“The Light of the World”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
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 1.1-4)
One of the most persistent analogies in the Bible is the comparison of God to light. This topic is vast, including far too much to cover in every detail within a short article such as this one, but let’s examine several of the meanings and effects behind this metaphor.
“The darkness has not overcome”
Even without a detailed knowledge of the physics of light—and frankly, the deeper you investigate that topic, the more difficult and confusing it becomes—we all know, from experience, intuition, and logic that darkness is a passive phenomenon. It’s not a force or a substance. It has no will of its own; it never truly does anything, because it’s merely the absence of light. It’s not that John fails to understand this in describing the struggle between light and darkness; rather, he’s relating something spiritual. As fire exhausts its fuel and its light diminishes over the course of a night, it’s easy to imagine two abstract entities, light and darkness, at war with one another. As the light burns lower, the sphere of visibility around it continually shrinks, until at last the flame winks out and ceases to hold back the darkness. It’s as if the great mass of unknown terror suddenly envelops what just a few moments before was a visible and navigable situation.
In the spiritual realm also, darkness itself has no will of its own, but simply constitutes the absence of the light of God. But it does refer, by analogy, to entities with power, will, and malice—Satan and his forces, whose goal it is to extinguish the light. Christ is able to stand up to it, and even to banish the darkness and its friends, as his Father did at the beginning:
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. (Genesis 1.2-4a)
“Let there be light”
Regardless of who opposes him, or how inhospitable the environment, it is no challenge for God to illuminate the world; nor is it out of his reach to enlighten both the minds and the lives of those he wishes. By simply speaking the words, he reoriented the physical universe he’d created, causing it to conform to his will, and exposing its true form, even in that primordial world with no human eye to see and understand it. But God also provides this light richly for mankind:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9.2)
“The people who walked in darkness”
The idea of walking in darkness has a spiritual connotation of sinful deeds; that’s obviously what is meant, but it’s a mistake to jump past the immediate physical meaning so quickly. What happens when the lights go out suddenly and you’re plunged into total darkness, but you need to walk somewhere, perhaps to flip a circuit breaker and bring back the light? Nowadays, most people immediately reach into a pocket for a smartphone, to use it as a flashlight. Failing that, perhaps you’d simply wait a few seconds, reasoning that there’s enough light filtering in from other sources to at least enable you to get where you need to go, once your eyes have done their best to adjust. But if neither of those is an option, you’ll discover quickly just how much you rely on your eyes to guide you around the world. You may think your mental map of your immediate surroundings is detailed enough for you to avoid obstacles and find what you need without trouble, but it’s virtually certain you’d put one hand in front of you and take each step with care, because you don’t entirely trust yourself to find your way in the dark—nor should you. In spiritual terms, without God’s light to make sense of our surroundings, we’re liable to suffer far worse than bruised shins and stubbed toes.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3.19-20)
“People loved the darkness”
We all know firsthand how uncomfortable it is to find ourselves unexpectedly in the dark. It leaves us temporarily paralyzed as we strive to reorient ourselves. In the spiritual realm, it's clear that only God’s Word is able to illuminate our path and allow us to avoid pitfalls. But sometimes, upon reflection, we’d rather stay in the darkness, so that no one else can see how we’re behaving. Of course, we’re not going to fool God, but we’ll do our best to run away from him and his light, when we prefer instead to hide in the darkness. This won’t work out for us in the end. We may run from the light and its judgment, but we can’t outrun the dawn.
For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober… (1 Thessalonians 5.7-8a)