Matthew sat alone in his cell staring at the letter. Imprisoned in a country not friendly to Christianity, Matthew (not his real name) was kept in relative isolation and the only contact he had with the outside world was in the form of occasional heavily censored letters he was allowed to receive from his family. The letters had any words of encouragement – especially scripture quotations – completely covered over by the heavy black markers of the government prison censors.
In the long months Matthew had been imprisoned he had come to deeply resent those patches of blackness that cut him off from the love of his family. Until today. Now, Matthew looked at the patches of black obscuring much of the latest letter he had received and smiled. Matthew was a happier man.
The truth of the situation had dawned on Matthew like a personal revelation. He had come to see that the black marks and patches on his letters did not obscure his family’s love for him – they highlighted it. He saw that every obscuring black mark was not a denial of the love felt for him, but proof of it. Sometimes he could guess that there was a scripture behind the blackness from quote marks not obscured at the beginning or end of the marking. If the censors blacked out words individually he could guess from a short word blacked out after the quote marks that it was probably the reference to a quoted verse in Psalms, which his family knew was his favorite book of the Bible. Very occasionally, if he held the letter up to what light he had, he could make out faint traces of what was written and have some idea of what was being said to him.
As time progressed, Matthew came to resent the black marks less and less. Sometimes he would take out a letter and just look at the marks, because he knew that behind them was the love of his family, and understanding what lay behind the black marks – even though he could not see through them – sustained Matthew until he was eventually released.
Sometimes, when we go through the trials of life, it’s hard to see God’s love for us. We may even come to resent the black marks and clouds of life: the illnesses, job losses, persecutions, or whatever seems to obscure God’s love and concern for us. But if we learn to see them as we should, we can come to see behind the black patches in our lives. On occasion we may be able to make out the writing of loving correction in things that go wrong (Hebrews 12:6), but this is not always the case and often, like Job, we may see that we are being given an opportunity to learn or grow. But, again like Job, we don’t always see God for the storm – until we realize we are being taught something and we hear the voice of God speaking through the dark clouds (Job 38:1), or through the dark patches that seem to come between us and him.
In fact, if we come to see the black patches of life as we should, we realize that once we have committed ourselves to God, we can know that his love is always behind them even if we do not see it clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12). We can remember that every dark patch of life, although it might seem to obscure God's love, in reality is being used to teach, guide and form us, or to help others in some way. We come to realize that the black patches of life do not deny Gods’ love for us; they actually affirm that it is there.