term housing, emergency intervention, or in a time of transition received round-the-clock supervision and care. Many of the children in our care had experienced some of the worst circumstances imaginable during their childhood. Often children would show up with an understanding of how “the system” worked; that they’d be there for a brief time and then move on to a new place within several weeks, remaining a statistic, a name on a paper, simply a resident with a story like everyone else’s. Most of the children I interacted with had been hardened against all attempts at an honest, intimate, caring relationship. It was truly a dark place to work simply because of the suffering the children had experienced over time. I, along with several co-workers, truly desired to be beacons of light for the young people in our care. We made an attempt to listen as much as possible, to affirm their dignity even though most of it had been stripped away from them, to help them be kids by playing and exploring with them, to show them what mutual respect and care look like, all while providing for their most basic needs like food and shelter. I came to view it as standing in defiance of darkness.
I also read and reread J. R. R. Tolkien’s story The Lord of the Rings during those years. At one point in the story Frodo and Sam (two of the main characters) are on a journey through a darkest of dark caves wherein the spider Shelob resides. It was so black-dark that the blackness seemed tangible. In the moment just before Shelob was about to attack Frodo and Sam, Frodo recalled a gift given to him by Galadriel, it was a jewel which encased starlight. And, upon giving this jewel Galadriel told Frodo that it would be a light in dark places. When Frodo remembered the gift he held it aloft and shouted in defiance of the spider and the darkness. The spider couldn’t come near it because the light repelled all things evil and dark. Frodo and Sam were able to get through the black-spider-lair-cave in order to continue their journey.
I believe one of the primary roles of the church in all times, places, and contexts is to stand in defiance of darkness. There is no question that while on earth in this age we all experience suffering of some sort. Many of us have even experienced pain and suffering within the church. Over the years I have been involved in several churches and in most I have been significantly hurt, and I know that I also have hurt the people around me. Even so, I want to cultivate an unwavering commitment to the church because it is called to be a beacon of hope.
Nothing in this world is more inspiring, more hope-filled, more loving than the person and work of Jesus Christ. God, the creator of everything, desired to have a relationship with humanity so much that He sacrificed himself by putting on humanity, suffering among us, and then dying in order that we could be made holy. His self-sacrificial love was and is the light to vanquish all darkness. As Jesus followers, we must never lose sight of the only true hope in this world full of suffering.
The nature of the Church is such that it is made up of all people who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. Those of us who follow Jesus are set apart for holiness, service, and proclaiming the works of God. Holiness is essentially reflecting the character of God and is done through becoming more and more Christ-like. To know what it means to be Christ-like one only need go so far as the Gospels to see how Jesus in His life, death, and resurrection was utterly selfless. We are set apart for loving service. Jesus himself said the world will know His disciples by their love for one another. See 1 Corinthians 13 for an understanding of love. This love isn’t just an internal thing for people within the church but it is the very thing that gives us the opportunity to proclaim who God is to the world around us. Everything we do as a local church must have the goal of personal holiness, deeper love for God and each other, and proclaim who God is.
Glen Daman wrote, “the aim of the church is not merely to make people feel good about themselves or even about God; it is to make them followers of Christ.” As we become better followers of Christ, better disciples, we will become brighter lights standing in defiance of darkness. Because, we will no longer be the ones visible.
1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”