By Stephen Campbell
Scientists and philosophers have long examined the nature of light and vision. In the 4th century B.C. Plato wrote that vision occurred because rays of light came from people’s eyes and took hold of the objects they saw. Although not everyone subscribed to that theory, variations on the idea continued to be proposed as late as the 1400’s by scholars as eminent as Leonardo da Vinci.1 Of course, it is well understood now that the eye receives light by means of a complex, elegantly designed system of components, and the resulting images are interpreted by the brain.
The debate about vision is more than just a historical curiosity, however. It symbolizes two ways that people evaluate the meaning of life itself. To some, “man is the measure of all things.”2 We look at the details of life, assign meaning to what we see, and proceed according to our best evaluation of the situation. In other words, figuratively speaking, rays of light come from our minds, and by that light we interpret what is in front of us. This is a very common view. In fact, all our training as children and adults is essentially designed to strengthen our powers of discernment and interpretation so we can reach effective conclusions about life.
To Bible readers, though, there is another view: Just as light is something external and objective that enters our eyes, the illumination of life’s meaning is external too. It enters our hearts and minds from an objective source and reveals the true nature of what we see. That objective Declarer of Meaning is God Himself, who shines upon our lives. As the great Illuminator, He provides all the light we need for understanding life’s meaning and purpose.
God Is Light
When examining the theme of light in the Bible we must start with this declaration: “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5 NKJV). Light and darkness are obviously exact opposites. Where there is one, by definition there cannot be the other. Light makes things plain, exposes what is dirty, helps someone find what is lost, repels what is evil. The statement that “God is light” implies that all these characteristics reside within His very nature. The declaration that “in Him is no darkness at all” means that no deceit or flaw can exist in God, and it implies that nothing unrighteous will be allowed to have a place in His presence. As the Father of lights, there is not even a shadow of variation in His care (Jas. 1:17); as the sovereign Lord, He dwells in unapproachable light, for no creature can ever fully comprehend His character (1 Tim. 6:15-16).
Therefore it is not surprising that, in creation, light was His first provision for the Earth. He could not allow darkness to rule an empty, formless world. “Let there be light!” He declared (Gen. 1:3). In fact, on that first day of creation, light was the only thing God brought into existence. This is not because it was hard for Him to do; rather, light is so significant that God gave it its own day, for it represents the nature of Himself. Later, on the fourth day of creation, specific celestial bodies – the sun, moon and stars – were formed to produce or reflect light, but light itself was brought out of darkness from the very beginning.
God Gives Light
These facts indicate that God does not want us to live in darkness. Our own experiences show how little we can do without light. When we walk in the dark, we stumble; when it is night, we cannot work; and with these statements the Scriptures agree (Jn. 9:4, 11:9-10). Naturally speaking, various forms of artificial light have allowed humanity to conduct business 24 hours a day, and it has been argued that the electric light is one of the most significant inventions in history. This reality simply underscores the truth that we are not made to live in darkness.
Just as we depend on physical light, our souls require spiritual light, which God provides for us through the life of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Holy Scriptures. First of all, we are told that Jesus is the Light of the World. Although John’s gospel uses a number of metaphors to explain who the Lord is (the Door, the Vine, and so on), perhaps the apostle John most appreciated Jesus as the Light. In four different chapters (1, 8, 9 and 12) he explicitly presented Christ in that manner. He is the “true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (1:9). The life and perfections of Jesus shine upon every human being (consider Jn. 1:3), illuminating our lives by displaying the glories of the one in whom God found all His delight. This is even true for unbelievers who reject that light. If someone turns away from the sun, does that cause it to become dim? No, the light simply shines upon that person’s back. All who read these words must determine a response to God’s light that shines through Christ Jesus.
We who trust Jesus and follow Him find that we have been brought out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. We now possess the light of life and become children of light (1 Pet. 2:9; Jn. 8:12, 12:36,46). The same divine, irresistible power by which light overcame darkness at creation is the prevailing force which God applies to our salvation: “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone 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). The Christian faith is transformative! It is not a series of good ideas by which we can gradually improve ourselves, but a complete change of circumstances.
