There Won’t be any Night: Tromsø and Gregory of Nyssa

Summer in the Arctic

In the last chapter of the last book, there is vision of a completely changed world. John of Patomos writes in Revelation 22:1-5:

1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

  • Water flows in crystal rivers, straight from the throne of God
  • the tree of life is there, producing fruit that brings healing
  • the curse upon the world is undone
  • the throne of God will be visible
  • God’s people will see God’s face
  • There will be no more night
  • There will be no more sun
  • this state of affairs will never end

I didn’t think much about the end of night until this week. We went to Tromsø, in the north of Norway. It’s at 69° north, above the Arctic Circle (at 66°). The Arctic Circle is defined by the night: 66° is the most southern point at which, on the Summer Solstice, the sun will not set.

Each summer solstice, in the Arctic, there is no night.

Tromsø is over a thousand miles north of Oslo (59°), and already in late May the sun only sets for less than one hour each day. It is only a little further south than the most northern point in Alaska (Point Barrow or Nuvuk, at 71°). It is significantly further north than, say, Side Lake in northern Minnesota (a measly 47° north) which we in my family usually affectionately call the Great Frozen North and the North Woods.

The point? Tromsø is north.

I heard about it from another friend who loves to travel. He had gone last summer, and told me it was breathtaking. When I googled it and found out there would be reindeer, I was in. I read that it was a fantastic place to see the northern lights, too and convinced my partner we should go.

As the day for our trip got closer, I talked to my partner about how excited I was. Reindeer! Fjords! Northern lights! and he looked at me a bit sideways.

“You won’t see any northern lights,” he told me.

“What? why not?”

“That’s only in the winter, there. It needs to be dark for the northern lights – where we are going, there will be the midnight sun. There won’t be any night.”

I really hadn’t thought about it.

While the science behind it made sense, I couldn’t quite imagine what it would be like to have no night. Indeed, while we were in Tromsø, the sun only set for 56 minutes a day which was certainly not long enough for anything like darkness to settle over the land.

For one week, there was no night.

And while I loved visiting Tromsø, it was the lack night that made me say “one week is REALLY enough.”

It was fundamentally disorienting.

We really lost our sense of time. It was hard to sleep – we both kept waking up in the night, and even with the blinds drawn we thought “oh it must be time to get up” and it would be 2am. We were both tired all the time. Not from the wintery lack-of-sun, but from an overabundance of sun. It was 10pm and we had to wear sunglasses.

For a lot of people, this is one of the draws of Tromsø in the summer. There are midnight sun boat tours and so on – concerts and events set to the rhythm of the long and unending summer day.

But we missed the night. We missed the calm and quiet of the dark. We missed the sense of ending. We missed being in tune with the cadence of the world.

This visit to Tromsø made me think of Revelation 22:5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

The whole experience really made me realize that I am not yet ready for heaven. I can’t even handle the pale, earthly reflection of eternal light. In many parts of both Jewish and Christian tradition, there has been a recognition that humanity is in need of a cosmic washing machine – a restoration, a purgation, an ἀποκατάστασις. We need to be refined.

And when faced with the endless day, I realized in a visceral way that I am not ready for that.

Gregory of Nyssa: The Purifying Fire of God’s Love

For Gregory of Nyssa, Hell is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a gift: it is the purifying and painful fire that stripes the soul of all its evil. God’s love is a fire of the refining process, purifying us like gold, stripping our evil and broken attachments. Everyone, regardless of their faith, must undergo purification: those who dedicate themselves to asceticism and purification in this life will experience the same fire as those who do not. The difference is that the fewer impurities remaining in the soul, the less painful, strange, or horrible the fire will appear to be. The fire is the same, but our experience of it is different depending on how we lived in this life. The fire, for Gregory, is a blessing, as agonizing as it is. Because it is because of that fire we can return to God who is pure and holy. In his Great Catechism 26, Gregory says “For it is as when some worthless material has been mixed with gold, and the gold-refiners burn up the foreign and refuse part in the consuming fire, and so restore the more precious substance to its natural lustre,” (trans. Moore and Wilson).

The purifying fire and the fire of God’s love are one in the same.

It is us who experience it as warmth or as Hell, depending on the state of our souls.

For Gregory, even the Devil will be purged when all creation returns to a state of perfection. All this purification is possible because of Jesus.

(for a great post entirely dedicated to Gregory and purgation, see: )

Gregory of Nyssa’s ideas about purgation were never more real to me as when I faced the immense beauty that disquieted me. I am not ready for unending day, or to live in the city that God promises at the end of time. It is not that I don’t believe Jesus saves me – surely, I do – but sanctification is an ongoing and daily process as we journey through life. We ask and pray that God continue to clean us, heal us, and make us more like Him.

But even a pale shadow of that endless day where we don’t even need the sun was too much for me as I am.

I hope that by the time God deems my journey on Earth done, I am more prepared for the eternal day hereafter.

Bonus: More on Country Sizes

One of the things that surprised me about Norway is that it is so long and thin. Map projects really warp the size of territories far from the equator and squish them down or stretch them out. The US is much bigger than Norway (maybe 30x the size), but Norway is about as long as the continental US.








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