Shadow Boxing


“The people that lived in darkness saw a great light; light dawned on the dwellers in the land of death’s dark shadow” (Matthew 4:12-17).

 It is one of the great wonders of the Shenandoah Valley that we have so many caves. If you take a tour of any of them, there comes a point in the tour where the guide will turn out the lights so that you can experience “cave darkness”, or total darkness. It is an interesting experience indeed. Even if you put your hand right to your face, you can’t see it. Usually, the guide will tell you that should you remain in this darkness for very long, you would begin to suffer mental distress and become quite disorientated.  It is a great relief for everyone when the lights come back on.

In the very first chapter of Genesis, you find God playing with light and darkness. You can only imagine how great was that darkness and how brilliant the light. The prophet said that people lived in darkness so terrible that it was “death’s dark shadow.” That is profound darkness indeed. To people living in such darkness, the light that shines upon them would indeed be called a “great light.”  This light, of which the Prophet speaks, Matthew says is fulfilled in Christ, who is the light of the world. The message of this Light is, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

We recently watched the movie, “Ostrov”, in which we saw the effect of a life of repentance. We were moved and we admired the main character. Yet, most of us find our repentance to be shallow and it is difficult to confess or even imagine a life of repentance for ourselves. I think I have a clue as to why this is a reality.

Our repentance is shallow because while we have seen light, we have not see a great light, and this is because we do not perceive the darkness around us to be profound and deep. Of course, people in the past needed great light because they were uneducated, crude, vicious, and backwards. Not so today, because we are cultured and educated. Look at our progress and our science, the advances in technology and medicine. Look at our arts and music and standard of living. The so-called darkness around us doesn’t really seem so dark.

Of course, there are things that trouble us, things that give us a hint of the darkness that remains in the human heart. The 21st century began with such hope. The 20th century had been one of the bloodiest centuries on record and it was hoped that the new century would bring a new world order in which nations would finally come together, embrace democracy, and develop a higher standard of living. But it wasn’t long until the darkness of the human heart made itself known, and the shadow of death passed over places light Afghanistan and Iraq, and New York, and the Philippines, and the Sudan, etc. 

 Even with all the evidence that points to the depth of the darkness, we continue to be a bit pollyanna about it. We just don’t believe that things are that bad, or that we are that bad. Oh, we may have a few personality quirks, a few peccadilloes, but fundamentally, we are good people. Therapy, not repentance will take care of these minor personality flaws. Perhaps for many of us who live in the United States, life isn’t that bad.

Is it any wonder then that when the light shines on those who sit as we do, it has little effect? Christ is the light of the world, but is He the light of our world? The depth of our repentance measures the answer that question. If we truly feel that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, the only response would be to repent. It would be like living in cave darkness and having the lights turned on.

The shallowness of our repentance shows that we don’t know if anything is near, and if it is, it seems like a light shining not in darkness, but in the light. The impact is minimal and the response is a shrug of our shoulders.  I believe that the images and myths that we have about ourselves blinds us to the darkness, if such a thing is possible.  The old title of a book really applies to how we feel about ourselves: “I’m OK, you’re OK!”  Such people need no repentance. We are in Plato’s cave indeed-we believe ourselves to be very heroic as we box with shadows. We think ourselves enlightened because we can feel the wall with our hands.

I don’t know what it will take for us to understand that the darkness around us and in us is a great as it ever was. It is the darkness of death. We need to see this and to understand it, not to make us despair, but to help us see that Christ is truly the light of the world, and the light that shines upon us is very great. When we begin to see that light pierce the darkness, our only response will be joy and repentance; joy because we have seen the light of truth, and repentance because we called the darkness light. As Jesus said, those that are blind are those who believe that they see, but do not.

The light shines in the darkness. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.


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