This change comes with a responsibility. Christians are light in the Lord, but we are exhorted to live as children of light (Eph. 5:8). Thankfully, God has provided for this need as well. The Word of God shines as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path (Ps. 119:105). Not only does the Bible show us where our feet are walking, but it also reveals where God’s pathway is if we have strayed from it. The psalmist added, “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (v.130). The apostle Peter agreed, saying that the Bible’s words of instruction and prophecy are like “a light that shines in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19). Sometimes homes are lighted with elaborate, decorative displays that are pretty but not very functional. The Bible is not like that. Far from being merely ornamental, God’s Word is bright and effective as a source of understanding and wisdom. By its power we will live up to our character as children of light if we allow the Bible to illuminate us in the activities of life.
Christians Are Lights
Certain chemical compounds have the property of phosphorescence, which produces the “glow in the dark” effect found in various toys and other items. These compounds store light energy and then release it slowly over time. In a much more significant way, Christians shine as lights in this world – not only because we have been exposed to God’s light, but also because we have been made children of light. Yet we do not produce our own light; God and His Word remain our only sources of light, and we carry that light into our daily circumstances.
The experience of Moses helps us understand this reality. After spending an extended period of time with the Lord on Mount Sinai, his face took on a radiant, shining appearance that was noticeable to everyone. For the people of Israel this was distracting and even a bit frightening, so Moses veiled his face. This evidently happened with regularity, because after this occasion the text says, “Whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of his face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again” (Ex. 34:35). The veil of Moses symbolizes the temporary nature of God’s covenant with Israel, because that veil is taken away in Christ, and today we can see God’s glory clearly (2 Cor. 3:7-18).
The main point for our subject is that the light which shone from Moses’ face was caused by his time in God’s presence. Our own light for God becomes brighter in the same way. As we look upon the glory of the Lord, we are transformed into the same image with ever-increasing glory. This proves the deep importance of spending time with the Lord in Bible reading and prayer if there will ever be brightness in our testimony for Him.
Our light has particular characteristics that are helpful to notice. First, the Lord said, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:14-16). This passage emphasizes that light must be visible to be effective. A city on a hill is constructed with the knowledge that everyone will see it at night. In a house, an oil lamp is placed on a stand so its light can shine upon anyone who enters the room. Is this how our lights shine for the Lord? Just as the life of Christ shines upon every human being, so our light should shine equally upon everyone who knows us. Furthermore, we won’t simply be known as a “nice person,” because those who see our light will be directed to our Father in heaven. They will not only notice our good works but will also understand that the source of our light is God Himself – and this will require our verbal testimony about His work in our lives.
The apostle Paul added that we are “children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). A light is not troubled by darkness! In fact, a dark room is where light does its best work, for there even the smallest light is noticed and appreciated. As we observe the surrounding darkness, let us not become distressed but determined! Does your world seem increasingly crooked and perverse? Those are perfect conditions for God’s light to shine through you. The next verse connects this light with “the word of life.” As we tell others what the Bible means and why its message is true, our lives will draw them from darkness and into God’s magnificent light.
A Burning, Shining Light
The Lord Jesus described the effectiveness of such a witness. The people of His day had listened with interest to John the Baptist: “You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth … He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light” (Jn. 5:33,35). “Burning” means he had been lit for the Lord, and “shining” means he gave light to everyone who saw him. John was no miracle worker and he did not travel great distances. He simply served the Lord at the Jordan River, preaching God’s message. Yet people heard him, and afterwards they said, “All the things that John spoke about this Man [Jesus] were true” (10:41). What a grand summary of his life!
“The LORD is my light,” wrote David in Psalm 27:1. By Him we receive light, and through Him we give light. The Christian songwriter Chris Rice captured these details this way:
Carry your candle, run to the darkness;
Seek out the hopeless, confused and torn.
Hold out your candle for all to see it;
Take your candle, and go light your world.
As we carry the character of Christ, we will shine for Him.
2. The philosopher Protagoras stated this view in the 5th century B.C. He is widely credited with the beginning of relativism, a philosophy which holds that there are no absolute truths about human experiences but only perceptions that are true for each individual. Source.