Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: light

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.

I want to be an L.E.D.

We all know what led’s are, right? Those things that give off a nice clear light but won’t burn you if you get too close to them. That’s what I want to be – a Light Emitting Disciple.

There is a problem, though – I am not capable of producing light by myself. But I sure am capable of producing heat. Far too often I have tried to enlighten someone else and that person had to back off for fear of getting burned.

That has never been what I wanted to do, but it took me years to realize that when I begin to get hot under the collar the possibility of convincing someone else of what I believe to be right drops to zero.

I had a lesson on this in my youth – from a cow. The cows were coming into the barn and I needed to get this cow into a different stall than the one that had been her home up to then. She had no idea what I wanted her to do or why, she just wanted to get into her old familiar stall. I started to yell and to slap her. She was frightened and tried to get away from me. Finally I realized that I had lost this battle. I waited until we had both cooled off, then took her by the halter and led her to the stall where I wanted her to go. Once she understood what I wanted she settled right down.

You’d think a lesson like that might have stuck, but it took quite a few more, with people and animals, before the lesson was learned. If indeed it has been learned, and I think it has for the most part.

Through all this, I have come to understand what James was talking about when he wrote:

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. James 3:14-17

He is saying that heat comes from below and light comes from above. If I truly want to be a Light Emitting Disciple, I need to disconnect myself from the source of heat and connect to the source of light.

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!

Can there be peace in Babylon?

Jerusalem had been destroyed and the Jewish people carried away as captives to Babylon. There were prophets among them telling them that God was soon going to set things right, punish the horrible people of Babylon and bring them back to their own land. Jeremiah sent a letter to the Jews in Babylon, saying essentially, “Not so fast. You are going to be there a while. Build houses, plant gardens, raise families and just make the best of it.”

Then he added this shocking admonition: “And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.”

Well, here we are in the 21st Century, smack dab in the middle of Babylon. There are prophets, from the political, ecological, sociological and religious spheres, loudly and incessantly warning us of impending doom if we don’t implement their solutions right here and now. And there is is truth in all that is being said.

Two thoughts lead me to believe it would be wise to ignore those prophets:

  1. Didn’t we get into this mess in the first place by believing them?
  2.  Won’t their solutions squeeze out the good that yet remains in Babylon?

Jeremiah’s admonition offers direction for us today. Why don’t we just ignore all the doom and gloom talk and look for the good that remains around us? Let’s open our eyes to all that is good and beautiful, talk about it, encourage it. It may be that there are many people around us who would blossom into influences for good with just a little encouragement. The more that we can encourage peace in our own neighbourhood, the more we will be able to live in peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring forgiveness.
Where there is discord, let me bring unity.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in forgiving that one is forgiven,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

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

Let there be light

This is the time when darkness is winning the battle with light. We now have 13½ hours from sundown to sunrise, in another 2 months it will be 16½. It feels like our bodies and our minds slow down with the increasing darkness. For some people, this actually becomes a state of clinical depression, known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I think we all suffer from it to some extent. The remedy is a little lamp that emits light that replicates the spectrum of sunlight. If we sit under this light for about 15 minutes every morning. it stimulates the release of happy chemicals into our brain. Therefore it is called a Happy Light.

When spring comes the night and day scenario is reversed and we need no artificial light. The increasing daylight triggers spring fever, where we begin itching to get outside and get to work on various projects in our yards. These are very real phenomena that really don’t have anything to do with the fact that it is cold outside in winter and warm in summer. It is the daylight that causes grass to grow, trees to leaf out, flowers to bloom and people to do silly things. The warmth helps, of course, but it is not the primary cause.

The creation account in the Bible tells us that light appeared on the first day, but the sun, moon and stars didn’t show up until the fourth day. I believe God was telling us that it is pointless to worship these celestial bodies because He is the ultimate source of light. The New Testament tells us that Jesus is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” The amount of exposure we have to this Light makes a world of difference in our outlook on life and our happiness.

C.S. Lewis said: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

 

Darkness was upon the face of the deep

When first created the earth was tohu and bohu  – “without form and void,” as the AV translation has it. The words could also be translated “confusion and emptiness.” And there was darkness over all this chaotic mass – not a physical darkness, which would be meaningless before the vision of the Creator – but spiritual darkness was present here from the very beginning and would soon begin to manifest its subversive presence in God’s creation.

“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” I much prefer the “moved” of the AV to the “hovered” found in many newer translations. “Moved” indicates a purposeful surveying of the chaos below with a plan for what it would become. The first indication of that purpose was shown when He said “Let there be light,” and instantly there was light, and a clear demarcation between light and darkness.

Not much later, God caused the dry land to rise up out of the water, then proceeded to populate the land with vegetation, animal and bird life and finally humanity. The sequence of the events in the days of creation are significant. The conflict between light and darkness, between the sea and the dry land, are themes that play out all through the narrative of the Bible, and these conflicts existed before man made his appearance on the earth.

