Jesus, we are told, is the “light of the world.” This light is intimately and definitionally related to the life that he is and that he brings. John declares: “In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). That is, the positive character of Jesus’ existence – unmitigated life – that has now come into our midst is intended to illuminate the human condition, for it is light (his life) that makes things visible. To taste his life is to quite literally to see. The dead are, not surprisingly, also blind.
This morning I woke up before the sun came up and headed to the basement for morning devotion. I decided to take a candle with me… to light it as something of an Advent candle and enjoy its gentle light as I prayed. The room where I went was pitch black. I lit the little candle, and then sat back in my chair, across the room, looking at the light and thinking about how prominent a role “light” plays in the biblical story. It is one of the most complex symbols used in Scripture… so it’s rich fodder for meditation.
In particular, I was struck by how “a little goes a long way” when it comes to light. If I had wanted to, I certainly could have lit a bonfire in my basement. For obvious reasons, I did not. The little light was sufficient. It illuminated the entire room, bringing the colors, textures, and space of the room to my vision… and now at my disposal, I could make use of the room exactly as it is intended to be used. With just that little light.
Then I thought, even if I were in a much larger room… an auditorium say, this little light would go a long way. Even more so, the darker the room, the further the light would go. Weird how THAT works. The darker the dark, the brighter the bright. (I think we’re on to something here.)
Now to my point. The “light” that John refers to is not Jesus’ morals. Not his teaching. Not his doctrine. As illuminating as those things ARE, they are not themselves the light. HE is the light. As Jesus will say elsewhere in John, he didn’t come to SHOW the way to Father, he WAS the way to the Father. He didn’t come to TELL us the truth (although he certainly did a lot of that), he WAS the truth. And he didn’t come to SHOW us the life, or EXPLAIN the life to us, but to give it – himself – to us. He is the “is” that we’re after. The ground and substance and scope of Reality. When we encounter Him, we are at rock bottom “is-ness”. He is life, he light… He IS. And we are called to partake of Him. And when we do, we partake of his life, we begin to see.
Christianity certainly needs to sound a clear moral word on the vexing issues of our day. And we certainly need to make a case for the reasonableness of our claims. And we definitely need to engage the big political and human questions that present themselves to homo sapiens. But this afternoon I am struck by the thought that if we BEGIN there, something will be lost. We are not called merely to morality. Not called to be MERELY homo sapien (“knowing man”) or even homo moralis (“moral man”), but homo vivant (“living man”). We are called to life. And when we begin to taste the life, a little goes a long way. There is a world of difference between the mere moralist, dogmatician, and humanitarian, and one who knows the heart of the Father, who has tasted his endless life.
Henri Nouwen wrote:
I have the impression that many of the debates within the church today… take place on primarily a moral level. On that level, different parties battle about right or wrong. But that battle is often removed from the experience of God’s first love, which lies at the base of all human relationships… Dealing with burning issues without being rooted in a deep personal relationship with God easily leads to divisiveness because, before we know it, our sense of self is caught up in a given subject. But when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. (In the Name of Jesus, 46-47)
Tasting the Life, drawing near to Him, and through him knowing the Father (“anyone who has seen me has seen the Father), will help us see. Christianity is not ethics. It is not “the knowledge of the tree of good and evil”. It is Jesus. It is life. Through him we know what is good and evil.
In the opening chapter of Genesis we read:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
How interesting. God’s first work is bringing light. Everything else follows from that.
Taste and see that the Lord is good today.