You’re seated in a theatre. The curtain opens and there before you is a stage set with vibrant emerald trees and majestic trunks. Flowers in every color and in full bulging bloom shine like jewels. A cobalt blue sky is speckled with brilliant pillowing clouds. The sun, not blaring and baking, not dim and cold, sits just right overhead. Perfect, you think.
Scene one unfolds with polite conversation between the perfectly pleasant characters. Every sweet line drips with joy and seems to glide from each character’s wide, beaming smile. Scene two is the same. And three, and four. Until the cast bows in gratitude and the curtain closes on a flawless night of drama.
But it’s hardly dramatic. Hardly compelling. Something’s missing, isn’t it?
The Omniscient View
Now imagine God, the Author of this play you and I are living in right now, with pen in hand pondering how to begin. Scene 1: He decides his first characters will be heaven and earth. But before they enter He sets the stage. He jots words like “formless,” “empty” and “dark.” They are the perfect setting for introducing His fully formed, whole and radiant heaven and earth.
Scene 2: The Author wants to write about a rainbow and a good man in a boat. But first he creates a villain, a multitude of them actually. His pen spews depravity and doubt onto the page. Alone in a sea of abusive sinking men and women, Noah glides to hope on the buoyant ark.
Scene 1257: A King will be born in this scene, live perfectly, die and then come back to life and rescue mankind and all of creation. The Author calls Him “Son” and “Messiah” and “Jesus.” And, one time, “Man of Sorrows.” Some call him “Hero.” But before He’s victorious He’s born in filth. He’s tempted in a desert by one as evil as he is pure. He’s taunted, misunderstood, cursed, doubted, betrayed and questioned. He weeps when friends breathe their last. He blesses the mourning and bawls at the edge of a city that doesn’t want Him. He tastes the spit of his enemies, and they are many. His skin is ripped and torn from bone. Nails puncture wrists and ankles and the Hero bleeds and wails and dies.
The stage goes black, and all seems lost. We thought the story would end well, but now it seems there is no hope. No Hero. And the stage we stand on once again seems formless, empty and dark.
Out of the Night
The Author smiles. This darkness is all part of the plot. An essential part. Be patient. There will be more gloom but then life, hope and light. And even after it all ends well, we’re still wondering why the Author wove such grief into His play. Why all this darkness in a tale about light? Why so much hate in a love story? Why so much doubt and despair from the Author of faith and truth?
As the great theologian/songwriter David Wilcox once sang:
“If someone wrote a play just to glorify
What’s stronger than hate, would they not arrange the stage
To look as if the hero came too late, he’s almost in defeat
It’s looking like the evil side will win”
Strength, love, peace, hope, life, light-these things are only needed and noticed when the stage is full of weakness, hatred, discord, despair, death and darkness. It’s at midnight that we love and see the light best.
Art That Is Unafraid
Thinking back on that night of theatre I asked you to imagine-the one made up entirely of perfect sets and perfect people-compared to the play the Author has crafted (real life) doesn’t our perfected version seem boring and impotent? So I wonder why I’m afraid to tell the story of my life and of God the way it really happened, full of dark and light and drama. Why am I afraid to write like God does?
Suddenly, I’m painfully aware that if I never set the stage in shadows the audience may never see the Light for all it’s worth.
Make me the kind of storyteller you are. Make me honest. Make me brave enough to talk about my doubts and despair, my failures and flaws. Use the less than perfect parts of my life as a backdrop for your perfection. Use the stage of my weakness and doubt to show off your strength and truth. And thank you for sending the Hero into our shadowed world to save us all. Amen.