I will not say much about darkness and light, for I suspect the concept of the powers of darkness and the God who brings light are at least somewhat familiar to most people.  Water and the sea are often used in the Bible as symbols of the  unstable state in which most of the people of the world exist. Consider the following verses:

Revelation 17:15 – And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
Psalms 18:4  – The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.
Psalms 65:7 –  Which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people.
Isaiah 8:7  – Now therefore, behold, the Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria, and all his glory: and he shall come up over all his channels, and go over all his banks.
James 1:6  – But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.

There are fearsome creatures in this water, of which leviathan appears to be the chief. The description of leviathan in the book of Job led many commentators in past years to identify leviathan as a crocodile. Fearsome though a crocodile may be, the turmoil and devastation caused by leviathan goes far beyond the powers of a crocodile. More recent writers conjecture that leviathan was a water-dwelling dinosaur. Perhaps that gets us a little closer to the physical description, but the Biblical passages describing leviathan go beyond even that. They appear to describe a mighty spiritual power that is behind the stirring of the waters and the tossing of the waves of this world – Satan himself.

Isaiah 27:1  – In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.

The dry land – eretz – is meant to be a place of safety and stability for those who put their trust in God. Nevertheless, the book of Revelation shows us the prototypes of two forms of false religions. One arises out of the sea of confused humanity that does not know God and its power comes from the dragon, or Leviathan. This is paganism and all forms of false religion. The other arises out of the earth, has the appearance of a lamb, yet speaks as the dragon. This is counterfeit Christianity and is as dangerous as the first.

God promised a land to His Old Testament people – eretz Israel. They did possess it in peace for a short time. The teaching that some near day God will once again rule from eretz Israel is fantasy and delusion. He has something much better in store for his people. The description of the new Jerusalem shows a land where there is no more darkness and the sea is now a solid and safe sea of crystal . There are no more monsters; there is no evil, no sorrow. The redeemed of all the ages shall dwell there in peace and joy in the presence of their Lord and Redeemer.

 

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

Walking in the light

There is a line that is crossed when we come to the Lord.  That line is the border between darkness and light, unbelief and faith, death and life.  Glimmers of light and faith from the realm of life have helped us find the way to this line, but the new birth takes us across the threshold that separates spiritual death from spiritual life.

This is not the end of the journey, only the beginning of a new journey.  We should not stop and rest as soon as we cross the line.  Yet too many people do just that.  They had to abandon some baggage on the other side that would be an unnecessary load on the new journey.  Still, that baggage was precious in their former life, an essential part of the way they identified themselves.  As they mill around, just across the line, the way ahead begins to seem difficult and the baggage once left behind grows in importance.  All too soon, they are back on the wrong side of the line.

They give all kinds of reasons for this: people inside the line just did not understand them; they were never told what it was going to cost to leave that baggage behind; people inside the line are not as friendly as they first seemed; and on and on.

The true reason is that these people have stopped when the Lord said “Come.”  He wants us to continually come closer to Him.  If we obey that call, we will find that with each step of the way the light grows brighter and faith grows stronger.

Many of those who have gone back the way they came still claim to have a good relationship with the Lord.  Let all such measure their claim of fellowship with God by their fellowship with God’s children.  The teaching of the New Testament is that if our relationship with our neighbour is broken and our fellowship with our brethren is broken, our fellowship with God is also broken.

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” (1 John 2:9).  “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (1 John 3:14).  “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  (1 John 4:20).

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.  And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

Some folk profess a holy allegiance to this commandment to love their neighbour and all mankind.  Yet it seems that this love is largely theoretical, for in observing their relationship to individual people, it appears they just cannot get along with many of them.  May that never be said of a true child of God.

So how do we press deeper into the kingdom of light?  I would suggest a very simple answer: spend time with God and with His people.

Read the Bible to understand how God worked in ages past and how He works today.  Read the whole Bible.  It is good to read the Bible from beginning to end at least once or twice in your life.  It is not necessary to do that continually, but reading the Bible in context leads to a deeper understanding.  Therefore it is best to read one complete book of the Bible at a time, breaking it up into bite-sized pieces for daily reading.

Thank God daily for salvation and all the blessings He has showered upon you.  Take a little time to remember all He has done.  Pray for grace for each day, pray for your family, pray for the ministers, pray for our governments, pray for those you have difficulty understanding.

Be present in every worship service of your congregation, as much as possible.  We simply cannot worship God as fully when we are alone.  Maybe there are some people in church who rub us the wrong way.  This may be a question of the chicken or the egg — did we first rub them the wrong way?  We have no doubt rubbed others the wrong way and they have chosen to ignore it and love us anyway.  Try to emulate such people.

Practice hospitality.  The apostle Peter gives this as a commandment: “Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Peter 4:9).  If you ever feel that the other members of the congregation have left you out of the loop and you do not feel a part of what is going on, ask yourself how long it has been since you had company in your home and sat around and talked of the things that really matter.  If circumstances make it difficult to prepare a big Sunday meal, invite people for night lunch or afternoon coffee break.  Such little things do make a big difference.  Do not be too choosy whom you invite.

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