In Part 2 of this series, I described light as the opposite of darkness, but I need to backtrack on that a bit.
The words are definitely antonyms, but as former Michigan megapastor Shane Hipps pointed out in at least one sermon a few years ago, darkness is not really the opposite of light.
It’s the absence of it.
And darkness, being the absence of something, rather than the presence of something, is really hard to get rid of. You can’t carry buckets of darkness out of the room, Hipps noted. Focusing on darkness accomplishes nothing.
If a room is dark and you don’t like it, you don’t remove darkness, you add light. Strike a match or flick a switch and the darkness doesn’t stand a chance. It’s gone in an instant, and had no opportunity to put up a fight.
This is such an obvious truth in our temporal lives here on Planet Earth that we don’t give it a first thought – let alone a second. But Hipps obviously wasn’t pointing out this truism in order to teach the finer points of how to use candles and light switches; he was shining some light on the concept of God as the Light of the World.
I love that metaphor. The first time I heard it, I got Goosebumps. It felt like wisdom and Truth. And when I started this series, I had big plans to tack the reference onto one of the earlier (Other) L-Word posts and let the metaphor do its own talking, but as I’ve reflected on the idea lately, it’s troubled me a bit. To drop it on you without doing some exploration feels a little irresponsible, so I’ve decided to build an entire post around this notion.
So here goes:
Does the Light of the World function in the same way as the light of the room?
Unfortunately, the relationship between the darkness and light doesn’t seem to work the same way in our souls as it does in our homes and offices. There’s plenty of darkness in the lives of believers.
But why doesn’t it work that way?
It’s tempting to dismiss Hipps as just another feel-good Pollyanna peddling a dime-a-dozen touchy-feely easy answer – except that he didn’t call God the Light of the World, God did.
Is it possible that the illustration is bang-on – a flick of the Godswitch does instantly banish darkness – but on this side of Heaven we simply don’t have eyes to see it?
Perhaps it’s not helpful for us to cling too tightly to our earthly definition of ‘instantly’.
‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’ – 2 Peter 3:8
And, as the next verse in that passage seems to suggest, maybe God doesn’t instantly (as we perceive time) vanquish darkness from our lives because He wants us to grow in His light and be strengthened by it gradually – so it has time to truly take root in us:
‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ – 2 Peter 3:9 (boldface Baldy’s)
Another possibility is that there’s nothing at all wrong with Hipps’ light-darkness analogy, but I’m guilty of demanding that an attractive metaphor be 100% applicable to the reality it relates to.
Frustrating as it is for categorizers like me, there is no such thing (this side of heaven) as a perfect metaphor. (I wonder if that’s one of the reasons Jesus told so many parables.) All analogies break down at some point, and forgetting that is a crime of which I am guilty all too often.
Maybe the illustration isn’t supposed to shed light on how quickly heavenly light banishes darkness in our lives. Maybe its entire job is to highlight the reality that we can cook up all sorts of plans, strategies, processes, philosophies, and pedagogies to help us deal with, address, mitigate or cope with the darkness in our lives, but to truly begin to free ourselves from the darkness, we need the Light of the World.
‘“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”‘ – John 15:5
Wait, wait, wait. If Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, then how come …
Baldy, don’t start that again. There’s no such thing as a perfect metaphor, remember?
Peace be with you.