Mystery of God – Part 4: God as Light
Text: John 1: 1-5
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
This may be my favorite scripture in all the New Testament; there are a few Hebrew Bible passages that rank right up there as well, but for New Testament, I think this one from John is probably my favorite. It is a favorite for a number of reasons. For one thing the imagery and metaphor that is brought to life is, in my opinion, beautifully written. I resonate with the concept of God and Jesus depicted as light and I am particularly fond of the last few words where it states that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. That is a very hopeful statement. I also like this particular scripture because I think it announces the Christmas season and the meaning of Christmas perhaps better than any other. I look forward each year to this Advent season so that I can once again look at this scripture and form sermons and worship services around these concepts.
I mentioned last week that my short answer to the question I raised was God is light. This scripture confirms that, at least in a metaphorical sense. But just in case you have been out of the loop for a little while, let me refresh your memories.
We have been working our way through a sermon series about the mystery of God. I have mentioned that I believe some of this mystery can be unraveled a little bit by taking clues that we find in the natural world. I have also said that often I think the mystery of God presents itself to us in the form of a question. A couple of weeks ago we looked at the question of why bad things happen to good people. Last week we began to look at the questions of who is God and what is God as we continued to unravel some of the mystery of God. Last week I mentioned that I felt it was important that if we are going to try to define God that we do so with a wide-angle view. In other words, it might be important for us to incorporate many different views of God rather than sticking with traditions about God that are uniquely Christian.
As we consider our questions of who is God or what is God, I hinted last week that I thought God could best be described as light. The text I read a minute ago is a prime example of the use of light as a descriptor of the Divine. But there are others, a lot of others.
I wanted to begin our unraveling of this mysterious God by pointing out a basic concept of light that I think is very important for us to understand. There are many Christians who believe we are engaged in spiritual warfare, and the dark side, to use Star Wars type language, has real power and real influence in the world. Some Christians even believe that Satan or the devil is an actual being with power and influence over the human mind. This spiritual warfare is a battle of will and a battle of wits and it acknowledges that the power of evil is strong and we can only overcome this evil power by aligning ourselves with someone more powerful. Of course, that someone in this context would be Jesus. In other words, if we are afraid of the bully, we hang around with the guy who is tougher than the bully. As in the text I read a few minutes ago, this battle is sometimes described as light versus darkness. Even in Star Wars the evil side was called the dark side and in our text John reminds us that the darkness has not overcome the light.
When you are speaking or writing in metaphor, I guess this is an OK way to explain the power of God. The down side of this metaphor is that it grants far too much power and authority to darkness and it reinforces what I consider to be a very dangerous myth, and that is the devil is actually real.
So I mentioned I wanted to begin with a basic concept of light. This understanding of light, I believe, is much closer to the truth than the metaphorical story of a fallen angel. This aspect of light, which I think we must understand, is that there is no such thing as darkness. Darkness cannot be measured or quantified in any way. You cannot take a room and add darkness to that room. Unlike light, darkness does not travel at a particular speed.
What I’m trying to explain is that darkness is not a thing. Darkness is a condition; that condition is simply the absence of light. This is a very different idea than granting darkness power or authority or giving darkness a persona that tricks and manipulates. In our natural world, which I think is a good measure of the personality of God, darkness is not a thing or a being or have any power whatsoever. Darkness is merely a condition caused by the absence of light. Bring light in and the darkness flees without a fight. There is no spiritual warfare, there is no fighting of the dark side; once you introduce light, the darkness is gone in an instant.
This is one of the reasons I find the metaphor of God as light very attractive. Light dispels darkness and light identifies darkness as powerless. Darkness is a condition brought about by the absence of light.
But light has other properties worth mentioning. Another aspect of light that I think fits well with my personal concept of God is that light is required for almost any kind of life or growth we know of on this planet. That statement at one time was unequivocal; light absolutely was required for any kind of life. In recent years science has discovered some tiny sea creatures that survive at ocean depths where there is not any light. They seem to draw their energy from thermal vents on the ocean floor. So with the exception of those weird tiny sea creatures, light is required for life of almost any kind.
What I think is particularly interesting is the process by which this light is used. We need to really think about this, because I feel it is an important concept. To understand that the giant Redwood and the delicate flower both use light in their process of growth is to begin to understand God. You see, the light does not mandate what the life produces, what it looks like or how it is used. In our natural world light is used to grow food and warm our bodies. Light is used to raise fresh flowers and keep the animals on this planet alive. Light is used with such diversity that we can’t even begin to name all the ways. But consider the property of light which falls on the earth without regard to what it becomes or how it is used. Light may help produce a newborn infant and it may also help a tree clean our air of carbon dioxide. The point is that light is both necessary and egalitarian all at the same time. Remember when I said we will need to look beyond a uniquely Christian definition of God? Imagine if light fell on this planet but someone tried to enforce a rule that the light could only be used a certain way? What if someone decided that oak trees were the only true users of light and all other forms of life were false? Does that make any sense at all? Of course not. Nature has many expressions of the growing power of light, and so should we.
I only have time for one more example, even though the light analogies and metaphors could go on and on. This concept is one that if I tried to explain it in any detail I would fail; so you have two options; you can either just take my word for it, or you can look it up and read about for yourself. What I am talking about is a famous experiment that was first conducted early in the 19th century. Since that time it has become increasingly complex and even more meaningful because of the advance of quantum physics. This is what is usually called the double slit experiment.
Without trying to explain all the details, most of which I do not really understand, let me just give you what I find fascinating about this experiment. With all of our scientific inquiry and research and advancements in science, there is still some debate about the properties of light. Some say that light is a particle and some say that light is a wave and some say it is both, although in the rest of the scientific world, it is impossible for something to be both a particle and a wave.
The double slit experiment uses a light source to prove that light can be seen as a particle and can also be seen as a wave. What seems to make a big difference in the experiment is what the expectations are of the observer. Now let that sink in. There is an experiment that seems to indicate that if you expect light to be in a wave pattern that is what you see. If you expect to see light as a particle, you can also see that. From a certain perspective, it seems that light changes form based on the expectations of the observer.
I believe this is partially the reason that the Christian response to the mystery of God has been Trinitarian in nature. God is so diverse that we seek to define God in three ways as parent and partner and spiritual director. Those may be accurate, but I also think there are probably 100 more. Just as in our experiment the light responds to the needs or expectations of the observer, so God responds to our needs. God becomes that which we need or desire at any given moment and can change from moment to moment depending upon our needs or expectations.
To understand this particular aspect of the Divine, I think, is the beginning of, pardon the pun, the beginning of enlightenment.
God as light has many parallels, but none are more important than the one where we began. Simply and beautifully stated the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not and will not overcome it. The light of the world has come for all as a witness to the power of that light and as a shining example of what living in the light can be. God is light and it shines on you. How you use that light and what you manifest with that light is up to you.
Go as children of the light and go in peace. Amen.