“And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” — John 3:19-21 ESV
Light is something. Darkness isn’t. As John noted, “…God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all”. Darkness is simply the absence of God.
With graceful and delicate movements plants bend into the sunlight. In so doing, they perform a little miracle as they sit in the sun and absorb red and blue wavelengths of light. They use that energy to add a little phosphorus and a hydrogen ion to a couple of molecules in especially useful ways. This little trick makes our life possible. That’s not an exaggeration. All of the food we eat gets to our plates in just this way. There is no other source. Humans walk around all hours of the day and night, something plants would consider biologically extravagant, and remain blithefully confident that plants will do the hard work of making food for us. Plants turn a little light, a little water, and a bit of CO2 into sugar. It’s a miracle.
It’s what we choose to do in the dark that Jesus makes note of here in John. When you think about it, there are very few useful or creative things that can be accomplished in the dark. Light allows us to observe details that we can’t otherwise perceive. In the dark, those details don’t disappear; they’re simply missing from our perception. I’ve had opportunity to walk around the Las Vegas strip early in the morning. Somehow the night before I missed the vomit and the condoms and the homeless who came for a little game or two and never got back home. Those things were all there the night before, but somehow I didn’t notice them. Las Vegas has learned to use light to let us see what they want us to see and hide what they don’t want us to see.
I used to inspect restaurants. This included bars. I would come into a dark bar and ask that the lights be turned on for the inspection. There would be an audible grown from the patrons as light flooded the bar. Most would literally leave finding the light to have spoiled the ambiance making what they came into the bar for… impossible. The patrons find the light distressing. One of the saddest places I know is a bar first thing in the morning.
As a teenager, I was preparing to leave home and get an apartment on my own. The day before I was set to go, I was alone in the back yard with my dad. I could sense that he wanted to say something by the awkward way he looked around avoiding my eyes. Finally, he said; “Son… you know how you are?” Cautiously I said, “Yes?” because this seemed to me like a trick question. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Don’t be that way.” This turned out to be excellent advice, but sadly, it was hard to follow.
You don’t have to look hard to find human nature. Just watch toddlers play together. It’s fortunate they don’t know how to use guns. Few of us would survive. I know what you’re thinking. Babys are innocent little angels. That’s true, right up to the moment you withhold something they really want. It’s clear that if they knew the nuclear launch codes… they wouldn’t even blink. Slowly, and with great effort, we learn that a little cooperation will help us get more of what we want than flinging ourselves on the floor and screaming. Of course, extorting our loved ones with the threat of bad behavior is a tactic a few of us will keep for life. Those people end up alone with inanimate objects for best friends. But that’s not the point. The point is, human nature is not something we need to be taught. For everyone to live another day, it’s something we need to be untaught.
So, in spite of us having been manufactured in God’s image, we are born with instinctual motives and behaviors that are best unlearned. That is, assuming we don’t want to grow up to be Joseph Stalin. Why is that? Why is human nature a mental disorder that humans are best cured of? For sure, getting to the bottom of that conundrum might be good for us, but probably a little depressing.
We like to think of the world in terms of heroes and villains — the good guys and the bad guys. The problem is that there’s a hero and a villain lurking inside each of us. We love and hate both of those guys for getting in the way of our plans to conquer and/or save the world. The path we choose in life is a grudging compromise between the two which thankfully saves the world from having to deal with the worst consequences of either of those plans. Perhaps, it’s our ability to successfully hide this innate schizophrenia that allows us to function in the world. I think maybe it is… but wait… no I don’t.
Jesus tells us that God loves this world in spite of the fact that it pretty badly needs to be saved. But the problem with the world, and what really needs saving… is us. The way in which Jesus will save the world is by saving us, and showing us a better way to live. That “way” is summarized in the Sermon on the Mount and detailed in the story of his life. Like my dad, Jesus is saying; “You know how you are? Don’t be that way.”
Our problem is that we’ve been sitting in the dark planning to conquer and/or save the world and someone opened the #&#@ door and let the light in. The light of course, isn’t the problem. The problem is that our dark little rooms are full of things that we love, and nevertheless are killing us slowly. We intuitively understand that to walk out into the light, there are things that must be left behind. That dissonance which the light makes us feel… we deeply resent.
Jesus of course, is that light. To actually live a better life, that is better than the one we would plan ourselves, we’ll need to walk into the light, exposing both the good and the bad, the hero and the villain, to that penetrating and gracious light. It’s only in the light that we dare to do our work. In the dark our efforts, however well intentioned, will fall short of being good. I recommend starting slowly. If you’re like me, you’ll find not being like you… difficult. But as long as you remain in the light, you’ll see a path in front of you. Just follow it. You’ll find everything you need up ahead. But you’ll never be able to see it in the dark.