Many years ago, while speaking at the Indianapolis Commercial Club, an entertainer named Harry Lauder shared, “Some years ago I was sitting at dusk at the window of a house in Scotland, so situated that it commanded the view of an entire street of the city. Suddenly there came out from the alleyway near the house a man with a lighted torch on the end of a stick. Going to a lamppost nearby he thrust the torch to the nozzle of the gas-jet which immediately burst into light. He then went to the next post, about the middle of the square where the flame from the little torch awakened another blaze of light. I sat there watching that lamplighter as he pursued his task, and long after his form became indistinguishable, I could trace his movements by the lamps he lighted and the long trail of light that he left behind him.”
Then he added, “Your business and mine, my friends, is to so live that after our personalities have become lost in the shadows, we shall leave behind us a trail of light that will guide the steps of those who otherwise may walk in darkness.”
Philippians 2:14-15 makes a similar appeal: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.”
Here’s the issue: We live in a world that is darkened by fear, despair, discontent, strife, conflict, corruption, malice, cruelty and hatred. People respond to this darkness by complaining and arguing, by cheating and lying. They respond with gossip and slander, with dishonesty and impurity, with hatred and prejudice, and with increasing levels of hostility and conflict.
These responses are natural reactions to the darkness that surrounds us, but such responses do nothing to dispel the darkness. They only add to it.
Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out, “The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate…Returning violence for violence multiples violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”
So how do we fight darkness?
One evening, when Robert Lewis Stevenson was 12 years of age, his governess walked into his room and saw him staring out the window, watching a man light the streetlamps along the road. When the governess asked young Stevenson what he was doing, he replied, “I am watching a man cut holes in the darkness.”
The way for us to fight darkness is by cutting holes in it through everyday acts of love and goodness. By living with others (as Philippians 2:14-15 counsels) without complaining or arguing, while dealing with others with honesty, integrity, and fairness.
Mother Teresa once shared, “We cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” If we follow this advice, we will cut many a hole into the darkness and will light the world for many people! .■
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.