A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume.
   And the day you die is better than the day you are born.
Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
   After all, everyone dies—
   so the living should take this to heart.
Sorrow is better than laughter,
   for sadness has a refining influence on us.
A wise person thinks a lot about death,
   while a fool thinks only about having a good time.
(Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 NLT)

Darkness. Is it a threat, a danger, something to be avoided? Darkness represents the parts of our lives that hide in the shadows, in secret places we don’t want to reveal. It also represents the harsh and painful realities of human callousness and cruelty, and it can evoke the surreal and frightening world of the supernatural and the bleak fact of death.

This association of darkness with evil, suffering, rage, and hopelessness is why many people find themselves worried when artists, musicians, and pop culture icons embrace dark aesthetics and imagery. Most recently, the success of Billie Eilish has been a talking point among parents - wondering how their children can be drawn to some of the dark themes expressed in the young singer’s music and videos. Some people think this expression of darkness deepens and exacerbates the struggles that younger generations have with depression and anxiety.

But is that the whole picture, or is there more to it than that?

Strangely, some adults seem to forget their own teenage years. Whether it’s Lil Uzi Vert in 2017 saying that all his friends are dead, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain screaming out his angst in 1993, Black Sabbath decrying the horrors of war in 1970, or B.B. King in 1969 crying out through heartbreak that “the thrill is gone,” every generation within recent memory has seen people using art to express and cope with their dark feelings.

But human fascination with darkness is not a new or modern thing. It’s an ancient thing. And it’s not necessarily inherently evil either. Even the Bible is filled with artistic expressions of darkness. For example, in various stories we see people grieving and mourning in very extreme and striking ways - ripping apart their clothing and pouring ashes on themselves. It's easy to skip over lines like that when reading Bible stories, but just imagine what it would be like to see people walking around for days in rough burlap fabric, weeping and screaming while being covered in ashes and soot. Most Halloween parties wouldn't measure up to how unsettling that would be.

The book of Lamentations is a collection of dark poetry describing the despair of the people of Israel after the destruction of Jerusalem, and the book of Psalms has a bit of a reputation for containing some dark and even violent content.

Psalm 88 is a good example. It’s the darkest Psalm in the Bible. Line after line communicates the experience of despair.

For my soul is full of troubles,
   and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
   I am a man who has no strength,
like one set loose among the dead,
   like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
   for they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
   in the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
   and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
(Psalm 88:3-7 ESV)

It’s more than a little bit emo - it’s downright hopeless. In fact, unlike other similar songs in the Bible, this one ends without any hopeful resolution. The very last line is exceptionally close to Simon & Garfunkel’s famous line “hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.”

What many modern Christians often fail to acknowledge is that life is not always sunshine and roses. Pain, suffering, and sadness are real, and those feelings need space to breathe. Artist pieces like Psalm 88 show us that there is room for spiritual people to feel their own darkness and to show their darkest feelings to each other and to God. For any generation facing confusing and disorienting feelings, sometimes the most helpful thing is finding words to make that pain clear and expressible, so that it can be released and we can move forward.

The God of the Bible wants to be the kind of friend who hears us in our darkness. Even in the darkest place, if you look, you can find him there.


