In the Old Testament, darkness, cloud or smoke are often references to the Presence of God. Probably the most famous example is Moses’ experience on the mountain when he enters into the “thick darkness where God was” (Ex 20:21). There is also Isaiah’s vision of heaven “filled with smoke” (Is. 6:4). And there are many more. Darkness, cloud and smoke, all of these obstruct our natural sight and thus they are appropriate images for the encounter with God. This is because God cannot be perceived through the means by which we perceive created things. But what about light, which is a dominant image for the encounter with God in the New Testament. Gregory of Nyssa and many other Orthodox fathers have noted that light also blinds us. Whether we enter into deep darkness or light as bright as the sun, the result is the same: we cannot see.
St. Paul in Romans chapter eight speaks of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts, by whom we cry out to God, “Abba, Father.” By the Holy Spirit we are heirs and children of God and joint heirs with Christ, “if indeed we suffer with Him.” St. Paul goes on to describe this suffering as a groaning because of the futility to which the creation has been subjected until the “revealing of the sons of God.”
I would like to suggest that the darkness, or very bright light if you like, of our experience with God is often experienced as an overwhelming awareness of the futility of created things. We simply cannot see the use, the value, the fruit, the end. All we see is futility. This too is the thick darkness. In fact, St. Paul goes on to say that this very groaning within ourselves is part of the first fruits of the Spirit: it is the hope in which we were saved.
The very nature of hope is exactly this: hope is not seen. Hope, true hope, requires of us that we eagerly wait with perseverance for what we know in our hearts but cannot yet see.
And what is St. Paul’s next word (in v. 26)? “The Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses.” The very groaning within ourselves, the groaning produced by our inability to escape the futility of all that surrounds us, this groaning of the Spirit within us is itself the intercession of the Holy Spirit.
This is a large part of our sharing in the sufferings of Christ. This is the thick darkness where God dwells. This is the crucifixion of our minds, our wills, our senses and sensibilities. This is where faith is faith indeed, where obedience is tested, where the knife is lifted, where we are girded by others and carried were we do not wish to go (c.f. Jn. 21:18).
Stripped of concepts, theories and systems by the awareness of their futility, we gently cry out Abba.