WHERE DID YOUR FEAR OF THE DARK BEGIN? For most, the fear of the dark begins at a young age. Unless it is dealt with quickly, it will usually last into adulthood. One particularly strange thing about this fear is its prevalence—every person has dealt with it at some point. Perhaps you are like little Timmy, and your fear of the dark began at bedtime…
After a long day of playing outside in the sunshine—burning ants with magnifying glasses, wrestling with his older brother in the hot summer sun, and searching for hidden treasure in the woods—it was finally time for Timmy to go to bed. Although Timmy was exhausted from his day’s activities, he seemed hesitant to go to sleep. “What if there are monsters underneath my bed?” Timmy asked his mother, insisting that she check before she leaves the bedroom. “No monsters here!” she exclaimed, after glancing underneath the bedframe. “And if there are, you will always have Sir Flufflesworth with you to protect you,” she said, placing Timmy’s favorite stuffed animal by the side of his bed, to keep monsters from crawling out from underneath. This put Timmy somewhat at ease, although he was still less than excited about his mother leaving the room. His mother gave him a kiss on the cheek, turned off the lights, and quietly began to close the bedroom door.
At that very moment when the door gently tapped the doorframe, the entire room transformed into a chasm of countless hidden horrors. Immediately, images of disfigured demonic faces began to appear in the darkest corners of the room. The unknown expanse underneath Timmy’s bed seemed to him like a deep, dark cave, in which countless monstrosities lay. Black fire seemed to blast through the edges of the closet door, as if it had become the very gate of Hades, and the war cry of all of Hell’s legions boomed throughout the still room.
With the ferocity and speed of an animal being chased as prey, as if to save his life from whatever terrifying beasts surrounded him, Timmy rushed out of his bed and reached for the light switch. Upon turning on the lights, Timmy quickly realized that there were no monsters in his room. The corners of the room were empty, beside his bed was his favorite stuffed animal, and his closet was just a closet.
Albeit exaggerated, does this scenario seem familiar? Whether it be the chill running down our spines that causes us to run faster up the stairs when the lights are off or a paralyzing terror preventing us from sleeping without a nightlight, we have all experienced the same problem. The fear of the dark is a part of human nature, and is something that every person struggles with at some point in their lives. Usually, we brush it off as childish, and are quick to rebuke people who still have it. We give people a cliché speech about “facing our fears” and never give it a second thought.
God has given us a fear of the dark as a symbol to remind us of the spiritual realities around us, to warn us about the terrible punishment we have earned for ourselves in Hell, and, ultimately, to point us to our great need of Him.
But, why do we fear the dark? Certainly, there is a natural explanation; by instinct, we fear the dark because it is unknown. God has given us a natural self-preserving fear of the unknown because the unknown can be dangerous. However, there is much more to the fear of the dark than mere instinct. If our fear of the dark is simply instinctual to protect us from predators, then why do we not see leopards, snakes, and other natural things when the lights are off? Why do we so often see ghosts, monsters, and demons? If our fear was simply a natural fear, then why do we so often hallucinate the supernatural? Apart from demons, which certainly do exist, ghosts and monsters aren’t even real! It is absolutely nonsensical for us to have a built-in fight-or-flight reflex to nonexistent dangers. Perhaps, then, there is more to this God-given fear than we typically recognize. God has given us a fear of the dark as a symbol to remind us of the spiritual realities around us, to warn us about the terrible punishment we have earned for ourselves in Hell, and, ultimately, to point us to our great need of Him.
The Spiritual Realities Around Us
Whether we are quick to acknowledge it or not, there is a battle being waged around us at all times that our senses cannot perceive. There are so many references in Scripture to an invisible spiritual realm around us that it is absurd to deny it. To reject outright the existence of demons and other spiritual realities is not only unbiblical, but it is also dangerous. There is much that we do not know about demons, and because of this, many of us refuse to talk about or even think about them—we are overly fearful of delving into speculation, and because of this, we discard a part of Scripture that was written for a reason. I am not suggesting that we need to go out exorcising demons by sprinkling people with holy water. What I am suggesting, however, is that we need to recognize the importance of the Bible’s teachings about demons, rather than ignoring them.
