Was Darkness “Good” in Genesis 1?

A short time ago, Tyler Franke’s blog God of Evolution published an interesting philosophical argument that animal death was not the result of the fall of man. I agree with the conclusion, but one observation jumped out while reading that post. The author, Zachary Lawson, used Psalm 104 as an illustration in which description of animal death is seen as incidental. It’s a great illustration of his point, but was also interesting because of the contrast between light and darkness, especially when compared with Genesis 1:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Genesis 1:1–5 (ESV)

In this passage, it’s interesting that light is described as “good”, while darkness is not. This causes one to wonder what it represents. The next verse has darkness associated with night, which would seem to be a fairly benign, physical item. Except this was presumably before the sun was created, so “night” doesn’t have quite the same meaning. And beyond that, the contrast between light and dark in Scripture is so consistent and pervasive that it’s difficult to avoid it here when the text makes such a clear distinction by applying “good” only to the light. In fact, it’s interesting to compare this other passages that mention light and dark in the context of creation. Consider the following passages.

First, the passage mentioned earlier, out of Psalm 104:

He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about. The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. When the sun rises, they steal away and lie down in their dens. Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening. Psalm 104:19-23 (ESV)

Here, actions are associated with both light and dark. The labor of man is associated with light. Associated with the darkness is the predatory behavior of animals. At first glance, these might seem to be fairly neutral items. But remember that man’s work is not considered a bad thing in Scripture, for it was given to us before the fall. Predatory behavior on the other hand, and despite the reference to God here as the ultimate provider, is generally associated with the fall because of its negative connotation. So the effect here is to associate something negative with the darkness, and something positive with light.

Another verse that addresses these associations directly is in Isaiah:

I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:7 (ESV)

In this passage, the Lord is speaking through Isaiah of His power and sovereignty. Using parallelism, standard in Jewish poetry, He paints the picture of darkness as something negative. In this case the calamity was caused by the Lord, so the negative connotation is because of our perspective. Although the creation of light and dark here is not necessarily referring only to the initial creation, it is a related context, and clearly echoes the pervasive difference between them.

John’s Gospel is well-known for its use of light and dark metaphors:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:1-5 (ESV)

We are seeking creation accounts, and see that here, with the initial uses of light and dark in this Gospel. Again, the positive and negative connotations are consistent with the rest of Scripture.

In Colossians, Paul is encouraging the church in that city:

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1:11–16 (ESV)

In this passage, creation is represented by the statements describing Christ’s role as both the agent and ultimate purpose. The use of light and dark is secondary to the creation aspect, but nonetheless are associated by virtue of Jesus also being the agent of our salvation from darkness to light.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul uses the metaphor of light to speak of the Gospel of the glory of Christ. Then he continues:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 (ESV)

The reference to creation here is in the form of a quote, and clearly associates light with the positive. There’s no direct association of darkness here, but there is an implied one in the lack of glory referenced several times. Paul also drew a contrast a few verses earlier with shameful things, and so the contrast is between good and bad. Clearly, light is associated with good, which implies association of the bad with dark. This is the weakest of the examples, but still consistent with the others.

The following passage is not strictly a creation passage, but is indirectly associated because it comes at the end of this creation, at the establishment of the new Jerusalem.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. Revelation 21:22-25 (ESV)

Notice the clear picture of things restored to their rightful good nature, the description of light, and the explicit statement that there will be no night. In Genesis 1, darkness is called “night”, so while this passage does not necessarily paint the picture of night as bad, it is at least no longer needed. The fact that night finally is removed at the end of times paints a clear contrast with Genesis, as if the culmination of God’s redeeming work is finally complete.

Putting all these together, the pervasive association of good and bad with light and dark is maintained when creation is part of the context. So when we consider Genesis 1:4, there’s no reason to change the perspective and consider the darkness good. This raises the obvious question of what God meant when He declared things as “good” through the Genesis 1 account, if darkness was still around? There are a couple ways to think of this, but changing the word from “good” to “perfect”, as is often done, clearly isn’t supported by Scripture.

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6 Responses to Was Darkness “Good” in Genesis 1?

