Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived. – Exodus 10:21-23
Few things affect us as human beings more than being in utter darkness. In darkness we are unable to find our way, to see others, or to understand the world around us. We use it as a metaphor for not knowing what is happening, for being left out and ignored. Low points in our lives are referred to as “dark times.”
Darkness isolates. It hides. It produces questions, not answers, and it makes obstacles out of things that are easily avoided in the light. It brings with it sadness, hopelessness, and fear.
Yes, darkness can be felt.
When Moses introduces the ninth of the 10 plagues against Egypt, you get a sense of the progressive nature of God’s judgment on the Egyptians. From the nuisance of bleeding rivers and frogs to the loss of crops by locust and the physical pain of boils, there is a ramping up of suffering intended to bring Pharaoh to acquiescence. But the suffering that comes from darkness is a mental and spiritual pain that exceeds those previous punishments. It is only exceeded by the last plague—the one that brings with it the finality of death.
As we prepare for these last days of Lent, we walk with Jesus down the darkened Via Dolorosa toward Golgotha. Toward judgment. Toward darkness. We remember his arrest at night in the Garden of Gethsemane, the darkness of men’s souls as they call for His crucifixion, and are reminded of our own sins that necessitated the death of the Son of God on our behalf.
It is no coincidence that literal darkness falls on the Earth as Jesus breathes his last. The Light of the World has been extinguished. As the sins of mankind are placed on Him, Jesus calls out Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabacthani—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” He experiences on our behalf complete separation from His Father, entering into the darkness of death and the grave.
Darkness, ultimately, is defined not by what it is, but by what it lacks. Darkness is the absence of light. It is what fills the void when light is removed. And without Christ, this world is dark indeed.
As Christians, we take comfort in knowing that, as John says in his Gospel, “The Light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” We look forward to Sunday, and the celebration that comes with the Resurrection. But for now, it serves us well to spend some time with Jesus in the garden, watching and praying as darkness begins to fall. We stay close to the only true Source of light and life. We wrestle with our brokenness, and our need for a Savior. And even as the last plague of death lingers in the doorway, we cling to the promise that this “darkness we can feel” is not permanent, and that, in the end, light does overcome.