God is Light and in Him is No Darkness at All: On Discerning Divinity

The first Epistle of John begins this way. “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. 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.”

The vocation of every Christian is to enable others to discern the presence of God, to enable them to live their lives in God’s light. There is no greater challenge than the challenge to answer at any time and at all times the question, “What’s God got to do with it?” And there is no better rule to use in discerning God’s presence than the message of John in his beautiful declaration, “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” To apply this rule is to adopt essential wisdom in meeting the two great questions of faith. What does God have to do with the ordinary course of events? And what does God have to do with evil?

Of course, to apply the rule we must know what is light and John has already told us how to discover that. Turn our eyes upon Jesus. When we look at him we see the anonymous carpenter of Nazareth and Capernaum, the wedding guest in Cana, the protector of fallen women, the benefactor of hungry thousands, the friend of fishermen, the disrupter of funerals, the risen crucified one, the one who is the word of life. Indeed the resurrection of the crucified one tells us that he is the logos from whom all things come. At his word light becomes light.

And what of darkness? An influential answer, the most influential answer in Christian history is that darkness is nothing, the privation of being. But this will not do because darkness at its very worst is eros whose object is violence, violence that aims at nothing, that reduces the other to nothing, that extinguishes the light. We know this because of Jesus’ life and teachings. The darkness literally tried to extinguish the light. There is in addition a less insidious form that darkness takes and that is mindless degeneration – finitude in the form of death. The resurrection is the divine light that exposes the darkness for what it is, the antithesis of him in whom and from whom we live and have our being.

Our lives, lived though they are in God’s light, are nevertheless beset by darkness. And so the first implication of John’s rule for discernment of the divine is that we cannot identify the course of history with the divine will. A particularly important instance of this differentiation of history and the divine will is the impossibility of coming to terms with the facts of natural history by treating that story of violence and death as God’s means to achieve his ends in creation. It is impossible to comprehend natural history this way because God is light and in him is no darkness at all including no darkness in the means he makes his own to achieve his ends. God is at work in all things to achieve his ends, but not all things are his works.

We must continue to pray, as our Lord taught us to do, that God’s will be done on earth because it is not and has not been done here as it is in heaven. And not only must we distinguish the presence of the divine in history from the ordinary course of events; we must also differentiate the divine will from our wills. We cannot identify our agendas and actions with the divine will. Because God is light and in him is not darkness at all.

Nevertheless our lives are only touched by darkness. They are not swallowed up in it. Just as surely as we cannot identify the ordinary course of events or our individual agendas with the divine will, so we cannot conclude that those events and those aims annul the divine will either. Here again our efforts to understand all of history including natural history with and without human life must be informed by John’s declaration regarding the divine. The following false syllogism illustrates failure to obey John’s rule. “If the world is very, very old and human beings share a common ancestor with living primates, then Jesus is dead.” Mere logic should expose the foolishness of such an inference, but John’s dictum supplies yet more certainty that whatever the course of history is and has been, the divine light shines through it all. Since Jesus is alive, whatever else may be historical fact, we can be certain that our labor, as Paul says, is not in vain.

We are able to discern the presence of God in history, in our own history because in Jesus the divine light shines. And because that light is the antithesis of darkness we must not rationalize evil. If we ask, as life and faith compels us to, what does God have to do with evil, with the erotic will to violence, with the mindless degeneration of death, then we can offer only one answer. God is the immutable opponent of evil. How is God related to sin, suffering and death? He is against it. No one has, because no one could explain how what is antithetical to light could be compatible with light. God is light and in him is no darkness at all. That light shines in our lives and the darkness has not overcome it. This is cause for joy.

Daryll Ward attended Andrews University, Tübingen University, and the University of Chicago (where he earned his PhD) and spent many years working in the field of addiction treatment, business ethics, and pastoring. For the last 12 years he has taught theology and ethics at Kettering College. This article is adapted from a speech given to the executive teams of North American Adventist institutions of higher learning who gathered at Kettering College in March 2015.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6756

An esoteric commentary that answers nothing and satisfies everyone. that takes academic skill that at the undergraduate level would not get a pass. God gives us light, eye sight , and the power of reason. “Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow.” That is the light that shines from the Cross. let us glory in it. Tom Z

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Amen and amen…too much of religion is “negativity based” and I am so adamantly opposed to this. When fear, anxiety, and self-loathing are used in sermons, periodicals, etc- God is not present in it. God needs to be praised in the affirmative, in what can be seen as blessings and joys. He who lives in life and light can never be in the darkness.

Thank-you for this affirming message- I needed it today.

