Light and Darkness
I was reading an article the other day about common metaphors that we get totally and completely wrong. My personal favorite was “Blood is thicker than water.” It always means that in the end, family is always more important or reliable or lasting than friends. Friends may come and go, but family is forever.
Except, of course, for the fact that that’s completely backwards from what it originally meant. The original phrase may actually have been, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.” It meant that the ties of soldiers who had spilt blood or had their blood spilt together or the ties of those who were bound together by blood covenants like that of Christ’s sacrifice or other, more nasty rites were stronger than family. We got it completely wrong!
I wonder, too, if we tend to misunderstand the metaphor that John tends to use in his writing. He talks quite a bit about light, often contrasting it with darkness. I think the generally accepted understanding is that light is good and darkness is bad. It’s a picture of good and evil, righteousness and sin. But I’m not sure the context actually supports only that.
1 John 1 is littered with references to light and darkness, and how it tends to get understood is that those who are good (in the light) will have fellowship with God and others and will receive forgiveness when we ask, but those who are evil won’t. A more careful reading might suggest something else, though. The first few verses talk about things manifesting and being seen and heard. The next section discusses fellowship, but also hits on self-deceit and confession. What all of this seems to point to, in my mind, is not so much a matter of good and evil, but openness and hiddenness.
Consider: the life manifesting to us is about something being revealed, and now that it is revealed, it can be seen and heard. What once was hidden or at least unknown is now in the open. Fellowship among evil people is surely possible, but how can fellowship happen if everyone is hidden from each other? Deceit is the epitome of hiddenness, but confession is all about bringing things into the open. Darkness, then, is keeping things hidden while light becomes bringing things in the open where they can be seen.
John 3 is even more apparent on this. Verse 20 talks about people in darkness not wanting to come into the light for fear of being exposed. Darkness, then, is not the fact that they’re evil, but that they are hidden from view. Coming into the light isn’t salvation or being good or even relationship with God, at least directly; it is coming into the open. The prior verse, if read substituting good and evil for light and dark becomes, “men loved evil rather than the good, for their deeds were evil.” That seems redundant, but if you substitute hiddenness and openness, it becomes, “men loved being hidden rather than being seen, for their deeds were evil.” Heaven knows I’ve done rotten things, and my gut instinct is to hide it. When you do things you know are evil or wrong, you tend not to shout them to the world.
Not that the metaphor of good and evil isn’t also present in John’s mind. Those tones seem to be there as well, but they’re integrated, it seems, with this idea of openness and hiddenness.
If you go back and reread these two chapters in particular and perhaps any other references to light and darkness, does this change your understanding of what the scripture is getting at? Does it call you to something more or different than what you expected or how you have lived? Are there places that are in darkness in you that the Spirit might be calling into the light, and if so, where might be a safe place to draw into “fellowship with one another”?