I Saw the Light?

There's a great Christian revivalist phrase, so familiar that it's often used even by Christians themselves in light-hearted conversation: "I have seen the light!" In order to say it correctly, of course, you have to stay on the word "seen" for an incredibly long time, and put your hands up in the air as a bonus. "I have seeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen the light!"

Indeed, this is how believers think and talk about the difference between belief and non-belief. Supposedly I, as a Christian, have come to see something that those who believe differently from me have not seen. I have knowledge of the truth, I have come into contact with the divine, etc. The focus seems to be on me. I made a change, I redirected my gaze, and now I see the light. Therefore, we approach life and faith with certainty. I know. I have truth. I see the light.

Light is a common metaphor in the Bible. It is equated with God's truth or presence. People who had a special encounter with God radiated with light (e.g., Moses). It is an important theme in the gospel of John, as Jesus refers to Himself as the "light of the world" (John 8:12, 9:5). So, it makes perfect sense for a follower of Christ to use "light" in reference to their faith.  

But if we take this light analogy seriously, a very different way of thinking emerges. Think about "physical" light...that which is detectable by the human eye at 380 to 780 nanometres on the electromagnetic spectrum. Do I see light? Or is it light by which I see?

Go into a dark room or closet. Make it completely dark so that you can't see anything. Now, turn on a light. Are you seeing light? Or is it the light by which you see? Would you and I be able to see anything if not for light? If it's completely dark and we want to be able to see something, we are completely dependent on finding a source of light. Light is not just one of the many things in the world that our eyes can see; it is the very agent by which we see at all.

Think about it: our sense of sight is useless without light.

Bringing this metaphor back to the spiritual realm, we can see nothing apart from God. We do not see God, we do not find God. It is only by God's light and truth that is present in the world that we see, understand, and experience anything at all. I do not see God's light. God's light enables me to see.

This is very much in line with passages we find in the Bible that seem to unequivocally place all revelatory initiative with God. In other words, in many parts of the Bible, humans are completely dependent on God to reveal anything to them.

We're told of Samuel before his encounter with the Lord that he "did not yet know the Lord; the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him" (1 Samuel 3:7). The great prophetic oracle of Isaiah 65 begins with the words, "I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, 'Here am I, here am I.'" Jesus prayed in Matthew 11:25-26, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." Or consider what he said to Peter after his confession of him as the Messiah: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven." (Matthew 16:17). The apostle Paul made several references to the notion that still much has not yet been revealed, or cannot be perceived by humans (Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 13:9, 12). He also said, "The mystery of Christ was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets" (Ephesians 3:5).

But the interesting part is what happens in these biblical narratives when people get that glimpse of God; that moment of clarity with the divine. What happens? Did they burst into "hallelujahs" or walk away with confidence and vindication in their beliefs? No; often, it was a traumatic experience that left them reeling. At the very least, those called felt unworthy and looked for a way out (Exodus 3-4; Jeremiah 1:6; Jonah 1:1-3). Paul was left blinded (Acts 9), and Isaiah ended up berating himself and his people (Isaiah 6:1-5). Even an encounter with an angel would always reduce the biblical characters to debilitating fear.

 I tend to think we take too much credit. Am I reduced to humility when I think I have a special revelation from God, or do I flaunt it and revel in new-found self-vindication? We don't see light; light allows us to see. And we don't know God; God allows us to know. Consider this question: Do you see your faith as simply one worldview among (and sometimes against) many others, or do you believe in a God who is bigger than that; a God whose light informs all worldviews?

No comments:

Post a Comment