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Episode 3: Light

The Light of the World shines among us.
     “I AM THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD.” These words spoken by Jesus are overwhelming. What a claim! Yet, these words are not surprising since the Gospel of John records this same or similar claim on several occasions. (8:12; 9:5; 12:35-36, 46). However, the words that begin this Gospel proclaim an even more outrageous perspective.

What the Word brought about was life,
now this life was the light for humanity;
now this light shines in darkness,
and darkness is unable to put out this light.

The Word that brought all things into being receives acclaim as the origin of life itself. Among the everything brought into existence is Light itself according to Genesis 1. Perhaps most amazing is that the Word coming as human flesh provides this light. Young students learn about the necessity of sunlight for the production of oxygen on this planet. Many adults attest to the effect that days of limited sunshine have on their physical and mental health. Jesus’ claim “I am the Light for the World” associates him with the light necessary for humanity to experience life as it has always been intended.

     Even before God spoke the Word, “light,” darkness was real. Light and Darkness seem to go hand in hand with one another. Some ancient cultures might describe the change from day to night in terms of a war between two distinct gods, while others might see the movement from one to another as a shared cooperation. Even our modern world understands that darkness and light have a set pattern-to the extent that great effort is made to observe when these two break this pattern, as the Solar Eclipse in September 2017 demonstrates. In fact, one could almost say about our modern world that we fear darkness more than anything else. Street lamps and yard lights are strategically placed in housing areas while business lights and advertisement signs literally light up the night in their parts of town. We keep candles and flashlights readily available in case the power goes out at night so we won’t be in the dark. Darkness is real, at least in our minds.

In The Old Testament

     The Old Testament contains many comparisons between light and darkness. Near the end of the book of Job, the Lord God challenges Job’s understanding and says concerning himself,

“His sneezes flash forth light,
and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.
Out of his mouth go burning torches;
Sparks of fire leap forth.” (Job 41:18-19)

The Psalmist describing the ever-presence of God notes,

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm
me, and the light around me will be night,’
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
and the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.” (Psalm 139:11-12)

Finally, the prophet Isaiah instills a moral value to light and to darkness.

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

And Isaiah closes this description of the anger of God against those who despise His Word, with this thought,

“Even the light is darkened by its clouds.” (Isaiah 5:30)

Yet, the light spoken of at the beginning of John’s Gospel is not overwhelmed by darkness, indeed darkness cannot prevent it from achieving its purpose of enlightening humanity.

     More stands behind this phenomenon than just something measured in lumens, lux, or footcandles. The image and role of light reflects a distinctive cultural background in the Bible. During the events leading up to the Exodus from Egypt one sign from God was three days of darkness in the land. Yet, the account in Exodus 10:21-23 indicates that while this was happening across the land, the sons of Israel continued to experience light in their dwellings. Later, as these people departed Egypt they were led by a pillar of cloud. When the Egyptians followed, the cloud separated the two camps. Even during this darkness, the cloud gave light at night. (Exodus 14:20) In this time of danger, darkness could not extinguish the light illuminating God’s people. The Gospel of John emphasizes that this Light, brought about by the “Word with God,” the Light of the World which Jesus declares himself to be, is not overwhelmed by darkness. Rather, as the True Light, Jesus brings light to humanity (1:3), indeed, he brings light to every human being (1:9).

Elsewhere in John

     As we saw previously in the Isaiah 5 passage, not everyone prefers light. Some call evil good and substitute darkness for light. John’s Gospel provides a similar assessment.

This is the judgment, namely Light has come into
the world and humanity loved darkness more
than the Light; for the things they do are evil.
(John 3:19)

Darkness and night seem to go hand in hand. The association of nighttime as a time when individuals ignore Jesus as the Light is recognized by many who study this Gospel. For example, we find Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night (3:2), the importance of doing God’s work while it is day since no one can work when night comes (9:4), Judas departing after taking the morsel from Jesus and night coming (13:30), and the disciples fishing during the night and catching nothing until they see Jesus in the light of day (21:3). Yet unlike the other three Gospels, this Gospel does not describe the darkness falling around Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus cannot be ignored as the Light of the World.

     Two questions must be asked, are light and darkness linked together in an unending cycle, like the Ying and Yang elements? Are they in a cosmic struggle to see which will prevail? These questions represent the status quo, what we experience in our “now time.” But as we have seen, in biblical thought darkness represents a rejection of God and especially God’s created order. Darkness existed until God began shaping the world into something new. Light came before all else, pushing darkness aside for a period of time. Only later did the lights of the sky come about to help mark the transition of time. Finally, humanity began to grow accustomed to this new order.

Concluding Thought

     Jesus does not desire darkness to continue in this cycle. Representing a new creative moment, Jesus comes as the Light of the World to bring light where only darkness seems to exist. As the Light of the World, Jesus comes so that humanity need not remain in darkness. In order to move out of darkness, one must move into the Light-or have the Light begin to shine on them where they are (12:46). The Light that is Jesus shines on those who trust the one who is the Light, the Word become human flesh and residing among humanity. The light is not from above or below, but it shines among us. Such is the distinction of the Light of the World.

Take 5 Minutes More

     When the clouds move in, it is possible to go through an entire day without seeing the sun. Yet, even in these days darkness does not overwhelm the daylight. As a metaphor for what is going on inside of us, light and darkness become emotions or mental states of being. Have you considered asking God for a brighter day-not one without clouds but rather metaphorically? We humans are not accustomed to moving from deep darkness to bright, noon day sunshine. Neither can we move from mental discouragement to complete ecstasy without being partially blinded or caught off guard.

     Since Jesus is the Light of the World, are you willing to allow him to provide the light you need in your world? Can you trust that God will be your light? Take a moment to write down one place in your life where you deeply desire a spiritual light to shine so that the darkness will dissipate and you can once again see plainly.


Updated August 4, 2022