Spiritual darkness is a metaphorical term, and metaphors are always limited, which makes them easy to misunderstand. Spiritual darkness is one of those terms that confuses more than it helps, which is why we don’t like to use it. But for those of you who are stressing over this term or wondering what it means, we’re now going to explain its usage and limitations.
In the Bible, Yahweh and Jesus sometimes use the concepts of light and darkness to refer to eternal salvation and eternal damnation. In some of the parables Jesus tells in the Gospel books, you’ll find fictitious characters who represent God ordering people to be cast into outer darkness. Such scenes are meant to depict God eternally damning people.
Now the problem with pairing eternal damnation with darkness is that being damned by God means you have no hope of ever being accepted by Him. When Jesus talks of people being thrown into outer darkness, He’s talking about people being thrown into Hell—being totally cut off from God’s mercy. That’s a very extreme and terrifying situation. Yet today you’ll hear people claim that they used to be in spiritual darkness before they became Christians. So what’s going on there? Obviously people who talk this way are using a different definition of “darkness” than Jesus did in His parables. So what do they mean if they’re not talking about eternal damnation?
When people claim to have emerged out of “spiritual darkness” today, they are usually talking about spiritual ignorance. In this kind of usage, the focus is on gaining knowledge. Before you know who the real Gods are or what They want from you, you’re “in the dark” or ignorant about what you need to do to get into a good place with your Creators. But once They educate you, you go from being “in the dark” to having understanding.
Now in our material, we use the term spiritual illumination to refer to the process of your Creators educating you on spiritual matters. Imagine that you are standing in a room that is so dark that you can’t see the furniture that is all around you. But then, someone suddenly flips on a switch and the room is flooded with light. Now that the room has become illuminated with light, you can see what has been there all the time. This is often how you’ll feel when God suddenly gives you the ability to understand something that has always been true. Often the evidence of what He’s saying has been right in front of you the whole time, but it’s as if you’ve been wearing a blindfold that He suddenly takes off for you. Often the things God teaches you seem super obvious once He “turns the light on” for you. Because new spiritual insights often spring on you without warning, and because they often feel so obvious right from the start, we refer to the whole process as being spiritually illuminated.
Now in real life, God educates humans in stages. He never gives any of us an instant download of complete truth. Instead, He introduces each of us to new facts in a different order and at a different pace. Imagine taking twenty large textbooks, ripping them apart, and reassembling them so that each book has its chapters in a different order. Perhaps Alice’s book starts with Chapter 3, then goes to Chapter 18, then to Chapter 20. Meanwhile, the book you’re assigned to starts with Chapter 9, then goes to Chapter 4, then to Chapter 31. If you and Alice work through your books from start to finish, you’ll be studying different topics at different times because your books are laid out in different orders. This is how it works in real life when God educates you about spiritual things. He teaches you in a different order than He teaches other people. Why? Because He loves variation.
Now when Christians talk about being saved and when they talk about “starting” their life with God or being born again, they mistakenly talk as if the mechanics of salvation is the first thing God ever taught them. Well, no, how to get saved is never the first thing God teaches humans. There are many spiritual insights that get taught and learned before a soul reaches the point of understanding that the real Gods demand reverential submission from Their human creatures. The way Christians make such a big fuss about salvation as if that is the most important moment of their journeys with God is very misleading. Having God teach you about anything is very important, and God talks to you about much more than salvation. Also, salvation is just one step in the early phase of a very long journey—it’s not some grand finale.
To avoid getting confused on the subject of spiritual darkness, you need to understand that by the time you gain an understanding about how to acquire eternal salvation, God has already taught you many other things. As soon as God starts teaching you about anything, you no longer qualify as being in a state of total spiritual ignorance, and yet that is often what people mean when they say, “Before I got saved, I was in spiritual darkness.” When people talk like this, they make it sound like salvation was the first thing God ever spoke to them about, when this simply isn’t the case. They talk as if all of the conversations their souls had with God prior to the moment of salvation mean nothing, when those moments were critical. You see, spiritual education is like climbing a flight of stairs. If salvation is the tenth step, you can’t get there until you climb the nine steps that come before it. Every time God teaches your soul a new insight, it’s like you step up onto a new stair. Should we really view you as being in a state of spiritual darkness when you’re in the process of amassing spiritual understanding? Of course not.
Suppose you are in a dark room and someone lights a candle. Then someone lights a second candle, and then a third. How many candles need to be lit before you’ll stop saying that you’re sitting in darkness? Does the whole room have to be filled with blazing light? Or isn’t it true that even one, small flame is enough to move the room out of a state of total darkness? By the time you understand enough information to acquire the kind of salvation Christians talk about, it’s like you’re in a room with many candles. As you light the fortieth candle, you declare, “I am now no longer in darkness. This candle has made all the difference.” Well, no, that candle just added more light to an already very lit room. This is the problem with using the term spiritual darkness to describe where you were prior to the moment of salvation. The term is just too extreme and inaccurate, and it promotes the very wrong idea that God had nothing to do with you until you prayed a certain prayer.
Let’s summarize. In the Bible, we find darkness sometimes being used as a metaphor for eternal damnation. Since you can’t tell by looking at someone whether God has damned them or not, it really doesn’t work to refer to living humans as being in this kind of darkness. As long as someone is still alive on the planet, we should assume they might still have time to acquire salvation.
Now if you use the term spiritual darkness to refer to being spiritually ignorant—which is the more common usage among Christians—you can easily confuse yourself. God talks to you far more often than you realize, and you are often giving other humans the credit for teaching you insights which actually came from God. While no human has anything close to a complete understanding of truth, by the time you’re even using a term like spiritual darkness, you probably have more spiritual understanding than you are acknowledging. Referring to yourself as being in a state of overall spiritual darkness can cause you to have the very wrong idea that God simply isn’t involved in your life, when the truth is that He is involved in every aspect of your life at all times. All humans are constantly interacting with their Creators whether they are conscious of it or not. We learn about who our Gods are in baby steps—gaining understanding one tiny crumb at a time. To be in the midst of the learning process is a thrilling thing, and should not be labeled as a form of darkness.
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Spiritual Maturity: Learning From A God Who Loves To Teach
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