Thursday, March 02, 2006

Light and Darkness

One of the great themes of the Gospel of John is that of light and darkness. The former refers to all that is good, true, and holy, culminating in the person Christ Himself, who said: “I am the Light of the world” (8:12). The latter refers to all that is evil, corrupt, and false. As if it were enough to explain what Judas was about to do after the Supper, the evangelist simply says: “he immediately went out; and it was night” (13:30). He went into the darkness.

In several places, St John speaks of the Light “coming into the world.” Therefore the Light is essentially not of this world, but enters this world from Heaven. The Son of God comes to enlighten us, to save us from our sins, and to take us back to Heaven, to the glory He had with the Father before the world began. He comes as a light in the darkness, so that no follower of his will ever be lost, but will have the “light of life” (8:12).

The world, then, is in a kind of perpetual darkness, to the extent it has not embraced the Light who is Christ. We do know of the “very good” of creation, but let’s remember that God said that before the fall of man. (Not that creation isn't good now, but since the fall it has become, according to St Paul, "subjected to futility" and "in bondage to decay".) After enduring just a few generations of the sins of mankind, God said of human beings: “I am sorry that I have made them” (Gen. 6:7). So He destroyed them all but a tiny remnant, and tried to start fresh, but Paradise was lost till the end of time. There would need to be a Redeemer to salvage the sin-darkened world.

Now, things don’t look so dark when I’m at the coast watching the sun sparkle on the deep blue sea, or when I’m taking pictures of colorful flowers or richly-hued sunsets, or even enjoying a good meal (though I’ll have to wait until after Lent for that one!). But we’re not talking here about material darkness or even emotional gloom. We’re talking about the spiritual shadow that has been cast over the world ever since Eve reached for the forbidden fruit.

Therefore, when the Light came into this world, it would provoke a reaction. Those who were looking for a Redeemer would run to Him; those who were of good will and open heart would recognize and embrace Him. But those who were “of this world” would either flee from Him or attack Him. One of the clearest statements Jesus makes about the incompatibility of light and darkness is something He said in a dispute with his opponents: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world… I came forth from God… you are of your father the devil… He who is of God hears the words of God; the reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (8:23, 42-47). Not of God! Is there a more stinging judgment, a more grievous indictment that can ever be made? The evangelist comments decisively on the judgment that spontaneously occurs when the Light comes into the world: “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light…” (3:19-21).

Now we know that “the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it” (1:5), so the ultimate and everlasting victory is the Lord’s. But the world is still full of those who “love darkness,” whose “deeds are evil.” These will come face to face with the Light and will, in the end, not be able to flee from it except to Hell, the domain of the “prince of darkness.” But it is up to us, now, to make room in this world for the Light, for He has not just come once and left; He is trying continually to penetrate human hearts and minds, and to liberate us from the darkness of sin, ignorance, and unbelief. Those who have experienced the Light must, like St John the Forerunner, “bear witness to the light” (1:8), so that we all might no longer be “of this world,” but by divine grace be “of God.”

The Light has come into the world; Heaven has opened its portals to Earth. Let us, then, come to the Light, abide in the Light, and do his will—which is our salvation—“that it may clearly be seen that [our] deeds have been done in God” (3:21).