“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 4:5
Ask any child over the age of 9 or so, and they’ll be able to tell you what a metaphor is. Even years after you’ve finished all your schooling, you can probably give some sort of definition that gets the point across. Most likely, it’s something akin to “a comparison that doesn’t use ‘like’ or ‘as’.” As literary devices go, it’s a pretty common one. But even among metaphors as a whole, there’s one that stands out, used again and again, in every genre and media: light is good.
You can look at comic books, where ‘Star Brand’ is a superhero with near infinite light-based power, or the heroine ‘Dagger’ uses cleansing “lightforce” that can purge toxins, cure disease, and outshine any darkness. You can see the hit video game series Kingdom Hearts, which focuses on the power of light and friendship (with a little Walt Disney magic). As the hero of Kingdom Hearts says, “No matter how powerful darkness, the tiniest bit of light can overcome it!” It’s even cited by political leaders and authors. Early 20th century writer Edith Wharton wrote that “there are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it,” and Nelson Mandela is quoted as saying “man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.” I know many of you can also sing along with “You Are My Sunshine,” “Walking on Sunshine,” or “Shine a Light.”
Even when it’s not a metaphor, the power of light is evident in our day-to-day lives. Plants literally use light to produce the energy they need to grow. As humans, we’re wired to function during daylight hours; individuals who work night shifts for long periods have notably shorter lifespans. People who live in extreme latitudes where the sun sometimes shines for only a few hours a day are often afflicted with “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (also called “SAD”), a depression that can be treated with, you guessed it, light therapy.
With something so incredibly prevalent everywhere else, it’s probably no surprise that the metaphor of light in the Bible is also very common. If you remember, one of my first projects with Good Sam was creating a video near the beginning of this year on John 1:5: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (You can still see that video here.) God is good, and God is light. It’s a metaphor, and it’s the truth. Or is it a metaphor everywhere else because it’s the truth? We could go down that “which came first” rabbit hole, but that’s a bit beside the point I want to make.
If we’re looking at light in the Bible, we can see it in many different contexts. Light exposes all of the sins we’ve ever committed, showing our inner darkness to The One True Light, God. Psalm 90:8 says “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.” God’s light exposes our flaws, showing us where we’ve gone astray. When Saul is confronted by Jesus on the way to Damascus, a light shines from heaven, and he emerges from the encounter blind. Saul’s misdeeds were brought into the light of God, and he was transformed, both literally and figuratively, into Paul.
That’s one of the things God’s light does for us: it changes us into who we should be. We are called by Jesus, “called…out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9b). No matter our past, no matter what we’ve done, the light changes us. Even in Saul’s darkest moments, he could be brought back with the powerful light of God. Even if we fall away, returning to the light is the easiest thing we could ever do. It’s always around us, surrounding us with the warmth of God’s love and peace. “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:6) “The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:12)
And once we are those children of light, we can continue in that light. We’re not left alone to wander, but the light of God surrounds and supports us. Jesus encourages us every moment of every day. In John 11, He says that “those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.” Just two chapters earlier, in John 8, Jesus proclaims himself as that light, saying “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (verses 9 & 12, respectively). David writes a song of praise to God, singing that “you are my lamp, O Lord, the Lord lightens my darkness.” (2 Samuel 22:29). By this point, most of you are probably also remembering Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Wherever we walk, whatever we face, God is there to light our way. He was there for the Israelites, providing light to them in the midst of their darkness in Egypt (Exodus 10:23). He was there as they reclaimed their homeland, providing light that never ceased (Joshua 10:12-14). He remains with us today, providing that same light that never stops, that shows us the way.
So what do we do with this light that sustains, supports, and guides us? “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:15-16).
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai carrying the Ten Commandments in Exodus 34, the people of Israel couldn’t look at him; his face shone too brightly for them to bear to look at. It wasn’t his immaculate skincare routine; it was the light of God. Moses reflected the light of God because he was so close to Him. He spent so much time with God that spreading the light was an unconscious act, one he couldn’t stop doing or ‘turn off.’ Let us pray that our light shines in the same way: endlessly, without ceasing, reflecting the love and light that God has shone upon us.
As we gaze on your kingly brightness
So our faces display your likeness
Ever changing from glory to glory
Mirrored here may our lives tell your story
Shine on me, shine on me
Shine, Jesus, shine
Fill this land with the Father’s glory
Blaze, Spirit, blaze
Set our hearts on fire
Flow, river, flow
Flood the nations with grace and mercy
Send forth your word
Lord, and let there be light
– ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’ by Graham Kendrick