Seeing In The Dark: Finding God’s Light In The Most Unexpected Places, by Nancy Ortberg
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Tyndale Press in exchange for an honest review.]
Although this book is short, coming in at 150 pages or so of main material, followed by a short excerpt from another one of the author’s books and a random but interesting benediction at the end, this book is full of rich material about faith and hope, and the circumstances where they are developed and nurtured, that manages to pack a far larger punch than its size would initially indicate. A measure of this book’s elegant and well-crafted prose is that I started dog-earing pages that had particularly quotable passages, until I realized I had at least a dozen or more such pages dogeared with quotes going on for more than a page . At that moment, I realized it would be futile to share all of the great quotes of this book, and that I must convey as simply as possible that this book is rich in insightful and worthy advice, much of which comes from the stories of personal experience, and grief observed and shared with others.
In terms of its contents, this book begins with a series of chapters about darkness and closes with several chapters about light. It is well organized, and each of the chapters is fairly economical in size–about twenty pages of small paper. The sentences are short, and there is nothing in this book that is technically challenging to a reader. Some of the sentences might even be described as fragmentary, depending as they do on a very conversational tone that uses the same implied subject for sentences on end. This is the sort of prose that may not be appreciated by a writing professor, but it certainly reads conveniently and well for a wide audience from at least the middle school or high school level. That said, the book also manages to include a great deal of thoughtful quotation and commentary from scripture, including a few Greek words of interest, and weaves its easy-to-understand material with deeply thoughtful material.
What is most striking about this book, and easiest to appreciate, is that this book deals so forthrightly and honestly with darkness. It does not seek to resolve tension easily, or to ignore the reality of the darkness of the lives that we live, but neither does it wallow in that darkness or allow the darkness to make us cynical or hopeless. Instead, the author draws attention to the experience of small moments of small amounts of light in immense periods of darkness, to the times when we are caught in between, where our heartfelt longings remain unfulfilled, where we are called upon to wait for God to act and to possess our souls in patience in the meantime. In these difficult times, these periods of dormancy when it appears as if we are wasting time and spinning our wheels in vain, the author reminds us that much change is going on beneath the surface, and that it is these moments that give us the strength of character and the beauty in spirit to be more than we could be otherwise. It is in drawing strength and beauty out of moments of despair, of honest and heartfelt wrestling with God, that we become better people, and that our faith and hope and love are strengthened. This is a short and encouraging book that deserves careful reading, occasional rereading, and is likely to be a well-appreciated gift or loan from friends to each other as a way of comforting others who dwell in the darkness and are trying to see the light of God in that dark place where some of us spend years, or even decades, of our melancholy but ultimately triumphant existence.
 Some of the most notable samples are below:
“Stories are powerful, but stories from brokenness, stories that intersect with another’s pain–that, my friend, is life-changing stuff. This is gospel. Good news. Great news, really. It is the same power that puts us in the fight for justice, for serving the poor and the marginalized in the name of Jesus. It’s what keeps us, in the face of overwhelming odds, going the other direction, using hope as a shield for the fight against human trafficking, poverty, and inequitable access to health care, education, and work.” p.43
“Interestingly, my parents ended up reconciling a year later, and until the day my father died in 1990, they were together. But it took me years of counseling, talking through things with friends, and wrestling with God to understand the full impact all of this had on me. There were long seasons, especially through high school and college, when I found it laughable that it had affected me at all. Perhaps those years of denial explain why it took so long before this issue bubbled to the surface and I was finally forced to look at it.
There’s one other thing I remember from this time. An occasional, faint whisper. Not even a whisper, really–more like a soul presence. Every once in a while, on that cold tile counter, along with the terror I felt, there was an accompanying presence–a sense that I was not as alone as it seemed. The small awareness that I was not on my own.” p. 4-5
“But this isn’t a movie. It’s a film about a real time, with real people who took life-defying risks for others, with nothing in it for themselves except the pleasure of acting out of the deepest parts of their souls–the parts that were forged over hundreds of years, on the backs of their parents and grandparents and great-great-greats.
That kind of strength doesn’t come from a wish to be a certain kind of person. It comes from the darkness, from living there long enough to see the light–a thin sliver at first, but light nonetheless. And realizing that the light is God. And that God, who has been there in the darkness all along, is stronger than any darkness that ever was.
That kind of experience shifts the pieces of our souls and reconstructs them until we become people who say yes without a second thought. Yes to helping when it inconveniences us, when it threatens us, when it taxes us. Yes to solidarity with others in their pain, when our lives may be just fine. This is the yes of the gospel.” p. 67