Evil takes one last hold. It takes one more shot at you. It takes one more stand, one more second to try to establish itself as the stronger story. It takes one brief moment of defiance, even when it knows it has been defeated, and it takes hold of you one last time.
Because it has to let go of you; it's been ordered to do so. But it also knows that you don't have to let go of it. Darkness wants to make sure that you can't.
Think about this father and son, the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9 that we talked about yesterday. The last, haunting memory this father has of the demon is that after Jesus spoke the healing word - after - the demon threw the boy on the ground in a violent fit. The look on his son's face, the foam from his mouth, his dead-like appearance in the seconds that follow...that's what the father remembers. That's what he sees lurking behind his son's eyes every time he looks at him. He can't help it. It feels like even in the face of Jesus, it's still possible that the demon gets one last win. The father spends the rest of his days waiting for that moment, waiting for the next fit, waiting for the demon to take one more stand in the spirit of his son. It's human nature. It's a father's nature. The father could not let go of the darkness; it remained a very real possibility to him.
And when darkness is still an option, the light doesn't look as promising.
That's the sinister trick. You cannot hold onto hope when you're holding onto darkness. Darkness grips you back and it takes everything you've got. It continues to make itself feel like the most powerful story. Or at least strong enough as a possibility that you can never wholly let it go.
There are a couple of other evil ideas floating around in here. The first is that you will not be who you have come to be without the darkness. The light will change you, and people will not know how to look at you any more. You won't know how to look at yourself. The father looked at his son and couldn't see him without the potential of the demon. The father looked at his son and always saw the seizure behind his eyes. He missed everything that his healed, restored, freed son was or ever would be because he simply couldn't imagine him without the demon, even though the boy stood before his very eyes.
(And look, I'm not a parent, but I understand the deep love of a parent for a child. I have a niece and two nephews; I know how I would look at them in this situation. I know the concern, the worry I would continue to have. And if you've been here awhile, you remember that two years ago, my oldest dog began having seizures. Between the first one in May and the second that took her from me in August, I looked at her every second of every day with that horrible fear that she was right on the edge of something awful. It's weird how love does such a mean thing to us, but it does.)
The boy may have had his own thoughts. He may have remembered the demon from behind his own eyes. He may have never lived a day without remembering what those days were like. He may have awoken every morning asking himself the same questions - is today going to be a demon day or is today free? Does the Word of that Lord dude hold true for one more day? Can I trust in today? How can I? How can I believe today is any different than all the days before it?
(Here, too, I draw on my own experience. No, I have not been possessed by a demon, but I have had some hard brokennesses in my life. They're hard to let go of. It's hard to trust in a good day when so many have been so bad.)
And that's what the darkness is up to. It's defeated; the word is spoken. But it's not going to go quietly because if it does, it gives you the chance to believe. There is nothing worse for darkness than a man who believes in the light. So in this last scream, in this violent moment, in this final breath, darkness reveals itself, shows its power, and tries to induce fear so that you can't let go. So that you never trust the goodness enough to let go. So that you never trust the darkness enough to let go. So that you're always holding onto it even when it cannot hold onto you. So that you keep darkness around and it gets to wreak havoc even though it's already lost.
It's why so many of us are tortured, I think. We just can't let go. We cannot leave darkness with empty hands; we're holding onto shadows. It's fear, yes. It's more than fear. It's also emptiness itself that intimidates us. When darkness leaves, it's like there's this void. There's this open space where something heavy once was and now, there's nothing. It takes awhile, at least in our consciousness, for light to move in. It's not that light drives out darkness by its presence; God drives out darkness by His Word. It's then up to us to fill that space, and we have to do that, I think, with thankfulness. It's a slow process, during which time the emptiness just sort of eats away at us and it's easier to remember what used to be there and start to think on the darker things than to invest the energy to find something new to fill that space, but it's worth it to go the hard way. It's worth it to put the work into it. It's worth it to labor for the light.
It's crazy to me that we spend our lives fighting. We fight so hard for so long and what it all comes down to in the end is a willingness not to fight but rather to simply believe. What it comes down to is pulling off our gloves and opening our empty hands. We spend our lives hanging on, just trying to make it through another day or another year or another season, and what it comes down to is letting go. Another of God's paradoxes.
So the question is this: when darkness lets go, can you?