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The night divides the day
My journey to the other side
I was still in diapers when The Doors recorded “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” in August 1966. It was released as a single on New Years Day 1967, to no fanfare, reaching no higher than 126 in the U.S. We now know, over time, it became the most celebrated hit the band ever played.
You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side
Song lyrics tend to be funny things, frequently having no meaning beyond being singable with a good beat. This, however, not always the case. If you listen to AC/DC, pretty much every sexual reference that a 14-year-old would snicker at was placed there precisely for that reason. The Young brothers knew their audience. Aerosmith and Steven Tyler do the same, except with even less subtlety (if that’s possible).
Now when the song has a spiritual meaning, words gain serious importance, and I’m no exception to that. Bethel Music, the worship band for Bethel Church in Redding, California, wrote a song in 2017 called “King of My Heart.” If you attend a church with “modern” worship, you may have sung it. It was, and remains, pretty popular Sunday morning fare. When Christian rock band Kutless covered the song, they added one line to the lyrics.
When the night is holding on to me, God is holding on.
I first heard that version of the song before the church I was attending at the time started using it in worship sets. In fact, after hearing it, I asked our worship leader to add it (he did). I wasn’t aware the original Bethel lyrics didn’t contain the extra lyric, so I was puzzled that we were singing a version which removed it, but that line really stood out to me. It still does.
What is the night? On earth, it’s the time when our part of the planet is facing away from the sun: the absence of direct sunlight. Biblically speaking, the night is the state of the universe before God spoke light into it:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.
I find it very comforting that God’s Spirit hovered over the darkness. Even in the night of eternity before we had any way to measure time, He was there. Without the night to divide the day, we’d never see that the day destroys the night. God saw that the light was good, but how did God define “good” in the first place?
When we say “God is good” are Christians simply attributing an objective definition of what “good” is to the entity we worship as the Creator? The Bible says no, that God is, definitionally, good. According to the Bible, “God is good” is a statement of equivalence, not one of attribution. When God saw that the light was good, it means He saw that it was His creation, the fruit of His command, and that it destroyed the darkness. Unless God had separated the light from the darkness, we would not know anything but light, and that would eliminate the possibility of choice, and with it love, mercy, compassion, and humanity.
Humans are free moral agents, created in the image of God, who knows the difference between light and darkness, and knows that light is good, and that darkness is not good. To possess free will, humans must be capable of making a choice between light and darkness, goodness and the absence of goodness.
Humans are also animals, in that we exist in a physical body, possessed of a brain, emotions, carnal desires, and bodily needs. Like a lion is really great at being a lion, which includes killing and eating prey (which, if convenient, might be us, should we stupidly get too careless), people are really great at being human. That means we deceive, overwhelm, fight, take, and rule over each other when we stupidly get too careless. We frequently confuse kindness and gentleness with goodness. We call people “good” because they are likable folks.
But that’s not Biblically true at all. Though kindness and gentleness are considered attributes of the Spirit of God—the “fruit of the Spirit” that Paul references in the New Testament book of Galatians (chapter 5, verses 22-23), they do not define “goodness.” Goodness has little to do with being likable.
One tenet of Christianity is that it’s wholly possible to be kind, gentle, patient, joyful, faithful, and self-controlled, and not to be good. It’s possible to exhibit all those things and to be wicked, and even completely given over to darkness and evil. History yields plenty of examples of faithful, loyal, personally gentle, even-tempered tyrants. It’s also wholly possible to be an impatient, impulsive, suspicious, pugnacious crank, and have a heart devoted to Christ. It’s not only possible to be in tension between the darkness and the light, it’s the normal state of human existence for most of us. But it greatly matters which side you’re pulling from, in terms of God’s influence on your actions.
A modern hymn that ministers to me is “In Christ Alone,” the one Stuart Townend and Keith Getty wrote in 2001.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ
I’ve heard many preachers say that if you can’t identify the day, or at least the general time, when you first accepted Christ, you might want to question the value of your decision to follow Him. In other words, you can’t say “I’ve been saved my whole life,” because nobody is. For me, my spiritual birthday is the day I’m writing this, June 5. The year was 1999, so that makes me 23 years as a follower of Christ. I’m going to tell the story in reverse. It just tells better that way, like the Chris Nolan movie Memento.
My journey was a difficult one, being a Jew who was strongly opposed to reading the New Testament. I had little choice. The thought of how God fit in my life had become overwhelming to the point of a debilitating obsession to me. A friend, who told me he hadn’t darkened the door of a church since his teen years and intended not to, except for weddings, funerals, and the like, also told me, over beers, that I had to read the New Testament, because I was a basket case, and needed to decide what I really believed.
