By, Isam Itson III
On St. Patrick’s Day, 1989, at the age of 68, my father died from complications due to early onset Alzheimer’s disease. I was glad he was no longer suffering, but I had that feeling you have when your ears are stopped up and you are walking through a crowd of people. Everyone sounds muffled and distant, even though they are standing right in front of you. I had to fight to get out of bed everyday. Two years later, as I looked forward to graduating from college, I was overwhelmed by my need for my dad’s guidance. I was looking ahead into the unknown and I had no idea what I would do after leaving school. I hated God for depriving me of my father’s love and wisdom and leaving me to fend for myself. I felt so inadequate and hopeless as I cried out to God in my anger and despair. I clearly heard God’s voice in my heart, “Isam, I am your father. I show you how to live.” In that moment my eyes were opened and the weight dropped off of my shoulders. I knew that I was not alone and that God would guide me through the dark unknown by the light of his word and the presence of his Spirit.
From that day forward I began reading the Bible primarily to get to know God. I wanted to know my heavenly father as well as I knew my earthly father. I wanted to know what God was like. His personality and character. Because we are made in God’s image. God created us to be like him. So we have to know what he is like. We have to get to know God, if we are going to truly know ourselves. And the first thing we learn about God’s personality is that he is not afraid of the dark. Genesis 1:1-2 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
That phrase, darkness was over the face of the deep, is a great description of how we feel when we are overwhelmed by loss or catastrophe. When we are in the dark we can’t orient ourselves or see the way ahead. In deep water your feet can’t touch the bottom and you can only swim or tread water for so long. You know you’re dead. It’s just a matter of time. I cannot imagine a more desperate situation than being alone in the deepest dark, adrift in the middle of a stormy sea. How often have you ever felt alone or helpless with no idea of what to do next? That’s the feeling evoked by the image of being in the dark, deep tumultuous waters of the open sea. If you have ever lost a job, received a devastating medical diagnosis, suffered the death of a loved one, or had to flee your home because of war, famine, or disaster, you know exactly what it means to feel helpless and hopeless in the dark. It is only a matter of time before your strength gives out. Disaster is inevitable.
Our hope is found in the following sentence, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Yes, we are lost in the dark, treading deep waters, but we are not alone. God is with us. He is hovering over us in our dark despair. That word hovering can also be translated as brooding, or moving gently. It can also mean to cherish. It is often used of birds gathering their young beneath them for protection and comfort. When we find ourselves in the dark and endangered, we are not alone. God himself is with us in our darkest times gathering us beneath the protection of his wise and powerful presence.
When Jesus was about to go to the cross he told his disciples that the Father would send them another comforter, the Spirit of truth, or the Holy Spirit. In John 14:15-17, Jesus encouraged them with the fact that the Holy Spirit would not just be with them, but he would actually live in them. No matter where we are or what we go through, God is there with us by virtue of his Holy Spirit who lives in us. Through our darkest days and longest nights, be at peace, God will not abandon us. Take courage. God is with you, and he is not afraid of the dark. He is getting ready to do something amazing.