Spiritual darkness is the state of a person who is living apart from God. The Old Testament book of Isaiah, in prophesying of the Messiah, speaks of a deep spiritual darkness that enveloped the people: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). This passage reappears in the New Testament, in Matthew 4:16, to announce that those who have come to know the God of Israel through His Son Jesus Christ are the ones who have been delivered from spiritual darkness and now walk in the light of God’s life.
The apostle John taught that God is light: “This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth” (1 John 1:5–6, NLT). And Jesus declared that He is the light of the world: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Thus, spiritual darkness means not having fellowship with God through a relationship with Jesus Christ. The darkness of separation from God is overcome through Christ: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4–5).
From the moment Adam and Eve sinned, humans have lived in a fallen world. All people are born in a fallen state of sin and separation from God. Until a person is reborn of God’s Spirit, he or she lives in spiritual darkness. Sin darkens our understanding and destroys our spiritual sight, cloaking us in deep darkness: “But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble” (Proverbs 4:19). Moses compares this state of sin and disobedience to groping about like “a blind person in the dark” (Deuteronomy 28:29). One of Job’s friends speaks of those who are lost in spiritual darkness: “Darkness comes upon them in the daytime; at noon they grope as in the night” (Job 5:14).
Living in rebellion to God and His will is equivalent to living in spiritual darkness. When the Lord commissioned Paul, He said, “I am sending you to the Gentiles to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in me” (Acts 26:17–18, NLT).
After salvation, believers become beacons of the spiritual light of Christ: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). Those who are in Jesus Christ have been rescued from the kingdom of darkness: “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13, ESV). Those who reject Jesus Christ face eternal separation from God in “blackest darkness” (Jude 1:4–13).
In Judaism, a person’s inner character and moral quality are understood to be reflected through the eyes. In Matthew 6:22–23, Jesus compares the moral condition of an unregenerate soul to darkness: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” Jesus’ listeners would have understood that a healthy eye is one that lets in light just as a healthy regenerated heart lets in spiritual light. But a sick or sinful eye (or heart) shuts out light, leaving the soul in spiritual darkness.
The apostle Paul describes those in a sinful state before knowing Christ as possessing a darkened, closed mind and a hardened heart: “Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him” (Ephesians 4:18, NLT).
Unbelievers live in spiritual darkness because Satan, the god of this world, has blinded their minds. They cannot see the glorious light of the gospel: “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4, NLT).
Spiritual darkness refers to all that is in opposition to the light of God’s love in Christ. The good news that Jesus brings to this world is that His light—His life-giving Spirit—floods light and life into the spiritual darkness of the sinner’s heart. The One who opened the eyes of the blind can also bring us out of spiritual darkness. No matter how deep the darkness, the light of God’s love and truth overcomes every sin that separates us from God.