Michael, who is 36, now often refers to gay life as a kind of cave … Had Michael been secretly unhappy as a gay man, and was he now projecting that onto all gay-identified people? I broached the question later that night at his small off-campus apartment, where we sat in his barren kitchen eating Oreo cookies. “Well, you can’t see how dark it is in a cave when you’re in it,” he said. Benoit Denizet-Lewis, “My Ex-Gay Friend,” The New York Times
One of the most popular arguments for horror, in Christian circles, goes like this: In this fallen world, we need to face the darkness and confront the reality and horror of evil; we must not look away.
This argument has long bemused me, the way it is always bemusing when people insist on facts that, while incontestably true, are of no great relevance to the conclusion being drawn. I can never track the intellectual leap between We need to face evil and Let’s break out the horror novels! Why must the first lead to the second? Personally, I can’t even glance at the headlines without facing the reality of evil.
The news, like history, is an ever-renewing pattern of tragedies and atrocities, and awful cruelties at home and abroad. To the extent that humanity stands in need of an education in evil, it’s not because we lack exposure to it. It’s because, in the cave, it’s hard to see how dark it is.
And to see, you need … light.
Some people, I know, work backward – recognizing first the existence of evil, and then the existence of good, and finally following the trail all the way back to God. But exploring the darkness is not the only way to understand it; it’s not even the best way. If you want to know what darkness is, your best object of study is the light.
George MacDonald once said that only God knows and hates evil. I am sure beyond all doubt that God hates evil more than I do, more than any of us does. And it’s not because He has seen more of it – because He has, if I may dare the analogy, been reading horror while the rest of us have been reading prairie romance. The heart of it is not that God knows more than we do, although He does. It’s that He’s better than we are.
Only God fully knows evil because only He fully knows goodness. No one, Jesus said, is good except God alone – the everlasting burning with whom sinners cannot dwell. (Isaiah 33) The Bible shows us again and again God’s anger against sin, His implacable hatred of evil. The key to understanding it is His holiness.
Nothing more clearly exposes the nature of darkness than the light. When Isaiah saw a vision of God, he lamented, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!”
After Job heard God proclaim who He was, his confidence in his righteousness was finally broken and he confessed, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
As C. S. Lewis wrote, “You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. … You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil; bad people do not know about either.”
If we know God, we will know ourselves. If we know what goodness is, we will know what evil is. The light will give definition to the darkness.
This is the safest, truest path to revelation. The backward path remains, and many people have followed it to the truth. The debate about darkness in fiction is worth having. But the indisputable point that darkness is a reality to be faced is not the end of the debate; it is the beginning.