Jesus as Light & Water
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, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
A number of years ago I can remember going camping with our kids when they were small and if you were in a campground in a National Forest or State Park or somewhere similar and you wanted to build a campfire, you gathered some wood and built your fire. Well, this is no longer the case. Now you have to go to the gift shop or the visitor’s center and purchase your firewood. Good grief!
I guess I understand the problem with too many visitors to our parks and what might happen if everyone collected firewood naturally, and I guess I even support the idea of no wood gathering and purchasing firewood in the campground office. But it seems a little lacking in terms of the experience. If you are going to have a campfire, getting wood is just part of that process. But I’m old fashioned that way, I guess.
I mention this because when we were camping with our kids when they were young, I used to tease them a little bit by saying that firewood was just stored sunlight. This messed with their heads a little bit; I would explain that the sun is just a big ball of fire. They understood this and had been told this in school as well. Then I would explain that the fire of the sun reaches the earth in the form of light and energy and they understood this as well. Then I would explain that plants and animals and trees and pretty much any living thing must have sunlight in order to grow. The trees that are all around us absorb the light energy from the sun and they store some of that energy in the branches of the trees. When the branch dies and becomes firewood for us, some of that stored energy is still in there and when we burn the wood, we release the stored sunlight.
So the energy that we are talking about begins as fire on the sun, and it gets released as fire from the wood that we burn. So we begin with fire and end with fire; so our firewood is in fact stored sunlight.
Now, I have a question for you which I think is very important to our conversation today as we continue to discuss certain aspects of a creation based theology. The question is this; when I speak of firewood as stored sunlight, am I speaking metaphorically or am I speaking literally?
Is the idea of a piece of firewood being stored sunlight a metaphor in the sense that when we burn the piece of wood it is like the sun? The fire gives us heat and light and is similar to the sun in all those aspects, so it is like the sun. That is what a metaphor is, when something is like something else and you can compare the two things and find the similarities.
Or is a piece of firewood literally stored sunlight? In a literal sense that would mean that the sunlight which struck this piece of wood perhaps 100 years ago is still present in that wood. I think all of us recognize that without sunlight a tree would not grow. As it grows the branches become thicker and grow taller, that sort of thing, so some of that energy that the tree absorbs from the sun must naturally be stored in the branch of that tree, don’t you think?
So my conclusion or to answer to my own question is yes to both ideas. The idea of firewood as stored sunlight I think is a “both and” kind of question. It is a metaphor to be sure, but it is also literal in the sense of understanding the process and the flow and release of energy. This is an important concept for us to grasp that a statement can be both metaphor and literal all at the same time; I don’t believe that metaphor and literal interpretations of a particular statement or text are necessarily mutually exclusive. I believe something can be both metaphor and literal simultaneously.
This leads me back to the text I read a few minutes ago. If you have been around here for a while, you may already know this is one of my favorite texts in all of the Bible. I use it almost every chance I get and you often hear it at Christmas or during the Advent season.
But this time it is a little different. We are talking about creation theology and how God is present in all of creation. This texts speaks to that creation process with the idea that everything that is now was originally a part of God. We can look at verse 3 for example, where the text says that all things came into being through him, and without him nothing could come into existence. The text goes on to say that what was created, in a literal sense, was life.
I happen to believe that this references all life. I understand the text is primarily focused on Jesus, but I want us to think beyond just the life of Jesus and consider this text as it applies to all of creation. All of the life of creation, all of the plants and animals, all of the birds and insects and flowers and trees, all of creation represents life. Then the text goes on to say that the life that was created was the light of all people.
So in a literal sense, and a metaphorical sense, light is life and life is light. Can you see that relationship? The text then finishes with the promise, that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
To paraphrase this text you might say that when we observe any living thing, when we observe life at any level, we observe the presence of light. When we observe the presence of light, we also observe the presence of God.
So is the prologue of John written as metaphor or is the prologue of John written as a literal interpretation of the creation process? Yes.
A couple of weeks ago I shared with you a portion of a text that comes from the Gospel of Thomas. The actual text is saying number 77 from the Gospel of Thomas and there we find the words that I think are actually very similar to the words from the Gospel of John. Take another look at this saying from the Gospel of Thomas:
“I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split of piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.”
So is this a metaphorical statement or is it a literal statement? Hmmm.
Everything that we have been saying thus far about light, we could also say about water. Life itself also is dependent upon water just as it is dependent upon light.
There are two ideas that Jesus used to describe himself more than any other concept we find in the New Testament. These two ideas are also used by the authors of the Hebrew Bible texts over and over again. These two ideas used by both Jesus and all the authors of the entire Bible are that God can be described as light and as water. Consider this for just a minute. There are at least 25 or 30 references in our Bible that describe God as water. There are probably a lot more than that, but it varies depending on how you search and I didn’t have time to read the entire book and make my own list.
If you search based on the idea of God as light, the results are even more amazing. My best guess is that there are more than 50 references in our Bible that describe God or Jesus as light.
So I want to ask my question again about all these references to God and Jesus as light and water. Are all of these references metaphor and simply describe how God is like water and light? Yes, I think they do describe how the presence of God is like light and water. So, yes, these references are definitely metaphor.
But are the references also literal? When we see water or when we see light are we actually seeing and experiencing God? Yes. I believe God is present in light and in water and in all that is.
This is the best explanation of a creation based theology that I can offer. To subscribe to such a theology you must be able to hold in tension the two ideas of metaphor and literal interpretation and be comfortable with the idea that both can exist simultaneously. This thought process also leads you away from the idea that God is a being with human like characteristics, and is more like the energy that is represented in light and water. As a matter of fact, on the literal side of things, God actually is the energy in light and water, and just as light and water sustain all life on earth, so does God sustain all life on earth.
So the next time you have a campfire or burn a stick of wood in your fireplace consider the idea that the fire you see is actually ancient stored sunlight. Then consider the idea that God may literally be present in that ancient sunlight or Jesus may be present in that split stick of wood.
And that is of course, food for thought. Go in peace. Amen.