Nightmares: Afraid of the dark

by | Aug 1, 2021

Cyndi and I invested in a trail cam this summer. Some creature was eating the tops of our pole beans, leaving a few stubs with little hope for a future harvest. And our lettuce becomes a salad bar while we’re not watching. We suspect that at night our garden became an all-night buffet for a variety of nocturnal creatures.

Pests are the subjects of nightmares for most farmers. Investments in soil, seed, water, and labor nourish various hungry insects and other life-forms in search of a meal. I disagree that deadly chemicals are the solution, but I can appreciate the desperation that leads to their use.

Our trail cam can see in the dark. At least somewhat. The images are void of the color that gets recorded during the day. Nevertheless, it is impressive to experience the progress made by engineers in lighting up the dark without actually lighting up the darkness, which would send the nocturnal creatures into a tizzy.

Unlike our nocturnal friends that share our garden harvest, humans seem to struggle in the dark. Actually, all creatures require light to see. Sight comes from an interaction of light, eyes, and brain when light bounces off an object and reaches our eyes.

The challenges of night vision contribute to the plethora of metaphors and beliefs about light versus darkness. Since we need light to see and without sight, we run into things and get lost. Therefore, light must be good and darkness less so. Yet, we know there must be more to the story.

A recent article published by MLive shared the story of Bradly Rainwater, who was born blind. Despite her inability to see in light or dark, Bradly is a pole-vaulter. A sport that those of us with sight thought required seeing. Yet humans frequently find ways to get places in the dark.

According to sources I found through Google, Thomas Hubbard Sumner opened up the world of celestial navigation in 1837. Finding our way when we can’t see the whole picture has progressed a lot since his discovery. Even my watch helps me to find my way without sight. So why are so many of us afraid of the dark?

I suspect that fear of the dark is taught from an early age. Perhaps not so much the panic that sets in when we’re void of reference points. This may be innate. But the fear of what lies in waiting when light is scarce or non-existent takes training.

Likewise, finding our way in the dark also takes practice and perhaps a bit of unlearning. In some cases, we need to unlearn whatever caused the fear that hinders our motion when we can’t see ahead of us.

A lot of us learned from an early age that darkness is something to avoid at all costs. Many of us are taught to fear the dark, where the temptations of sin lie in wait for us to trip over. We learn that the light of Christ overcomes this darkness, but only if we have enough faith.

In her book, Learning to Walk in the dark, Barbara Brown Taylor calls this take on interpreting scripture as “solar Christianity.” Her view comes from personal experience as a child subjected to the fear that she would surely perish unless she avoided the dark. She writes that “Spiritual darkness was like a mist that could seep under any door, [and] rise through the cracks in any floorboards.” 1

Yikes! Talk about nightmares!

Barbara describes her struggle with darkness this way: “I could not swing a stick at it or get away from it by running. My only defense was to keep the light of Christ burning brightly inside me.” She learned to fear the dark without qualification and without questioning whether darkness is ever good. Avoiding the dark by keeping a light burning at all times was exhausting.

Words translated as “dark” appear more than 250 times in scripture depending on the translation, and “night” appears almost 500 times. And powerful moments shared with us in scripture take place in the dark. One that came to mind as I read Barbara’s book is the story of Abraham.

One evening, Abraham was feeling dejected and wondering if leaving home was a big mistake. God had put a vision into Abraham’s spirit of a promising future where abundance prevailed over scarcity. But he had little to show for his trust in God’s promise.

God leads Abraham outside into the dark where the only light available was the night sky. “Look up and try to count the stars.” Of course, this was impossible since there are simply too many to count. And while some stars are clearly visible, most are faint, appearing further away. But that’s wasn’t the point God was making.

Look at the sky and try to count the stars
Genesis 15:5

God equated the vastness of the night sky to the size of the promise God made to all who trust and faithfully follow God’s guidance and provision. Abraham received his divine reassurance in the dark without a nightlight, a high-powered flashlight, street lights, or any other means for lighting up the darkness surrounding him. Abraham was not alone with his thoughts, fears, and doubts. God was also with him, even in the dark.

This month our series, Night vision, examines the contrasts of light and darkness in our culture, in scripture, and in how we understand the roles of light and dark. Our aim is to learn better how to flourish both in darker times and in the light of day. Plan to join us.

We have a new button on the homepage of our websiteClick here to watch. This button takes you to a viewer to allow you to join live or watch later in the week. We’re also live on our newly launched YouTube channel. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at

A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.

Pastor Tommy

1 Much of the content of this series is based on Barbara BrownTaylor’s book: Learning to Walk in the Dark: Because Sometimes God Shows Up at Night. New York: Harper One, 2014..

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