There is a certain feeling that comes when the ominous storm clouds roll in and the sky darkens. Some may feel excited for a nice storm, but there is also a certain sense of urgency to get to safety that comes with the situation. The wonders of a storm can bring appreciation for the power of the weather. Then the lights go out. The house temperature gets too high or low, and we are uncertain when we will be able to open our refrigerators again. The reality sinks in that we are now in a bad way.
This storm metaphor fits nicely when we think about sin. What happens when we sin? Sin is like the storm clouds moving in, and if it is allowed to continue, it turns into the storm that will take out our lights and our temperature regulation system.
It is in this context that we can understand what the letter to the Ephesians says: “Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient. So do not be associated with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them.” (Ephesians 5:6-11) When we are subjected to the darkness of a storm, we become afraid. Our actions can be hasty and our tongues quick to anger. When we are woken up to the tornado siren in the middle of the night and must hasten our sleepy children down to the basement at midnight, it is disorienting and upsetting to everyone. How much more does this apply when we are lost in the darkness of sin?
When we sin, we not only cast darkness on ourselves, but we cast it onto those around us, including our children, spouse, loved ones and neighbors. We can see this in the warning to the Israelites: “For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 20:5b) The passages from Ephesians help us make sense of this observation that generations down the line are impacted by the sin of the fathers. This happens because the darkness of sin impacts more than just ourselves.
Parents have a duty to their children to stop the darkness of sin. It is a heavy burden but one that is taken on when we have children. When we curse at our children in anger or fail to meet their needs because we are not taking care of ourselves, we cast our children in the darkness of our sin. When we cast our children in darkness, they are more liable to sin because they can become afraid or uncertain. They may make choices that they otherwise would not have made if they were in the light.
The first place we should take our sin is to the grace of the confessional. But, upon the moment of recognition of our sin, we need to apologize to those whom we hurt. The rupture-repair cycle is one that all too often ends with rupture because we do not have the awareness or the humility to do a repair. When we have sinned and cast darkness on our loved ones, we have a responsibility to bring back the light.
Children who have grown up with neglectful or abusive parents can understand the impact of the darkness of sin all too well. If the darkness of sin persists, it can impact that child into adulthood, where the now-adult child will continue to fight or even be lost in the darkness of the sin of the parents, just as we see in the passage from Exodus. When we recognize that we as adults are still suffering because we are plagued with the darkness of our parents’ sins, we can find our own light in this darkness. Light can be found through recognition of the hurt and sin of our ancestors. The process of grace through forgiveness is a powerful light, and the darkness of sin cannot withstand it. The author of Ephesians tells us that “light produces every kind of goodness.” And this includes prayers and acts of forgiveness for those who have hurt us — even when we have been hurt very badly and forgiveness seems unattainable. When we find ourselves lost in the darkness of sin, let us find support in navigating the darkness so that we may again find the light. Let us strive to be children of the light.