A Christian funeral can be an act of beauty or a lesson in bad theology.
It seems to be at funerals where we offer some of our cheapest theology in an effort to ease some temporary pain.
Yet these words often have long lasting and damaging effects in regard to our understanding of God’s control, will and power, for example.
I attended a funeral this week that included a dramatic solo that centered on this line: “There will be no more night.” To be entirely fair to the song, it does come from a line of Scripture in the book of Revelation.
We should be very cautious using this text literally because literal interpretations have done us great harm – one of the casualties being how we perceive and experience the night.
I don’t understand the reputation that night has gotten in some segments of the Christian faith. Night seems to imply death, darkness, pain, suffering and, at times, even evil.
Way back when we made those salvation bead bracelets, sin and death were always the black bead, signaling that we see dark as the enemy and night as dangerous.
Despite these perceptions, a great deal of my faith could be labeled “nighttime theology.”
My ever-present faith is only because of my ever-present doubt. I hold as many statements about God in my heart that end in periods as that end in question marks. Thus, I have a very different stance on night and darkness.
I love nights, especially the dark nights of our current season. It’s at nighttime that we are driven away from the work we slave away at all day and are forced to rest. It’s at night when we curl up on the sofa and get lost in a good book.
At night, we sit around the table with food and enjoy simple conversation. At night, we sleep and we allow our bodies to rest, heal and revive. It’s in the middle of night where we dream. Nighttime revives us.
The night is also prominent in the biblical narratives, as many significant events take place after dark.
In the middle of the night, under a very starry sky, God offered Abraham a promise that changed the very course of human history. Jacob encountered God in the middle of a dream.
The Psalmist writes that God’s song is present all night, and it’s at night when Jesus is born into this world. The very act of incarnation begins in the middle of the night.
Nicodemus’ faith has a nighttime birth, Jesus walks on the water during the fourth watch of night, and the women come to the tomb in the light of the morning and Jesus is already risen. Thus, the resurrection seems to happen in the middle of the night.
Paul’s faith begins with an extended period of darkness and night, and many of his earliest letters are written in the dark of prison cells.
Similarly, much of our faith comes from darkness, as many important lessons are learned during some of the darkest moments we experience.
For example, we often learn more about God’s presence when we walk through the very valley of the shadow of death. We see the peace and power of God during times of brokenness, and we find God in the times of unknowing.
Our waiting in the night is often a great gift. Thus, we are entirely unfair to night and darkness.
It’s time to redeem the night, to claim the gifts we have learned in the darkness, to claim the rest and renewal night gives us, to be inspired by all God has done in the nights, and to see how often God is present in the dark.
As our days grow shorter and our nights grow longer, I am going to love the night and cherish it for the God-given gift it is. I am going to rest in it and dream sacred dreams in it.
I am going to pause, reflect and be revived by the night. And I am going to see that God is as ever present in the nighttime as God is in the daytime.
Griff Martin is co-pastor of University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La.