Am I a bad person? A confused American Christian?? Or LOST???
I’m trying to figure this out. And one of the places I am drawn to, where God seems to be doing business with me, is found in John 3, right after that most famous memory verse where it says, “…the light came into the world, yet people loved the darkness instead of the light because their deeds are wicked. In fact, wicked people hate the light and does not come to the light because it exposes their wicked ways.” (John 3:19 & 20).
This is some of John’s rather poetic, somewhat ceremonial, talk. It’s not that hard to grasp, at least in the broad strokes, but I don’t run around talking like this in symbolic, figurative language about light and dark. My friends don’t. And this passage is powerfully overshadowed by 3:16 where my interest really lies for other reasons. And so, for a host of back-handed excuses, I have allowed this passage to be just a bit obscure and fuzzy, never really applying to me in any meaningful and direct way.
Loving darkness and hating light?
Hmmm… What is that really about?
So, when I was in about the 8th or 9th grade, I became an Iron Maiden fan, and I bought the new album Piece of Mind, the poster for the old album, Number of the Beast, and the tee shirt picturing Eddie holding a hatchet with blood running off the blade above trembling, pleading hands of a victim clutching Eddie’s shirt from below. When I got home with this stuff I bought at the mall, I went into my room, closed the door, hung the poster, and put on the album with my headphones.
And I thought I might be “loving the darkness” and “hating the light.”
And when the song with the backward recording of speech, which sounded like words being sucked back into the speaker’s throat (beginning with a belch) came on, it scared me. I was literally frightened I had summoned up a darkness I could not conceive. My imagination ran wild. Just for a moment.
It was a rush.
A very private, personal experience which I purchased for about $20 or $25 earlier that day.
Think of it! Twenty-five dollars’ worth of hell. That’s a bargain!
Am I right?
Why didn’t I remain scared of it?
Well, for one thing, I didn’t quite think about John 3. I was too busy thinking about devils, hellfire, and pitchforks. For another, no important person in my life suggested it. If they had, I would have been mortified, I am sure. But ultimately, or anyway it seemed ultimately, Iron Maiden were not truly satanic. The song about the Number of the Beast, which lifted biblical imagery completely out of context and put it in something altogether different, managed to shun satanic worship. The song tells a story, sort of, about a man who encounters a group of Satan worshipers and calls the cops on them! So, there’s that.
But the songs I was listening to, not all of them of course, told other stories too – other kinds of stories. One of them even opened with a traditional church hymn! But as an adolescent, songs about battles, especially historic battles like in WWI and WWII, were of great interest to me. This band increased the likelihood I would pay attention in history class! Imagine that!!!
And anyway, I wasn’t sitting there fuming with hate; I was a curious kid! At some level, I recognized as much. I certainly did not hate Jesus or hate light. I just wanted to know things… things my parents weren’t apt to teach. I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be a part of something that was MINE. I was a KID, and such as this was natural – or so it seemed.
I was American. This was not a patriotic thing in which I engaged, but it was about freedom, and I was certainly exploring that. I took it into my room and closed the door so as not to bother others with it, but I recall how shortly after that, my dad and I found ourselves sitting in the local cafe/diner sharing a meal and he queried me about the band and the music. He told me what an iron maiden was, something which to that point I had not known.
Hmmm… more history lessons.
But here’s the real reason I tell all of that: it was a smoke screen.
I don’t mean to claim that the experience was all innocent, that the band, their music, and all that is simply innocent good times of my youth. Not at all. In fact, there is plenty there to consider on the contrary, but that is not where the real devil got me. It’s certainly not the devil that still gets me.
I was a little American kid with my own room, with headphones, with a lock on the door. The devil was in those details and far deeper rooted in them than the record I bought. The record was barely the symptom; the private room supplied by my parents, by my church, and by cultural expectations of society was far more sinister than the music. I thought all of that was wholesome good stuff, but really, it was darkness I love to this day.
And I do LOVE this darkness! I fear the light which will expose my wicked works! I want my privacy, my personal privacy! It’s MINE, damn you! I’m American, and I want my personal privacy. I shudder to think of you finding out some of the things I think, feel, and DO!
I don’t want you knowing the things I search on the web, the people I talk to, the things we share. I don’t want you knowing the movies I watch, the little indulgences of darkness I savor. Speaking of savor! I don’t even want you to see me eat a donut!!! The calories don’t count if you don’t see!!!
My God! The whole reason I have a job and pay my rent and cable bill is so I can have my privacy. I have private accounts, private practice, private searches, private conversations, private property, and private medical records all of which require you to get a warrant if you want to see in them. Keep the light out of my life! I love the darkness!
And it started when I got my own room.
John writes at a time and place where people had no privacy. Almost none at all. Going to the bathroom to eliminate waste or wash up was barely private if that. Probably the best you would hope for is that if you were a girl, you shared the space at a time when only girls were allowed around, and likewise for boys. If you wanted any more privacy than that, you had to be very wealthy and powerful, a king or a noble in the court.
Think of it. Quite literally everything you do, talk about, and think, is known to others around you in that world. When you have personal privacy, you punch out a bubble within God’s good creation for yourself where you selfishly order (almost create) a world to suit yourself. And of course, you hide your wicked ways there!
Peasants live in single room huts that function as gathering places for eating and sleeping. If you got a bath, you likely share it (taking turns) with all your brothers and sisters. Your sex life, with the possible exception of your honeymoon, would be the soft grunting noises under a blanket with your spouse in the same room with your sleeping family where you eat the next day. (Just imagine how tame the average sex life is naturally in that world!) Imagine how tame your sexual imagination is in that world with no TV or internet or magazine racks in checkout stands!
Imagine how important the things other people think about you, especially your parents and siblings, are in that world of light as opposed to this world of darkness! Imagine practically never THINKING FOR YOURSELF, certainly not before thinking of others. You don’t run around being YOURSELF or finding yourself.
Imagine LOVE in that world. Imagine pretty much everyone in the house, the village, and maybe even the region, having your back in case of some accusation simply because they KNOW you or your family or the townsfolk from which you come. Imagine your own interests being communal as well as being your own.
How would you manage personal privacy in that world?
Do you think you might want to love the light?
You can certainly see how, in that world, if you want to have your little squeeze on the side (say a favorite sodomite down at the local pagan temple), you would be giving yourself over to the darkness. You would have to work hard at protecting your darkness to keep your wicked deeds hidden.
Well, when you shed light on LIGHT, you kinda begin to see where all the fuss about privacy rights is really coming from, and it ain’t trust.
I look around America today, and I don’t see much love or trust. And the “Christian nationalists” are definitely not helping. In fact, my church for the last five generations (at least) has colluded quite openly with the problem of loving darkness and hating light.
I had help getting lost in the darkness. I had help learning to love darkness and hating light. I still do. I need help learning to love the light, and I hope my church will learn to love the light and share it with the world.