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  • Writer's pictureGODVERSITY

A Song In The Dark


He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:3)

There is a song in your heart. Did you know that? The song in your heart celebrates what you consider worthy of celebration. You consider worthy of celebration that in which your soul delights. You delight in — with the song of your heart — that in which your soul finds satisfaction.


I think I might have been deflated at the word of no vacancy in the inn. Mary was told by the angel who called her favored that God was with her and that she was part of a plan that would be for all people. In labor in a city that was not home, without the simple comfort of a bed, I wonder if she felt God had let her down that night or that God had somehow forgotten her in the midst of darkness. The text makes it seems unlikely that Mary felt this way. Even with only a manger for a baby bed and shepherds as visitors, Mary is said to have “treasured up” all these things and pondered them in her heart.(1)

I doubt I would have been so forgiving. Time marked with unfavorable conditions often feels like time marked with God’s absence. The psalmist writes of one such experience: “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.”(2) It is hard to know what God is doing in the dark. The Incarnation boldly reminds us that God is near though we labor in darkness; but this doesn’t mean the night can’t still be lonely.

Thrown in prison for his complicity in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer struggled between postures of faith and despair, such that he began to wonder what his true position was. To a lifelong friend, he admitted the struggle between knowing that God was there and grieving the uncertainty of what God was doing. “And finally, I must begin to tell you that, despite all I have written in my letters, it is disgusting here.

My gruesome experiences often follow me into the darkness of the night, and I can only combat them by repeating innumerable hymns… You write to encourage and say that I ‘bear it all so well.’ I ask myself often who I really am. Am I the man who squirms under these ghastly conditions and cries out with complaints or am I the man who disciplines himself to appear outwardly unaffected by these things? And perhaps persuades himself that he is at peace, content, and in control of himself. Is he playing a part as in a stage play, or not? What does this ‘posture’ really mean?”(3)

Josef Herman, Miners Singing, Tempera on Board, 1951.

For most of us, it is unnatural to respond to the dark with confidence, even if we believe we hold the light of life. Rejection at the inn or a sudden call in the middle of the night can bring into crisis our entire theology. Yet even through this doubt or darkness, God may well be at work teaching us again his songs for the night.

Weeks after he described his questioning soul, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his fiancé, “Your prayers and kind thoughts, passages from the Bible, long forgotten conversations, pieces of music, books—all are invested with life and reality as never before. I live in a great unseen realm of whose real existence I’m in no doubt.”(4) Not long after these words, Dietrich Bonhoeffer went to his execution, where his last words would be uttered: “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”

In his darkest moment, Bonhoeffer’s certainty took on flesh because the Incarnation, Christ’s birth in a cold and crowded stable, is the story of God himself taking on flesh in the dark. And, as Frederick Buechner writes, “If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here. And what is saved is not some diaphanous distillation of our bodies and our earth, but our bodies and our earth themselves.”(5)

God, who came willingly into the unfavorable conditions life and death on earth, offers a hope greater than our despair. For the Son of God even now, and forever, is the incarnate one. The very flesh that stepped into the darkness has been brought into the Trinity. And so, the apostle Paul reminds the Thessalonians: “We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.”

Though we labor in the darkness, we are given the opportunity to belong to something else entirely:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined… For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”


Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Luke 2:19. (2) Psalm 77:1-3. (3) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (New York: Touchstone, 1997), 161-162. (4) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Who Am I? Bonhoeffer’s Theology through His Poetry (New York: T & T Clark, 2009), 82. (5) Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 169.


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