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when i read this, i immediately thought the god is light premise in john rules out evolution, which relies on violence and death, until i came to:

i still think the god is light premise rules out evolution…i disagree that the syllogism cited is false…

the book of 1 john is one of the books of the bible i’ve memorized in the kjv, which i think through occasionally…this verse, in the kjv, is quite different:

“and these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full”, 1 john 1:4.

one would think translators would be in agreement with possessive pronouns like “your” vs. “our”…

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Jeremy, You are right that translators should agree regarding such simple words as pronouns. This is a matter of textual criticism, i.e. which ancient manuscript one concludes was the original. The New Testament manuscripts titled Sinaiticus and Vaticanus have the Greek pronoun for “our” while the manuscript found in the library at Alexandria shows the pronoun “your.” Interestingly the text makes good sense either way. If one selects the manuscripts with “our” then John is saying that he is writing his letter in order that his joy (it’s a singular pronoun) might be full and if a translator makes the other judgment then John wrote his letter in order that the joy of his addressees might be full. I’m sure we can agree that John’s message is cause for joy for him, his addressees and us these many centuries later.

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Jeremy, it is a false syllogism in that it is only an if/then statement, not a syllogism. In a syllogism, two postulates necessitate a third by virtue of shared terms.

Is this to say that those whose lives do not illuminate God are not really christian, but some fraud, taking on the name of the Lord in vain?

This would apply then to any organisation which claims authorization of God, but fails to act with utmost integrity and shroud it’s secrets in darkness, don’t you think? “What does God have to do with evil?”

It seems that this same John in his epistle contra-indicates this perception: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Yet that light which enlivens every man was not stricken from those that prevail in darkness. One cannot make a point about Biblical ‘darkness’ without considering complete commentary which it contains.

That which is assumed to be darkness has no existence without the light. The darkness, when perceived literally, would extinguish itself in putting out the light.

Without belaboring the point, to quote an early 1980’s blockbuster, when enshrouded with fear and darkness, “Go to the Light!”

Trust God.

kade, as i read it:

postulate 1 = the world is very, very old…
postulate 2 = humans share a common ancestor with living primates…
conclusion = jesus is dead…

i think this is a syllogism in a loose sense - which is normally how this word is used…that is, postulate 1 doesn’t necessarily lead to our conclusion, but postulate 2 can…therefore if postulate 1 connects to postulate 2, it can also lead to our conclusion…

i simply disagree, from a content standpoint, that it isn’t a true syllogism…

There are no shared terms, thus it is a false syllogism. The first two postulates, taken together, do not necessitate a third.

i agree there are no shared terms between the postulates, but they do share the concept of elongated time…postulate 2 is necessarily associated with darwinism and, for many adventists, the conclusion, whereas as postulate 1 doesn’t have to if one subscribes to one or more variations of the gap theory…because postulate 1 links to the conclusion only via its conceptual link to postulate 2, i can see the term syllogism applying in a loose sense…

That makes the book of Job a conundrum.

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I like this statement from my reading.

Jesus is in competition with no world religion, but only in nonstop competition with:
Death
Suffering
The tragic sense of life itself.
That is the only battle that he wants to win.
He wins by including it all inside of his body, “groaning in one great act of giving birth…waiting until our bodies are fully set free”. [Romans 8:22-23].
R. Rohr, Breathing Under Water, pg126.

Light
Four [4] things.

  1. A little light in darkness allows us to find our balance. It provides a point of reference for moving about in the dark.
  2. A little light in the darkness illuminates our “shadow self”. It allows us to look at our “shadow self” and not be overwhelmed by what we are, look like in the Total Light.
  3. Too Much Light, Too Bright, Too Strong of Light is Blinding.
  4. The little burning oil lamp attached to the big toe on our foot, is a light unto my path in the dense darkness on a moon less night.

For the command is a lamp, And the Torah a light, And reproofs of discipline a way of life. - Proverbs 6:23
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. - Psalm 119:105
Therefore יהושע spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall by no means walk in darkness, but possess the light of life. - John 8:12

(It is unproductive, usually merely judgmental, to offer up some quote without making a comment yourself. Do not do this in the future please. If your intent here is to judge and condemn without engaging and trying to understand why other people might see things differently than you, then please go somewhere else. If you would like to participate in an actual conversation, you are most welcome here. - website editor)

Wasn’t aware that quoting the Word here is unproductive, judgmental and condemning. I will rather leave as I am only welcome where my Master, the Word, is welcome. Thank you for informing me.

(You certainly have some maturing to do. This sort of judgmentalism will not serve you well in any context, and certainly will not be acceptable here. Instead of putting spin on what I have said, you should think about it carefully. - website editor)

Quote the Bible sure, but relate to us how it relates to you. Express yourself! Tell us of your walk with the Savior. This is an SDA website but we tend to take a more empathetic analytical approach here.

You’re most welcome to share your experiences and Chistian walk with us!

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