Wednesday, May 10, 2006

God is Light

The theme of light and darkness is a major one for St John, especially in his Gospel and First Epistle. We’re all familiar with his famous declaration, “God is love” (1John 4:8, 16), but maybe we’re not so familiar with this one: “God is light” (1:5). This is so important that the Apostle makes it central to his preaching. After the magnificent and sublime introduction to this epistle—I have to write at least some of it here: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life; the Life was made manifest, and we saw it and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal Life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us”—he says that the following is what he heard from Him and now proclaims to us: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

If God is Light, then what is the darkness that finds no place in Him? We learn from the context that Light is manifested primarily in truth and love, which are the key elements of God’s holiness and perfection. Therefore the darkness is manifested primarily in falsehood and hatred, which for St John are the foundations of sin. The light of truth and love, and the darkness of lies and hatred, appear constantly throughout this epistle.

“He who loves his brother abides in the light… But he who hates his brother is in the darkness…” (2:10-11). Can’t get clearer than that: love is light and hatred is darkness. “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light…we have fellowship with one another… He who says ‘I know Him,’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected” (1:6-7; 2:4-5). This is quite a rich passage, for in it we see the following:

--walking in darkness is the fruit of lies and severs us from fellowship with Christ
--walking in the light is living in the truth, and this brings not only fellowship with Christ but with other people as well
--by our fruits we will be known, for if we are disobedient, it doesn’t matter what we say; pious protestations will be shown to be lies
--obedience to God’s word is not only living in truth, but the perfection of love

Thus, as we move closer to the Light, and begin to walk therein, we are moving away from all dishonesty and bad will toward others. We are beginning to walk in the way of truth which, precisely because it is the way of truth, is also the way of love, for in God who is Light, truth and love are one. See how everything holds together. We cannot embrace light and darkness at the same time. They are two different worlds. The darkness is full of all manner of sin and evil and hatred and deception, and all that is anti-God. But the light is full of all that is good and holy and pure and joyful and true and loving—all that reflects the beauty of God. Therefore if we find both light and darkness within us, it is an anomaly (though an all-too-common one, I’m afraid), a contradiction, a disease, a tense and turbulent state of affairs that must be resolved.

It can only be resolved by the grace of God and our choice to change, to live wholly in the light, the truth, the love of God. The Apostle believes this is possible, and actually imperative, even in this life. This is because we have the anointing of the Holy One, because the love of the Father has made us his children, and because we have been given the grace to overcome the evil one. We tend to be unaware of how well God has equipped us, because all we usually experience are our own defects, limitations, and failures, and therefore the encroaching darkness pushes us toward dread and despair. But the Apostle proclaims: “the darkness is passing away [for its arrogant claims are, of course, lies] and the true light is already shining” (2:8).

In God there is no darkness at all. We are God’s children, and we shall be like Him (3:1-2). Embrace truth and love at all costs, and thus walk in the light. For “our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1:3).