Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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Where is the way where light dwelleth?

Earlier  today I re-blogged two posts that pointed to inconsistencies in US media coverage of President Trump’s actions. I was not wanting to make a political point, after all I am a Canadian, but trying to point out the folly of trusting the media to shed light on current issues.

Someone, I think it was Stephen Leacock, once wrote: “The combined labours of many scholars has shed much darkness on the route taken by Hannibal and his army to cross the Alps. As they continue their research it is probable that we shall soon know nothing at all.”

I was living in Toronto in my early twenties and a provincial election campaign was drawing to a close. One day the Telegram newspaper appeared on newstands with huge headlines proclaiming that the leader of one of the minor parties had switched allegiance to the Conservatives, The next issue of the Globe and Mail pointed out that this was true, but hardly a scoop as that event had occurred three years previously.

Thankfully there are still some journalists who prefer truth to hysteria. News stories written by the others should be taken with a grain of salt.

The title of this blog is a quote from the book of Job, chapter 38, verse 19. As Christians we should not give credence to the type of news stories that would whip us into a perpetual state of indignation. That is definitely not where light dwells.

To find the true light we need to look far beyond the political arena. The crisis of this day, this week, this month, will pass and be forgotten. But the true light is eternal and unchanging.

The apostle John tells us in the beginning of his gospel that Jesus is that true light and that light is available to everyone. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians tells us that we are to shine as lights in the world. We can’t do that if we let our thoughts and feelings become stirred up and confused by the shrill alarms coming from the media.

The Logos

Greek philosophers believed the world had always existed and realized that there must be some active principle that made the world function in an orderly fashion. Heraclitus, Zeno and Plato described this principle that ordered and maintained the universe and permeated all reality as the Logos. Logos means word, reason, plan and all that might be included in their meaning.

Then Jesus was born and walked this earth with a few followers. One of those who walked with Jesus, described him this way:

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 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 the Logos was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (The gospel of John chapter 1, verses 1 to 5 and verse 14).

Do you see what John is doing? He is telling us that the Logos is much more than philosophers have been able to grasp by their reasoning. He is a person, He is God, yet in some way separate from God the Father. He has created all things, He is the source of life and of light. John is saying I have met Him and I want to introduce Him to you so that you may also know Him and walk with Him.

John also tells us that the darkness did not comprehend the Logos when He came into the world. The English language has a million words, yet lacks a word to describe the kind of darkness that John is speaking of. This darkness is not the mere absence of light but the home of Satan and all that is opposed to the light. In French it is called ténèbres; many other languages have a similar word, but not English. Most of the time when the New Testament uses the word darkness it means that kind of darkness:

Ephesians 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness (ténèbres) of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Colossians 1:13 Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness (ténèbres), and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:
Acts 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness (ténèbres) to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
John 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness (ténèbres) rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

The English Bible (AV) says that the darkness (ténèbres) did not comprehend the light. Comprehend comes from the French word comprendre which sometimes means understand, but the root meaning is to take in. The French Bible simply says the ténèbres did not receive the light.

Let us rejoice that the Logos, the light, has come into the world. May we truly know Him and walk with Him. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

Merry Christmas!

Darkness and light

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3)

The Scriptures speak of two kinds of darkness: the one a natural darkness which is simply the absence of natural light: the other a spiritual darkness that is opposed to God and which is the dwelling place of spiritual beings opposed to God. The original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible use different words to differentiate between the two forms of darkness. Many languages have two words for darkness, English has only one and that can lead to misunderstandings of the text.

In French Bibles the underlined word in the above text is rendered ténèbres. The dictionary defines this word as profound darkness, most often considered to be a material environment; in a religious sense, that which is opposed to the light of God.This captures well the meaning of the word used in the original Hebrew.

Understood this way, the verse is telling us that the forces of spiritual darkness were present on the earth from the beginning of creation. It also explains why God created light on the first day of creation, but the sun was not created until the fourth day. The light of the sun cannot drive away spiritual darkness, only the light of God’s presence can do that.

The next verse tells us that God divided the light from the darkness. The conflict between light and darkness has continued from that day and will continue until the end of the world. Natural night and day are realities that should remind us of the deeper reality of spiritual darkness and light.

Many cultures confused the light of the sun with the light of God and worshipped the sun. God showed His judgment of Egyptian sun worship by bringing darkness on the land of Egypt. The word used in Hebrew (and in the French translation) denotes spiritual darkness, but it also manifested itself as natural darkness. The land of Goshen, where the children of Israel dwelt, had light, both natural and spiritual.

Later on, when God called Moses to go up Mount Sinai, we are told that the mountain was covered by a cloud of thick darkness. The word used here simply means natural darkness. In French it is rendered obscurité. When Moses climbed up the mountain he was obscured from the view of the people below. When he reached the top of the mountain, the natural light of the sun was completely obscured and he was illuminated by the light of God’s presence.

Moving on to the New Testament, the gospel of John, speaking of Jesus, tells us: In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:4-5) Here again, the underlined words are rendered ténèbres in French, an accurate translation of the Greek word in the original.

Here are a few more New Testament passages:

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness (ténèbres)rather than light, because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness (ténèbres) of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12

He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness (ténèbres) even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness (ténèbres), and walketh in darkness (ténèbres), and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness (ténèbres) hath blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

(This is a good verse for discerning those who profess enlightenment in social, environmental or spiritual matters, but react angrily to anyone who dares to disagree with their enlightenment. It should be first and foremost a standard to prove our own spirit in these and all other matters.)

Finally, there shall be an eternal separation between darkness and light:

Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness (obscurité) of darkness (ténèbres) for ever. Jude verse 13

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. Revelation 21:23

Joy to the world

The gospel is good news for all mankind. How is it then that so many of us make it sound like bad news?