The fact of the matter is that the Bible affirms the existence of demons. If it was perfectly right for us to live as we do now, practically denying their existence by refusing to acknowledge them, then why are they mentioned in Scripture? God mentions demons in His Word because there is something important about them that we need to know as we seek to live our lives for His glory.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 NASB).
As I will explain later, the darkness symbolically represents separation from God’s light. Those who are in rebellion against God are, therefore, creatures who reside in the domain of darkness. The Lord has given us a fear of monsters in the dark to remind us of the greater spiritual reality that there are beings all around us who belong to the Kingdom of Darkness that wish to do us harm. Now, in reality, we are no less threatened by these beings in midday than we are at midnight. However, us being afraid of the dark rather than the light still serves a symbolic purpose—the fear of the dark teaches us to be wary of beings who flee from God’s light.
It is an odd statement to say that we are still in danger of the powers of darkness when we stand in the sunshine. One would think that forces of darkness would lose their power when exposed to the light. This truth is more clearly understood in light of a fuller understanding of what it means to be in darkness. The demons do not necessarily reside in physical darkness, but rather, spiritual darkness. Their deeds, being deeds of darkness, primarily go unseen and unnoticed. In other words, the work of demons that we ought to be afraid of is not possession or physical manifestation. We ought not fear demons ripping us to shreds in our sleep, although they are certainly powerful enough to do that! We should not fear what they can do to our bodies, but instead, what they can do to our souls.
Now, God is the only one who truly can destroy our souls. It is God who casts people into Hell, not demons. It is a common misconception that demons are the rulers of Hell. In truth, they will suffer alongside the damned! However, the demons still possess a terrifying power to tempt us into sin. Of course, they do not force us into sin—we can do that perfectly fine on our own. Demons do not force us into sin, or else they would be the ones responsible, and not us. If a demon tempts me and I sin, it is still my fault for doing something I already wanted to do deep down in my rebellious heart.
When we see demons, we do not see spade-tailed, pitchfork-wielding monsters. Instead, we see demons every day in the form of scantily clad models on billboards, the urge to cheat on our school assignments, and the impulse to scream at people who get on our nerves.
However, that is what is so terrifying about demons that we must be perpetually aware of—they know what our sinful hearts want, and they are constantly prodding us into pursuing it. We see the work of demons every day, and we never even realize it. When we see demons, we do not see spade-tailed, pitchfork-wielding monsters. Instead, we see demons every day in the form of scantily clad models on billboards, the urge to cheat on our school assignments, and the impulse to scream at people who get on our nerves.
How, then, do we fight against the powers of darkness? Ephesians 6:11 makes it very clear; “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” I will not quote the passage at length, but Ephesians 6:14-17 explains that the full armor of God is the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shin guards of the gospel, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit.
There is not much benefit in delving too deeply into the semantics of each piece of armor. Essentially, we can split our spiritual battle-gear into two parts—armor and weaponry. To protect us against the powers of darkness, we must gird ourselves with integrity, guard our hearts with blameless living, walk in the peace of the gospel, have assurance in our salvation, and respond to temptation with faith in God’s protection. For actual attack, we need only one weapon—the sword of the Spirit. All of our armor is worthless if we do not have a means of defeating our enemies. Thankfully, as Christians, we have in our hands the only blade sharp enough to pierce through demon scales. As we battle against temptation and the forces of darkness, we can stand with confidence, knowing that our victory is assured by the edge of our Sword, which is the Holy Spirit working within us through His Word. We learn from this passage that we fight sin before temptation comes by walking in integrity and actively pursuing a righteous life. When temptation comes, we defend against it with faith in the strength of our Shield, and we fight against it with prayerful study of the Scriptures.
The fear of the dark is a gift from God, which reminds us of the greater spiritual realities around us. The fear we have when we cannot find the light switch is a call for us to stand on guard, ready to battle against the forces of darkness whenever they attack. Fear all deeds done in darkness, and flee toward the Light!
Our Terrible Punishment
“This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-20 NASB).
We are creatures of shadow who are born into a world covered in spiritual darkness. A man who lives his entire life alone in a pitch-black cave will cower and hiss when exposed to the sunlight. Likewise, we, who are born into the darkness of a sin-shrouded world, hate the light of the Son. God has given us all a natural fear of the shadows to teach us a lesson about what we ought to fear much, much more. We must fear both the darkness within our souls and its inevitable result.
