The Hebrew and Greek words for “light” are transliterated into the English 229 times in the New American Standard (1995) edition of the Bible. (This number is close among all major translations). If we assume that something about light is said in each of the 66 individual books, this gives us an average mention of 3.47 times per author. According to Strong’s, there are 76 individual words that can be translated into “light,” “lighted,” “lighten,” “lightened,” “lighteneth,” “lighter,” “lightest,” “lighteth,” “lighting,” “lightly,” “lightness” or “lights.”
Thank you for the scintillating information, you are thinking. Why do I care?
The truth is, you care a great deal. Or at least you should. This concept of light, both as illumination and as a release from burdens, is a significant biblical concept. Unfortunately, it is one with which most of us are all-too unfamiliar.
In Genesis 1:3, God speaks forth light as the first act of creation. As such, there has always been a distinct separation of light and dark, day and night. Thanks to the self-sustaining phenomenon known as circadian rhythm, babies are born with an innate sense of this separateness (though parents may not think so). Over a relatively short period of time, they learn to respond to the external cues of the environment. Dark = sleep. Light = awake.
In this first act of creation, God saw that light was good, though He did not declare darkness bad. Without darkness, there is no rest. (Try visiting Alaska in the summer if you don’t believe me). All living things need a break from the sun. There is evening and there is morning all throughout this account. A God-given perfect rhythm.
It does not take long, however, for the biblical narrative to link darkness with evil. What is good and necessary for our well being takes on a sinister tone. Darkness is used to conceal, to hide, to cover. To keep things secret.
Where does the darkness drive you?
This is an important question, particularly for Christians who are so accustomed to hiding anything that doesn’t fit with the cream-cheese Sunday smiles and perfectly pressed outfits. We’ve all heard it before: you’ve argued in the car with your spouse, you threatened to throw your kid out the window, the dog got loose and you said, “Fine! Go ahead and die!”, the barista got your order wrong and you screamed at her…
Maybe you cheated on your spouse before traipsing into church. Maybe you beat your kid. Maybe you got high or drunk. Stole some money. Contemplated suicide.
Or perhaps you don’t believe at all. Perhaps you’re bitter in the darkness. You think God caused the darkness.
I don’t want to trivialize the very real struggles each of us have, because I know that we’re all in deep pain at one point or another. However, the scenario doesn’t really matter. What is important for our discussion is that we all have this inborn need to hide the hard things or to blame the hard things on another. We know what people expect of us, and so we push into the corner whatever it is that might tarnish that image.
Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology has this to say about light and darkness:
Light always involves the removal of darkness in the unfolding of biblical history and theology.
What I hope to make plain to you today is that the darkness in your life must drive you into the light if you want to have any kind of hope. Before we go any further, let me tell you that I already know what your objections are. If you don’t believe, why on earth would you turn to God, right? He caused it, even if you think He probably isn’t even real.
Stay with me.
If you’re a Christian, you know how greatly sin offends God. Or we don’t know, because we’re in denial. Whatever the case is, we let darkness drive us into more darkness. We don’t confess, we don’t pray, we don’t get into God’s Word – we think we don’t have a right.
This principle bears out Scripturally, and perhaps no better than in the writings of John. In Baker’s again:
The Johannine writings gather up the Old Testament understanding of light and show its summation in Jesus Christ (thirty-three of the seventy-two occurrences of phos [φῶς] in the New Testament are found in the Johannine literature). Light is the revelation of God’s love in Jesus Christ and the penetration of that love into lives darkened by sin (1 John 1:5-7). Jesus declares that he is “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). Jesus is the incarnate Word of God, who has come as the light that enlightens all people (John 1:4-14), so that those believing in him will no longer be in darkness (12:46).
Phosis a great word. It’s simplest definition is simply “light,” but it’s important to know from where that light is coming. It is “emitted by a lamp, a heavenly light such as surrounds angels when they appear on earth, a star, fire because it is light and sheds light, a lamp or torch.”
Light is emitted. It issues forth from a source. It consumes things in its path. Darkness tries to run, but it has no chance.
