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God is Light

22 March, 2008

b and lilyEarlier this week I was walking to a class I teach on reading the Greek New Testament. I was going quickly because I was running a bit late, and on the way I passed a blind man walking along the road, who was singing to himself. I didn’t know the tune and couldn’t make out all the words, but I did catch ‘Lead me on, precious Lord, lead me on to the light…’ It was a really touching moment, and it made me slow down and think about him. Probably the main reason seeing and hearing that blind man really struck me, was because the class that I was headed to was discussing 1 John, and some of what we had to translate for that meeting was 1 Jn 2:10-11:

The one who loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But the one who hates his brother is in darkness and walking in this darkness, yet does not know where he is going, because this darkness has blinded his eyes.

John introduces the light versus darkness theme in 1:5: And this is the message that we have heard from him and are announcing to you: that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. Because God is light, other things are also true: we have fellowship with one another as we walk in this light, confessing our sins and looking to Christ’s redemption (vv. 7, 8). In this the God who is light is also revealed to be the one who is ‘faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (v. 9).

John comes back to this theme of light and darkness in 2:8, pointing up the newness of his paradoxically ‘ancient’ command to walk in the light and love one another; the command is new as well as old because ‘the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining’. Jesus is that brightly shining light who has come into the darkness of the present sinful world, the manifestation of the God who is light and faithful and righteous on our behalf (cf. 1:2; John 1:4, 5). ‘By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers’ (3:16).

This is the context in which John mentions those who hate their brothers, who walk in darkness, whose eyes are blinded by that darkness (2:11). And these blind people are immediately contrasted to those who abide in the light and love their brothers, who are described as having their sins forgiven for Christ’s sake (v. 12), who know Christ and overcome the evil one (vv. 13, 14), in whom the word of God abides (v. 14).

It is interesting that John mentions the ‘blinded eyes’ of those who walk in darkness, which recalls the fact that John is one of those who saw with his eyes and looked upon Christ in the flesh (1:1, 2). Believers walk in that same light, although for the present we see Christ with our ears, by the word, the Spirit and faith.

The metaphor of blindness is so often in the Bible used as a picture of sin, ignorance and helplessness. But because it’s simply a metaphor (at least for most of us), it can be too easy to dismiss as somehow ‘less real’ because its not usually literally true in the physical sense — yet it is literally true of all of us in and of ourselves, in the spiritual, mental and physical senses of our rebellion from and alienation from God. I can’t imagine what it would be like to try to get around in the world and always be in total darkness. But that blind man I passed on the road the other day is both literally blind and literally walking in true light, although in different senses. So often Jesus and the apostles gave sight to the blind as a testimony to the redeeming grace of God,

The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous (Ps 146:7-8).

The work of Christ and the word of God are primarily testifying to the blindness of unrighteousness and unbelief, but the redemptive work of God won’t stop there with those whom he redeems; the righteousness of Christ on our behalf earns our sharing with him in everlasting life in the age to come, where all things will be made new by the Spirit of life. This is the re-creative work of God for us because of Jesus, who is our righteousness and in whom and because of whom we are loved and enabled to love in response: ‘we have an Advocate with the Father — Jesus Christ the Righteous’ (1 Jn 2:1).

That blind man who was singing to the Lord, trusting in his ‘precious Lord’ to ‘lead him on to the light’ will not be disappointed. The Lord leading him into the light is the God of light together with the Father and the Spirit, and even now that blind man has been given the eyes of faith, and even now is walking in the light which he will one day enjoy fully and forever. Then his bodily sight will be restored as surely as his Spiritual sight already has been. Even from the deep darkness of our blindness, God is faithful and righteous to forgive, to cleanse and to redeem completely in Jesus.

For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6).

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