  1. Sam says:

    Having trouble following your point. Could you clarify a couple of things for me?
    You begin with the question of whether darkness is good or not given that God calls only the light “good” and not the darkness. You conclude with a “no” answer but then end the article by answering a different question altogether; namely, what does “good” mean?
    Was the second question really what was driving the article, to argue that “good” cannot mean “perfect”? If so, wouldn’t God’s purposefully NOT calling darkness “good” argue more in favor of “good” meaning “perfect”? God made the darkness which means it cannot be inherently wicked, so wouldn’t the darkness have to in some way be “good”, though perhaps not perfect?
    In other words, if God does not call darkness “good” then darkness has no bearing on what “good” means. If, on the other hand, God had called darkness “good” then I could see how one might argue that “good” could not mean “perfect”.
    Hope that makes sense!

  2. jim0211 says:

    Hi Sam,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. The main point of the observations was to argue that there’s no good reason for considering the darkness to be good. But the corollary is that His use of “good” must not mean “perfect” because there was something not good present (ie, darkness). (Such an incomplete state is allowed for something good, but not perfect.)

    I do not make the assumption that God created the darkness, in fact arguing that it is not good implies that it may have come about after His perfect initial creation. For example, we know that there was an angelic fall somewhere before human fall. Although it’s not explicitly associated, neither is it explicitly unrelated.

    You comment that God wouldn’t have created darkness if it were wicked, but why is it any more acceptable for Him to have created it if it were only partly wicked, and not all good?

    • Sam says:

      It’s just that your corollary does follow the argument. By your reasoning, whatever “good” is excludes darkness by reason of it NOT being called “good”. So “good” is free to be anything that darkness is not. Both assertions cannot be true. It cannot be argued that darkness is not good because it is specifically not called “good” AND that “good” cannot mean “perfect” because darkness exists. Each negates the other, or at the very least renders the other “not necessarily true.”

  3. jim0211 says:

    Hmmm, I don’t see where saying darkness is not good, necessarily frees “good” to be anything else.

    What I was saying is that perfection is a state in which there can be nothing that is not good. So if creation were perfect, there could be no bad in it. So the darkness could not represent anything bad. But that is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture; it’s more consistent to say that the darkness represents something “bad”. Therefore, it would be incorrect to call creation perfect. But it’s still reasonable to call it “good”, and even “very good”, because the concept of good does not necessitate flawlessness in the sense that “perfect” does. And in fact, Scripture does not say that the creation was perfect, only that it was good. So the popular tendency to say that declaration of creation as good is the same as declaring it as perfect, is incorrect.

    Even disregarding this argument around good/bad and light/dark, good is simply not the same word or concept as perfect (in either English or Hebrew), so making such a substitution when there is any equivocation possible, is an error. We should take it as it is, and ask why the Lord did not use the word “perfect”. The most reasonable answer is that there was something not totally good, that He was giving us a hint to look more closely. Doing exactly that is what caused me to notice the difference in treatment between darkness and light.

  4. Nate says:

    I think what you are saying here is a very important distinction. Belief in the notion of perfection in creation makes it nearly impossible for a Christian to accept the idea of evolution, which may seem like a small thing to some, but my colleagues and I deal with this every year teaching our high school science classes at a Catholic school.
    I even think your point is important in understanding more than just evolution. Theologically, I have a problem with the notion that original sin completely changed the nature of our planet (possibly our universe?). For instance, if Creation was initially perfect, I assume that means the continents had no need to drift, nor did volcanoes need to erupt, etc. So, original sin got all that started, too? On what basis are we to believe such a cause and effect relationship makes any sense?

    • jim0211 says:

      Thanks for the comment. I don’t know where the idea came from, that man’s sin changed all of creation, but it doesn’t seem to come from the Bible. I find the easiest way to point this out to people is to remind them that Scripture doesn’t say “perfect”, only “very good”, and that we should not change the Word to suite our purposes. It’s also interesting to read what the description of Adam’s curse actually says — it basically describes a broken (work) relationship between man and creation, not a broken creation in the sense normally taken. It’s interesting that the simpler description is echoed in the only other verse that explicitly describe the curse — Genesis 5:29. It’s not at all clear that other references to a broken creation are referring to the result of the human fall.

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