Light dawns often in the biblical text.
Whether because the dawn is in human experience such a reliable expectation or because the move from night’s darkness to morning’s shining is so dramatic, the image lends itself to the vocabulary of hope and of hopefulness.
One of life’s great enigmas—and therefore a subject matter for the probing poems we call the Psalms—is why the righteous suffer. Why, in a well-governed world, should good women and men know the darkness and the confusion of night at all? Why is theirs not a perpetual stroll from light to brilliance?
The Psalms do not venture absurdly simple answers to such questions. Rather, their lines accompany the afflicted person until he or she can affirm with integrity that things are not as bleak as they appear in the valley of death’s shadow. Or at least as unyielding.
From time to time, the Psalms counsel patience.
Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; YHWH is gracious, merciful, and righteous. (Psalm 112:4 ESV)
Such a phrase does not lie about the inky blindness of the night. It does not smooth the lightless contours of deepest darkness.
Rather, it points out the temporality of the night as the upright person experiences it. Almost—from time to time this caveat is needed if honesty is to be maintained—as predictably as the light dawns, so does the Lord change the grim fortunes of those whose lives are aligned with his ways. Indeed, the poet deploys the hoary language of YHWH’s self-revelation to underscore this hope: the Lord is gracious, merciful, and righteousness. This is the same vocabulary that congregates around the Pentateuch’s moments of YHWH’s initial self-disclosure, here transposed into a promise of light for the righteous man or woman who stumbles lost in pained darkness.
This is doctrine being proclaimed and applied to the hurting individual, if such language can be pulled off the shelf when an ancient biblical poem is on the table.
It is difficult—indeed, even impossible sometimes—to believe at midnight that morning will come. To whisper the thought seems almost to lie about the night.
That does not change the dawn’s reliability. It will come, just wait and see.