  • There are many passages in the Bible that deal with dark and violent themes, and understandably these are often the passages that people find the most uncomfortable to deal with. Read the following poetic passages and answer the reflection questions for yourself:
    • Read Psalm 88 in its entirety. What moments in this Psalm can you relate to emotionally? Have you ever felt similar emotions?
      • What questions does this Psalm raise about things like unanswered prayer, or the silence of God?
    • Read Ecclesiastes 7:1-4. Have you ever heard someone give you advice that sounds like this? Has a pastor or leader in your church ever expressed this sentiment? What do you think it means? How, if at all, would you apply this idea in your own life? Do you think there are limits to how much someone can apply this attitude to their life?
      • What do you think verse 3 means? Try reading it in different translations. How could sadness have a refining effect, or make someone's heart glad?
      • Compare what you read here with Psalm 126. How does this Psalm describe a transition from sorrow to joy? How might this kind of transition play out in our own lives?
    • Psalm 137 is another one of the darkest and most disturbing Psalms. Read through it, and be prepared for a shocking and disturbing ending.
      • If this Psalm is supposed to be a worship song to God, why is it so dark and violent? What does the context implied by the Psalm tell us about the situation that the author is in? What happened to make them so angry?
      • What does this tell you about expressing your own anger and dark thoughts to God in prayer and song?
  • Let's look at the book of Lamentations. This will require a lot of reading, the poetry in this book is beautiful and well-composed, so it should be a worthwhile experience:
    • Read Lamentations 1. What is the situation here? What happened to Israel? Which lines in this chapter do you find the most provocation, the most dark, the most painful? Do you see a moral lesson or a warning in this chapter?
    • Read Lamentations 2. Even though the author here clearly believes in God, do you notice how he refers to God as being like an enemy several times? What do you think of the way God is seemingly blamed for his people's troubles in this passage? How is this blame part of "The Word of God" for us?
    • Compare the way the poet seems to simultaneously lay the blame on God and on false prophets. Do you think this reflects a theological claim - that God is as bad as false prophets - or is it just the raw, disjointed emotional thoughts of someone who finds their current situation confusing and upsetting?
    • Have you ever heard any church/Christian songs like this? Why do you think it is uncommon for Christians to write things like this?
    • Read Lamentations 3. Notice the change in person - the author is no longer speaking in 3rd person about the city or other people, but now reflects on their own experience, saying "me" and "I."
    • What surprising change of tone comes between verses 19 and 33? Note that this is the very center point of the whole poem/book.
    • Notice how in verses 30-45, the tone of the poem gradually starts to shift from positive themes back into incresingly negative and dark tones, which will continue on until the end of the book. Why put the positive emotional resolution in the middle of chapter 3, only to return to darkness, rather than saving the positive turn to the end of chapter 5? Why go back to the sadness?
    • Read the rest of Lamentations 4-5. Even though it is still very dark, does it seem that the author is now struggling back and forth between despair and hope?
    • How does the poem seem to end? Would you consider it a positive or negative ending? Why not have a clearer resolution to the poem? Why not end on a more obviously hopeful note? What do you think is the benefit in writing (and having) a book like this? Would you or have you ever had to pray to God in a way that reflects the emotional tone of Lamentations?

Now let's look at some narratives in the Bible and see what emotional effect they have while we read them.

  • Read the story of Ehud in Judges 3:12-30. What do you notice about the pacing of the story between verses 15 and 23? What moment does the text slow down for to show details?
    * Note that there is quite a bit of travel that Ehud does, between (presumably) the capital of Moab and various places in Israel - meaning that he may have had to cross the Jordan river a couple times. The text does not draw attention to this, but rather to Ehud's actions in the King's palace.
    * If the Moabites had been oppressing the Israelites for 18 years, why would an Israelite storyteller focus in and slow down the pace of the story when Eglon, king of Moab, is killed?
    • Read - if you have the stomach for it - Judges 19-21. WARNING: These are, possibly, some of the most incredibly violent and disturbing chapters anywhere in the entire Bible. The story doesn't really reach a resolution until we get to the book of Ruth.
      • Does the Bible give any hint that God approved of what was going on? What do you think of God's involvement in chapter 20? How does this compare to his involvement in chapter 21? Do you think there's a reason why God chose to engage with the Israelites and give them instructions in one part of this situation, but not in another? What do you make of the Israelites "vows" that they made, and the un-ethical decisions that came from those vows? Does that seem like something God wanted?

If you made it through all of that, we congratulate you on your determination. It's probably best if you take these passages in a little bit at a time, because they can be quite overwhelming. Keep in mind that this isn't the only side of the Bible or God's character. God is full of love, light, compassion, and gentleness, and the ultimate picture we have of what God is really like is Jesus himself, who came to confront and resolve all the darkness in the world.

Unfortunately, we often tend to simply overlook or downplay the reality of darkness in our lives as Christians, and this is unfortunate. Even the greatest demonstration of the love and compassion of God for all of us came during a moment of darkness and gruesome pain - the crucifixion of Christ. Take heart - there is a lot of darkness, but Jesus is and always will be the light within it.

If you find yourself concerned about the amount of violence described in some of the passages above, please take a look at this video from Ten Minute Bible Hour. It's a helpful introduction to that very topic.


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