Amid discouragement, I’ve found solace in Andrew Peterson’s music, especially his 2015 album The Burning Edge of Dawn. The songs are infused with a sense of yearning, of waiting, of hope deferred and yet enduring.
Peterson constantly points us forward to our coming deliverance, like in the first verse of my favourite song of his:
I’ve been waiting for the sun
To come blazing up out of the night like a bullet from a gun
Till every shadow is scattered, every dragon’s on the run
Oh, I believe, I believe that the light is gonna come
And this is the dark, this is the dark before the dawn
Through the darkness of this life, we wait for the light that will come with our resurrection—for the dawn of eternal life and joy.
Darkness of Depression
Recently, I read that Peterson wrote this album out of his experience of a three-year period of depression. He sings that a part of him died. And so he waited, against all hope, for resurrection.
With this context, I started to see new layers in some of these songs.
So I kneel at the bright edge of the garden
At the golden edge of dawn
At the glowing edge of spring
When the winter’s edge is gone
And I can see the color green
I can hear the sower’s song
Is Peterson singing about waiting for the new creation or waiting for a period of depression to end, for joy to bloom in his life once again? I’ve realized the two can’t be so easily separated.
God’s people are accustomed to waiting. From the earliest events of the Bible, we were waiting for the Serpent-crusher who would undo the disastrous fall. For thousands of years Israel waited, through pain and sin and toppled kingdoms and near-hopelessness. Then Jesus came. The darkness of our world was invaded by “the true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9).
It wasn’t long before that darkness was snuffed out—or so it seemed. As Jesus hung dying on the cross, “there was darkness over all the land” (Matt. 27:45). But then came dawn. With the morning, the Light of the world became Lord over death.
Yet we still wait. The Bible ends with the promise of Christ’s return, with God’s people crying out, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20). Through every generation, through all the darkness of sin and suffering, we wait for our resurrection to new life, when “night will be no more” (v. 5).
Christ’s resurrection gives us hope for our own. That’s what Peterson is constantly looking ahead to in this album—the dawn that doesn’t just eclipse the darkness but makes sense of it.
What enables us to wait through all the hardships and agonies of this world? How can we endure discouragement? We cling to the promises of Scripture, of course. But God also strengthens our feeble hearts by giving us “practice resurrections.” We get glimpses of the coming light to put hope in our hearts, steel in our spines, and songs in our mouths.
When Peterson sings “Lord, I’m waiting for a change,” his plea isn’t answered just once. There will come, one day, the final change, when sorrow and sin are banished and we will live with our Lord forever. But God also gave Peterson another change. Eventually, the dark night of his soul passed. He saw the dawn—a mini resurrection while he awaits his final resurrection.
These resurrections aren’t always about the restoration of joy after deep gloom. You experience them as you find freedom from a besetting sin. As you laugh with a friend after a painful season of conflict or tension. As you see God answer that prayer you’d almost given up on. As the beauty of a flower breaks through your sadness, even for a moment. As you simply endure through another night or another winter, emerging to feel the sun on your skin.
So darkness can be a gift. It teaches us to look. To lift our eyes off the world around us and fix them on the horizon, waiting for dawn. And when the light finally breaks over the edge, we praise our good God. Our hope is reinforced so we’re a little more ready, next time, to believe that “all this darkness is a small and passing thing.”
Sudden Joyous Turn
But what about when the darkness doesn’t abate, when the affliction is prolonged or repeated? I have no easy answers. I don’t want to pretend, like Job’s worthless comforters, that I can unravel the mystery of why God ordains suffering.
Perhaps one small piece of the puzzle, though, is that prolonged darkness reminds us the practice resurrections aren’t the real thing. They’re comfortable waystations in which a weary pilgrim can be refreshed, but the final destination still lies ahead. Pain keeps us from settling for earthly hopes.
In his essay On Fairy Stories, J. R. R. Tolkien describes the purpose of the eucatastrophe in stories—“the sudden joyous ‘turn,’” the happy ending. One commonly cited example in Tolkien’s own works is the appearance of Gandalf and the Riders of Rohan at the battle of Helm’s Deep.
It’s a perfect example, right down to the visuals in the film version—Gandalf appears on the ridge over the battle, clothed in white, just as dawn breaks. As Gandalf charges down the hill, innumerable horsemen at his side, the light swallows the darkness of both the night and the enemy.
But notice this eucatastrophe takes place in the second film of the trilogy. The battle is won, but the war isn’t over. This victory, this rescue, has bought the heroes time, but it doesn’t bring lasting peace. It gives them enough hope to fight another day.
This is what our practice resurrections do for us. They give us a glimpse of “Joy beyond the walls of the world,” as Tolkien put it. They make us all the more eager for the dawn that Andrew Peterson waits for, and for the God who promises to bring it.
“Oh, I believe, I believe that the light is gonna come.”