I began to read, starting with the book of Matthew. I got to chapter 28, where Jesus died on the cross and the veil of the Temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. I asked my rabbi where the Spirit of God went when it left the Holy of Holies. And since there was no Holy of Holies any more, where is the Spirit of God now? He said I must be reading the New Testament. For months since February of that year, I had been going to synagogue (a conservative congregation) religiously, meaning almost anytime the doors were open. I even attended morning “minion” with the old men and the rabbi a few times when they were short of the required ten men. I must have appeared out of nowhere to them, since I had not attended a Jewish Shabbat service since my Bar Mitzvah decades before.
On the night of February 19, 1999, I had a personal encounter with God, one so vivid and forceful it has stayed with me every day of my life since then. I was in my pickup truck driving home from the Perry, Georgia talent show (it’s a long story), and a co-worker, a believer whose Christian band played at the show, told me in the parking lot, after I had mocked his belief, that I only needed to ask God if He exists, and He would answer. I did, and He did.
In my truck, I was suddenly in a very dark, vaguely cold place, with a single diffuse light visible from an impossibly distance source far over my head. I was in a structure like a well, with walls far enough from me that I could not reach them. Beneath me was darkness, and I knew there was no bottom to the pit. I was hanging by a hair-thin thread, dangling over the abyss. It was dead silent. I don’t know how long I hung there; it seemed like a long time. Then I heard God’s voice. I don’t know how I knew it was God, but I knew. It was an audible voice in my head. I don’t know if I heard it with my ears, since I was alone. God said “this is your condition.” Four words and that’s all.
Then I was back in the truck. No actual time had passed but I nearly ran it off the road in panic. I drove home and cried all night. I knew that I was being given “one last chance” to change and repent, or perish. I am grateful that God is Good and in His mercy He found me where I was, lost in the darkness. I wasn’t an evil person, just not a good one. I had no idea what to do with a personal encounter with God. I kept it to myself, but I had been changed, permanently. With the encouragement of my Christian co-worker, I began going to synagogue, but I never felt the presence of God like I did in my truck. I sought God with all my strength and my heart for months, but it took a lot of desperation before I turned to the New Testament.
It was June 5, 1999, a Saturday, when a Christian acquaintance called me and asked if I wanted to see “Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace” with him. I hadn’t seen it, I was single, and why not? We went to the movie. After it was over we returned to my house where he simply asked me if there was anything I wanted to tell him. I accepted Christ there and then in my living room. The next day, June 6th, D-Day, I attended church for the first time as a Christian.
In Christ alone…in darkness slain, bursting forth in glorious day.
The very next verse, when a person goes from darkness to light, when the Good of God enters a soul, Jesus commands my destiny.
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I'll stand
He is with all of us in the darkness. When the night is holding on to me, God is holding on, and God is Good.
U2 rocker and front-man Bono frequently cites Psalm 116 as the verses that fuel his faith. He sometimes recites this scripture in live performances.
What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
I understand how Bono feels. The beginning verses of Psalm 116 tells the story of every Christian soul.
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“Lord, save me!”
5 The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
6 The Lord protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.
8 For you, Lord, have delivered me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
9 that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.
The presence of light and darkness makes possible the mercy of God in the presence of evil, the schemes of men and women, the plans of the enemy of our souls and the power of Hell. All have been broken by the unquenchable light of God. Even in the darkest night, God is holding on; even when we are beset by evil deeds, the day destroys the night, while the night divides the day. John chapter 1:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Jesus, in John chapter 3, told Nicodemus, an esteemed rabbi and member of the Jewish Sanhedrin:
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Even our evil deeds are done in the sight of God. The deeds of darkness are seen, forgiven, and destroyed by the light. The death that Jesus took on to Himself, slain by darkness, was proof that our evil deeds were fully paid. His bursting forth in glorious day is the mercy of God. He has heard our cries, He has delivered us from death, and for that, we should all lift up the cup of salvation, and fulfill our vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people.
Were there not darkness to divide the day, God’s mercy would be impossible. Those without the light would forever be trapped in their sin, unforgiven, and without hope. Therefore I thank God for the darkness, and I thank Him that He saves out of it.
This is why those songs minister to me. Talk to me about how you think religion is no good all you want. I will still tell you that God isn’t some entity who decides to be good when He feels like it. God equals good, and even in His judgment, even in His anger, His goodness is beyond our limited imagination.
My life has been The Doors first verse. You can’t tell me God isn’t real.
You know the day destroys the night
Night divides the day
Tried to run
Tried to hide
Break on through to the other side
If you don’t believe it, ask Him yourself.
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