On Saturday, we put light in the spotlight, by noting that this L-word makes its first appearance in the second paragraph of the whole Bible (Let there be light), and then highlighting a couple of verses that suggest that God is light – or at least, He is the source of light.
Therefore, it’s probably not surprising that the L-word appears 204 times in the New International Version of the Bible. Some of the time, the word is being used as an an adjective that means the opposite of heavy, rather than a noun that’s the opposite of dark or darkness. And even when the latter meaning of the word is used, a lot of these occurrences are simple and utilitarian – ‘…Leave in the morning as soon as it is light.’ – 1 Samuel 29:10b – and so on.
But very often, light is discussed with reverence and awe, as something that is godly. 2 Samuel 22:29, in which King David declares, ‘You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.’ is one of the first such verses.
Themes like this continue throughout the Old Testament – particularly in Job, the Psalms and Isaiah. Read through the first few pages of a BibleGateway search of the word ‘light’, and you might find yourself looking at light in a new light.
But things move from the incandescent to the halogen when we get to the New Testament, as Jesus Himself uses the L-word repeatedly in His parables and sermons. For example, yesterday we mentioned John 8:12 – the verse where Jesus describes Himself as the light of the world.
The plot thickens a bit when we remember that a couple Gospels earlier in Matthew 5:14-16, He tells us that we are the light of the world.
Wait. Which is it, Jesus? Are You the light of the world, or are we? Or are You and we co-lights? And does that mean our luminosity is on par with Yours?
My pastor, Stephen Hambidge, has suggested in a couple of sermons over the years that it’s probably helpful to think of ourselves not as independent sources of light, but more like reflectors of Jesus’ light.
With that in mind, Jesus’ use of the word ‘light’ in relation to us is a lot less alarming. But His use of the word ‘the’ is a little startling: ‘You are the light of the world’, not ‘a light of the world’. Does this mean that if we fail (or refuse) to ‘shine before others so they might see our good deeds and glorify our Father in Heaven,’ no one will?
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world
– from St. Teresa of Avila’s poem, Christ Has No Body
Now, in the objective perspective, we all inhabit the same world. But since nobody can see exactly what I see and perceive it exactly the way I perceive it, there’s a subjective sense in which we each occupy a world all our own.
Do you know anyone whose world could use a bit more of the light of Christ? Is God calling you to be the reflector He uses to shine that light? What are you going to do about it?
† † †
A chapter later (but still in the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus talks again about lamps and light in a slightly different light:
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 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!'” – Matthew 6:22-23
According to the footnotes in my Bible, the Greek for healthy and unhealthy here implies the concepts generous and stingy respectively. I’d never linked generosity and health before, but apparently, Jesus does. This point might be worth pondering.
But to be honest, I have trouble meditating on that generosity-health relationship, because the eyes of my heart can’t help but be drawn, uncomfortably, to the final sentence of the passage: If the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
Stop and think about that for a moment. Imagine a life where the thing that’s supposed to be the source of light in your life is actually a source of darkness.
That is a pretty bleak picture that sounds both dreadful and debilitating. Like a recipe for a miserable, meaningless life.
And I have a feeling it’s more common than we realize. After all, if you have no frame of reference for what the light of the world looks like, how would you know if you’re experiencing it or not?
In his 1976 book, The Cat’s Quizzer, Dr. Seuss noted that, ‘There are FLASH-LIGHTS for when it’s dark.’ and then asked, ‘Are there FLASH-DARKS for when it’s light?’
I found the paradigm-upending idea hilariously absurd back in elementary school. But now, I’m not so sure it’s such a ridiculous concept. It sounds somewhat similar to Jesus’ light that is darkness from Matthew 6:23.
I wonder how many of us are trying to read God’s blueprints for our lives by the light of a flashdark.
Peace be with you.