What happens when you step into the spotlight? Do your palms sweat and your mouth dry at the thought of exposure?
What about when you step into the sunlight after a week of grey rain?
We love light. And we hate it. We need it, want it, and yet fear it.
For several months I’ve puzzled over the statement: “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) It has felt like such great news, a statement overflowing with joy, a place I could settle and make my home. But why?
Light means so many things:
- In Afghanistan, where tuberculosis raged, light meant purification; the tuberculosis bacilli lived only a few minutes in direct sunlight vs. days in the dark. Is John talking about the light of God’s righteousness? (see Isaiah 5:20 where good/evil is equated with light/darkness.)
- In Vancouver, where the cloud hangs low for the months of winter, the return of the springtime sun brings hope and happiness and health to many. I recently moved, and my plants are growing wildly in the new bright window. Is John speaking of the power of light to heal and renew, to give strength and cause growth and bring life?
- I turn on the light in my windowless bathroom to find something in the drawer. Light reveals. Is John referring to understanding vs. confusion? Honesty and openness vs. hiddenness? (Isaiah 42:16; 50:10)
What does he mean? And why is this a good thing?
God is. . . ?
Three times in John’s letter I hear the refrain, “God is. . .” Once at the beginning, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) Twice near the end, “God is love.” (4:8,16) All three, and what lies between, speak the same great news: God is holy love.
Repeatedly in Scripture, God’s holiness is imaged by light. “Holy, holy, holy” the creatures cry, and John and Isaiah and Ezekiel and the twenty-four elders all fall down before the One who is overwhelming light (Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1, Revelation 1 and 4). We fear such brilliant perfection. God’s holiness is his perfection: we get that much right. But we often conceive perfection in too-small, purely negative terms: absence of sin. In fact, holiness is much more about who and what God is than who and what He isn’t. "God is holy," or, in image form, "God is light," means that God is perfect in every way: perfect goodness, perfect love, perfect truth.
“Holiness implies that every excellence fitting to the Supreme Being is found in God without blemish or limit. It also implies that all other divine moral excellences (goodness, justice, mercy, truth and grace) are unified and made mutually harmonious in infinite degree in God.” (Oden, Systematic Theology, Vol 1, p. 99)
God’s holiness and His love are not in opposition. “God is light” includes “God is love.” It clarifies the kind of love that God is, a love whole and complete, perfect in every way. God is powerful love that sets the beloved free, purifying her from the sin which holds her hostage and making her great, growing her into her full height as His heir and His bride.
Why this matters to you right now
I used to think that the dark was the best place to rest. I closed the blinds to nap. I avoided the spotlight, preferring to hide in the shadows. When I started this blog, I chose a black background to provide a sense of restfulness, a retreat from the busyness of the day. (But where is the rest if you're straining your eyes to read?)
I still close the blinds when I nap. I still don't love the spotlight. But I’m learning this: though it can feel scary to step into the light, the light is a much more restful place to live than the darkness; in the light the fear fades. From our spot in the darkness, we fear to step into the light because we cannot see that God’s light and his love are inseparable, that the perfection of God’s character, including his love, is his holiness. When we finally step out of the darkness into the light we discover that the exposure of our failings is enveloped by the revealing of God’s grace. The light reveals our brokenness not to condemn but to set free (John 3:17-21). It’s a bit like an object in the direct path of the sun’s light: the details fade in the brightness of the glory. The bumps and cracks and blemishes, where they’re seen at all, become places of special beauty, places that refract the light of grace with particular brilliance.
God is light: it means that when the fog of confusion clouds my own vision, God still looks in love. He will guide me into all truth. I can rest.
God is light: when all around me is changing, God’s perfect love does not change. I can count on this. And I can rest.
God is light: each time I am unable to live the way I want to, instead of hiding in the shadows and trying to fix it myself, I can bring my hurting heart into the light where I discover again (oh, how wonderful!) that God's perfect love is still shining on me. And I can rest.
And the last word on God’s love embodied in human flesh? “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
What does it mean for you in this moment that God is light?