The darkness inside our own hearts is much more terrifying than whatever physical darkness may surround us. First and foremost, we ought to fear sin because God, whom we were created to serve and worship, hates it. It is our sinful nature to adore the things that God abhors, and that is a frightening truth. That we would so openly rebel against the almighty God of the universe is simultaneously astonishing and disturbing.
As we fear losing our lives at the hands of hidden demons in the dark, we are reminded of the fact that a much greater horror exists within us: Demons may destroy our bodies, but the sin within us will eventually destroy our souls. It is absurd for us to fear the darkness outside of us, which can only kill the outer man, more than the darkness inside of us, which leads to the death of the inner man! The God-given fear we have of a dimly lit room is, in a way, a mockery of our lack of fear of the darkness of sin and the Outer Darkness it inevitably leads to.
“I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12 NASB).
One of the harshest realities of Hell is that it is, by and large, what our sinful souls have sought for all along.
Alongside the corruption we carry within us is a condemnation; because of our iniquities, we are doomed to face the second death. The darkness within our hearts will one day find its true home as we, alongside it, are cast into the outer darkness of Hell. Being born in sin, we are creatures of shadow, and in shadow we shall remain! In our sin, we separate ourselves from God’s light. One of the harshest realities of Hell is that it is, by and large, what our sinful souls have sought for all along.
As aforementioned, we are creatures of darkness who love the darkness and hate the light. We love sin and hate God. Our natural desire, whether we realize it or not, is to be separated from God. In our sin, we want absolutely nothing to do with God. Hell is eternal suffering not merely because of the physical pain of being there, but primarily, because it is the full realization of the self-destruction we have been running headlong into our entire lives.
As human beings, we were created to exist in eternal loving communion with God. Hell hurts because it is a hopeless irreversible experience of the separation from God we have been seeking for all along. Hell hurts because what we seek and what we earn is the complete opposite of what we were created for. There is no joy in Hell because we are forever separated from the source of all joy and fulfillment. We are doomed in our sin to exist for all eternity in a state of immense pain, loss, fear, shame, and sorrow. Hell is truly a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The anguish and fear you feel when the lights are off is an image of the weeping and gnashing of teeth that will occur in the outer darkness of Hell. The fear of the dark is a blessing from God, because it teaches us to fear sin, which is the active pursuit of separation from God. Also, the fear of the dark teaches us to fear Hell, which is final separation from God’s light.
Our Great Need of Him
“To open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18 NASB).
The darkness forces us to seek the light. The fear of the dark puts us in a frenzy; our hearts beat faster, our hands search with great urgency for something to hold onto, and we naturally gravitate toward any possible light source. The quickness with which we reach for the light switch points to a deep inward need for the Light of God. Our hearts are darkened, and we live in a world of shadows, corrupted by sin. We are creatures of darkness who were born in darkness, and the only thing that can save us is the Light of the World. We need the light of the gospel to illumine our hearts, casting out the shadow of sin and rescuing us from the Outer Darkness to come.
The quickness with which we seek the light points to mankind’s great need of the Light, and reminds us of our responsibility to point others to Christ.
As those who have been saved through faith in Christ, we have now been called to act as Christ’s representatives to the world. We are to be salt and light, after all. That is our great mission—to go out and be lights in the darkness of this present world, pointing to the greater Light of the World, so that fellow creatures of shadow may be saved from the domain of darkness and added into God’s Kingdom. The quickness with which we seek the light points to mankind’s great need of the Light, and reminds us of our responsibility to point others to Christ.
The light always conquers the darkness—that is our great hope. One day, the Light of the World will conquer the domain of darkness, and we will be surrounded in His marvelous light for all eternity. Whenever we are afraid of the dark, we can find rest and peace in knowing that the domain of darkness which we ultimately fear, will one day be completely vanquished. We can rest easy as we look forward to God’s great Kingdom of Light, in which there will be no sorrow, pain, or fear. When we are afraid in the dark, let us lift up our voices in praise of the Light of the World. When Christ is with us, we can find comfort in the midst of any shadow, as if it were brighter than the day! “And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it” (Revelation 21:23-24 NASB).