When Jesus stated in John 8:12 that He is the light of the world, He was making a very specific pronouncement that related directly to the Festival of Lights, what we know as Hanukkah. The IVP New Testament Commentary has this to say about the passage:
A lamp-lighting ceremony took place in the temple every evening of the feast, during which large lamps were set up in the Court of Women [in the Jerusalem Temple]. The lamps’ light, it was said, filled every courtyard in the city (m. Sukka 5:3). In the light of these lamps there was great singing and dancing all evening in celebration of God’s salvation, especially his deliverance at the exodus as he lead his people with his presence in a pillar of fire by night. In the sight of these great lamps in the Court of Women (8:20), perhaps even in the evening while they blazed, Jesus proclaims himself to be the light of the world.
This is a huge proclamation for Him to make. Going on in the same commentary:
The world lies in darkness and death because it has rebelled against God and thus broken contact with the one source of light and life. Jesus claims to be the light that brings light and life back to the world and sets it free from its bondage to sin. All the salvation that went before, such as the deliverance celebrated at this feast, was a type of this deepest and truest salvation that Jesus now offers.
Just as there is a metaphorical connection between darkness and evil, there is also a connection between light and liberty. Phos also means that “God is light because light has the extremely delicate, subtle, pure, brilliant quality of truth and its knowledge, together with the spiritual purity associated with it. That which is exposed to the view of all, openly, publicly.”
Nothing can hide in the light.
Listen: you have an Enemy. He is real, and he is personally and vengefully out to get you. While he can’t take your salvation away from you, he’ll do all that he can to keep you in a place of defeat and ineffectiveness. You know what, though? Even though that’s his game, we give him far too much credit. We play right into his hands by continuing to give into the same cycles of sin, year after year, day after day. How can this be when Paul was inspired to boldly write in Romans 8:31-39:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NKJV)
Not only can you conquer sin, but you can more than conquer it through, by and because of the God who loves you. Who loves me. So there is no “Devil made me do it” here. All he can do is present opportunities. We make the choice.
Where does the darkness drive you?
Jesus says in John 12:46 –
“I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (NKJV)
Again we are drawn back to that sense of connection. If we are plugged into the light, then we won’t be bearing the burdens of darkness. We won’t be scurrying off to do things in secret.
So why do we keep on, stuck in the same cycles?
Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not talking about the eradication of the sin nature in this life; sanctification begins here but it is not entirely completed until eternity. What I am talking about is those habits of sin that we are all very aware of in our lives. Things we actively choose to do that are outside of God’s will. Gossip. Lying. Cheating. Meanness. Immorality. Idolatry.
John wrote in the opening of his Gospel:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – 1:5 (NKJV)
Light is more powerful than darkness. Truth is more powerful than lies. Grace is more powerful than sin.
Where the darkness drives us matters a great deal. We can actively choose to cooperate with the one who would keep us in defeat. We can assume that God brings the darkness and hate Him for it. We can believe the condemnation – condemnation which, by the way, doesn’t even come from God (Romans 8:1). We can allow the sorrow that is meant to turn us toward repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10) to become nothing more than empty and enslaving regret. We can talk ourselves into going ever-deeper into the darkness.
Or we can go to the light.
It’s uncomfortable. The light of God is like a fire. It makes us squirm before it comforts us. That’s the way it has to be, for there is no having a relationship with the Divine or a life of freedom without admitting and submitting. Admitting that He is Lord and submitting to His way of doing things. That is what God wants for us, you know. The only place where safety, security and real, unconditional love are found is in Him.
Our darkness must drive us to the light. That is exactly what Jesus meant when He claimed to be the light of the world. He came as the ultimate pest controller, interested not in sin management but the total obliteration of our bondage. He doesn’t think our sin is cute or funny, but nor is looking to stomp on us.
He is calling us to Him.
Can you hear His voice? It pierces through all of that heaviness around your heart. You can trust it. You can believe it. You can step into the light and let Him do the work of burning away your darkness.
You don’t have to live there anymore.
Neither do I.