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
There is a rising tide of support for “dark fiction” among Christian readers and writers. One of the most popular arguments in its favor goes like this: As Christians it is our duty to face the darkness and show the ghastliness of evil; in doing so we will help people understand the darkness of this fallen world and awaken them to a need and desire for redemption.
And this has worked for some people. They recognize the existence of evil and then, working backward, the existence of good. Sometimes they follow the trail all the way back to God. As C. S. Lewis said, we wouldn’t know our line was crooked unless somewhere there was a straight one.
What startles me is how blithely some “dark art” defendants pass from We need to face evil to Let’s break out the horror novels! It’s like having someone try to argue you into walking to the grocery store by irrefutably proving that you need milk. Well, okay. But why not take the car?
Exploring the darkness is not the only way to understand it – nor, for my money, 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 do. 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!”
When Jesus showed His divine power in giving the fishermen a miraculous catch of fish, Peter pleaded with Him, “Go away from me, Lord; I am sinful man!”
When Job heard God proclaiming 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.