I remember years ago talking with a college student about the book of Ecclesiastes and how he thought it was a bizarre book to have in the Bible. It seemed to him to espouse a sort of despair that did not align well with the sort of expectations he had received from his Christian upbringing. It seemed to even give bad advice at times or show you precisely what not to think and do. 

What should we make of a book in the Bible that espouses a sort of despair?

There are other times we come across things in the Bible that are not happy stories or they deal with the deep the emotion and darkness of the human experience. Recently our church has been traveling through the Book of Judges and there are some crazy dark realities on display in the narratives of this book. As you read through its pages the cycles get worse and worse until the end…and then it just gets crazy. I do think that many Christians would rather not read stories that have things like rape, abuse, murder and dismemberment that we find in Judges 19. We like the promises and positivity of passages like Jeremiah 29:11, the 23rd Psalm, Matthew 11:28-30, Romans 8:1 and Lamentations 3:22-24. Read them today and you’ll find some fantastic and encouraging stuff.

Yet to really grasp the joy of knowing a sovereign God, who is our good shepherd, who guides and gives rest and who sets us free in his steadfast love, we must first know the dark condition of our hearts and our world. When we see true the nature of life and human history something happens to us. We see that this world is not a perfect place, that the world is deeply broken and that you and I are flawed and in desperate need of change. We know our need of encouragement, joy and hope precisely because of the reality of the darkness of life. The reality of sin, God’s right judgment and suffering all are things we must know well in order to understand what it even means to be saved. Consider this passage in Romans chapter 8:

 [18] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:18-21 (ESV)

There is hope because the present chaos and suffering is not the end of the story! In Christ, there is salvation and glory ahead for all of God’s people! When we look at the darker passages of the Bible we will learn that we desperately need the light and wisdom of Christ. The apostle Paul teaches us this in Ephesians chapter 5:

[3] But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. [4] Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. [5] For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. [6] Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. [7] Therefore do not become partners with them; [8] for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light [9] (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), [10] and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. [11] Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. [12] For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. [13] But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, [14] for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” [15] Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, [16] making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:3-16 ESV)

We have to look into the darkness to desperately see our need of the light. We have to first understand lostness to understand salvation. We have to look at sin and wickedness to understand the grace of Jesus

Why do we need to look at the darker sides of the Bible? Books like Ecclesiastes make us stare at the meaninglessness and vanity of this life apart from God and his purposes. What would life be like if it were lived fully apart from God? Listen to the preacher in Ecclesiastes for a bit and he will show you.

The tales from the Book of Judges would make for some wild graphic novels and even some zombie genre, horror films. Why read that? Well, it will help us to see what life is like when God is not King. It is not a pretty picture in any way.

Though we might rather just have a happy, coffee cup verse of the day, God in his wisdom only gives such hope and encouragement in the context of our fallen reality. We must learn from the deep darkness of the human condition that’s descriptively on display in the Bible. We must see the darkness of our own hearts and come to Jesus, the light of the world. In a world where everyone is doing what is “right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6) we have the privilege to follow a different path where Christ is our King.

So I encourage you to pick up the Book of Judges today. Take and read; hear and see a world gone mad. Then snap awake to see Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who endured such sin and darkness on our behalf that we might be free. Free to follow him and live in the light of his wisdom and glory both now and into eternity.

How does God's Word impact our prayers?

God invites His children to talk with Him, yet our prayers often become repetitive and stale. How do we have a real conversation with God? How do we come to know Him so that we may pray for His will as our own?

In the Bible, God speaks to us as His children and gives us words for prayer—to praise Him, confess our sins, and request His help in our lives.

We’re giving away a free eBook copy of Praying the Bible, where Donald S. Whitney offers practical insight to help Christians talk to God with the words of Scripture.