Of course the gospel is unmitigated bad news for those who reject it. Jesus did not try to soft peddle that part of the message; in fact, He spoke of hell a whole lot of times. In spite of that, the central theme of His ministry was “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Although He never compromised, never hesitated to call sin by its name, the essence of His approach to people was tenderness: ” A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. ”

I find in myself a pronounced tendency to react to others according to their words and actions. With those who are gentle, kind and generous, I can also be gentle kind and generous. If that’s the best I can do, then I am doing no better than the general run of people around me. If I want to be known as a Christian I need to obey Jesus’ teaching;  “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.”

That goes way beyond my natural ability to relate to people and problems. There is something within me that wants to fight back. But what, or who, am I fighting? Are people my enemies? Or have they been captured by an enemy who is more powerful than either of us? If that is the case, and I fight back against the person, then I am adopting the enemy’s methods .  . . and he has won.

There is a genuine warfare going on, a war between light and darkness. The enemy wants to keep this reality concealed from us so that we will use his weapons to defend ourselves when we are attacked. There is something within me that wants to do just that. I need to stop just a moment to realize what is going on and that I cannot advance the cause of the light by using the weapons of darkness.

Jesus said “Ye are the light of the world.” Nevertheless, we are not the source of that light. The light comes from God and is imparted to us by the Holy Spirit. Our calling is to reflect that light into some of the dark corners of the world around us. There is so much that is just plain wrong in the world around us, but we cannot set it right. Our attempts to do so play into the enemy’s hands. But if we can bring a ray of God’s light to bear on some of these dark situations it may help others see the true nature of these things. The more people who allow the light to shine into their lives, the brighter this world will become.

The vine of evil is very robust; we can hack away at the leaves and branches and feel that we have won a victory. Then we see that there are new tendrils growing up in a dozen different places and we have not weakened the vine in any way. But if we can uncover the roots and expose them to the light, the vine will wither. That is why the gospel is good news. Nothing else has any effect on that vine. If we attack the branches of evil with a machete, we are apt to do more harm to ourselves than to the vine. Victory comes when we can be a means of reflecting God’s light into the dark heart of that vine.

Dorothy Sayers on the origin of evil

The orthodox Christian position is . . . [that] the light, and the light only is primary; creation and time and darkness are secondary and begin together. When you come to consider the matter, it is strictly meaningless to say that darkness could precede light in a time process. Where there is no light, there is no meaning for the word darkness, for darkness is merely a name for that which is without light. Light, by merely existing, creates darkness, or at any rate the possibility of darkness. In this sense, it is possible to understand that profound saying, “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).

But it is at this point that it becomes possible for the evil and the darkness and the chaos to boast: “We are that which was before the light was, and the light is a usurpation upon our rights.” It is an illusion; evil and darkness and chaos are pure negation, and there is no such state as “before the light” because it is the primary light that creates the whole time process. It is an illusion, and that is the primary illusion inside which the devil lives and in which he deceives himself and others.

In the orthodox Christian position, therefore, the light is primary, the darkness secondary and derivative; and this is important for the whole theology of evil. In The Devil to Pay, I tried to make this point, and I remember being soundly rapped over the knuckles by a newspaper critic, who said in effect that after a great deal of unintelligible pother, I had worked up to the statement that God was light, which did not seem to be very novel or profound. Novel, it certainly is not, it is scarcely the business of Christian writers to introduce novelties into the fundamental Christian doctrines. But profundity is a different matter; Christian theology is profound, and since I did not invent it, I may have the right to say so.

The possibility of evil exists from the moment that a creature is made that can love and do good because it chooses and not because it is unable to do anything else. The actuality of evil exists from the moment that that choice is exercised in the wrong direction. Sin (moral evil) is the deliberate choice of the not-God. And pride, as the church has consistently pointed out, is the root of it, i.e., the refusal to accept the creaturely status; the making of the difference between self and God into an antagonism against God.

-Dorthy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church

And the darkness comprehended it not

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5).  Here is a verse where the English language seems to lack a word to fully express what is meant.  Darkness, and English synonyms such as obscurity, shadows, blackness, all indicate the absence of light.  The word used in French in this place is ténèbres.  I believe that Bibles in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese also use forms of the same word.

Ténèbres indicates a darkness that has an independent existence, not just the absence of light, but something that is opposed to light.  It is a moral or spiritual darkness, the opposite of the light of God.  In Ephesians 2:2 where the apostle refers to“the rulers of the darkness of this world,” the wording in French is “the princes of this world of ténèbres.”

The apostle John tells us in another place that “the whole world lieth in wickedness” (1 John 5:19).  That is, the whole world is ruled by the powers of darkness.  Jesus came into this world as the embodiment of the light of God.  And the darkness pushed back.

The time came that Satan and the rulers of darkness thought they had succeeded in forever snuffing out the light of God from this world.  Then the light burst forth again with a brilliance that told them that they had forever lost.  The forces of darkness will never again be seen in heaven; the place reserved for them is called “outer darkness.”

Nevertheless, their fury against God, and their hatred of the light, drives them to take as many others with them as they can.  The forces of darkness are very real and they are constantly at work to ensnare people into their darkness.

The apostle Paul tells us that “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).  He sends his messengers to us, speaking as the voice of sweet reason and offering us a counterfeit of the light.  However, the more we listen to the “light” they are offering us, the darker the pathway before us becomes.

The only way that we can push this darkness back is to allow God’s light to illuminate our hearts and minds and to inform our attitudes and actions.  We are called individually to walk in the light.  One little light all alone is good, but it is better if those lights are gathered together in homes and congregations so that the light shines farther in this dark world.  As we walk together in God’s light, we are the light of the world and we are doing our little part to drive back the darkness that has so engulfed this world.

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