1.3.1 Light: Perception
Volume 1: Foundations—Chapter 3.1
I once took my family on a “field trip” to Baltimore’s “Inner Harbor.” There’s a great aquarium there, among other things. One of the exhibits showed photos of dozens of different kinds of eyes found among the creatures of the earth. They ranged from rudimentary light-sensitive “eye-spots,” to the compound eyes of insects, to the sophisticated eyes of mammals, fish, and reptiles, to the even more highly developed eyes of birds. I think the intended idea was to support the presuppositions of Darwinian evolutionists by showing how vision had developed in the animal kingdom in many different ways in response to a common environmental stimulus—light. It had precisely the opposite effect on me: I ended up praising God—not blind chance—for having invented such a fascinating variety of solutions to the same problem, each one perfectly suited to its own needs. Far from bolstering Darwin’s theory, to my mind the exhibit destroyed it—pointing out, for example, that an octopus’ eye is almost identical to a human’s, though they share no plausible common ancestor. The math just plain doesn’t add up. One miracle is, well, miraculous. Two identical miracles require an engineer.
My purpose here isn’t to trash evolutionary theory—science does a fine job of that without my help. Rather, I’d merely like to point out that sight and light are a symbiotic system—either one is pointless without the other. Call me naïve, but I believe Yahweh gave us eyes so that we might be able to observe something about His nature and character. That’s the key to understanding this first facet of Yahweh’s self-portrait: Perception. He doesn’t want to remain unknown to us, mysterious and vague. He wants to be seen, to be understood, to be known, to be perceived as the One who loves us. He wants to shed light upon our lives.
We’re introduced to the concept of light in the first few verses of Genesis. Actually, it should be noted that all seven of these elemental concepts are presented in the very first chapter of the Bible, if we’re willing to recognize this portrait of God for what it is. Remarkably, the same thing is also true of the last chapter in God’s Word—Revelation 22. All seven concepts are woven into that narrative as well. In this context, it’s hard to miss the significance of Yahshua’s statement: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty…Fear not; I am the first and the last.’” (Revelation 1:8, 17)
Let’s begin at the beginning, then: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” (Genesis 1:1-4) In modern terminology, this tells us that having made space-time and matter-energy as raw and unformed entities, God instituted the forces of physics that now govern our universe: gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force, and the strong nuclear force—four things that many scientists suspect have a common basis, though they haven’t been able to prove it. (The irony here is deafening: the “common basis” is their Designer, Yahweh.) Technically, light began shortly after the big bang, when particles of matter were acted upon by gravitational forces, bringing them together in such vast quantities that nuclear fusion—the same engine that powers stars today—spontaneously erupted. As these first-generation stars burn through their nuclear fuel, they collapse, creating such immense pressures that the heavier elements of the universe are produced—the elements from which “the dust of the earth,” along with our mortal bodies, are made. So as far as I can tell, God “saw that the light was good” because it brought Him one step closer to realizing His purpose: to love and to be loved in return.
The really fascinating thing about the Genesis creation account is that although light is spoken of as part of the primeval events of the “first day,” the stars and the sun (along with the moon to reflect its light) were said to be the products of the fourth day of creation—after plant life! “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. And God made [asah] the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.” (Genesis 1:14-19) Scientists who don’t know Yahweh presume that some guy putting words in His mouth made an atrocious blunder here: the sun was formed at the same time as the rest of the solar system—it’s therefore impossible for plant life on earth to show up before the sun. I, however, happen to know that Yahweh doesn’t make stupid mistakes. From a literal viewpoint, it would seem that the atmosphere (here called “the expanse”) became transparent enough for one to clearly discern the sun, moon, and stars only after photosynthetic plant life had “exhaled” megatons of free oxygen into the air.
But there’s more to this. Though the word (asah) translated “made” can mean to fashion or form, its primary meaning is “to do, to accomplish.” If God had meant to say that He created the sun at this time, He would surely have used the verb bara (translated “created” in Genesis 1:1). The thrust of this passage, however, is that here on the “fourth day,” God invested the heavenly bodies with significance, not only as a means to mark the passing of the days and seasons, but also as signs to begin telling us of His grand plan. So the question begging to be answered is, Why did God tell us that the sun showed up on the fourth day?
First, we need to grasp the literal truth of: “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (II Peter 3:8; cf. Psalm 90:4) We will establish in a coming chapter that the story of God’s redemption of mankind is a seven-thousand-year saga, beginning with Adam’s fall into sin, and ending with the final separation of the saved from the lost. Here we learn that Yahweh has structured His plan in one-thousand-year increments. Second, we need to factor in something that was said in the very last chapter of the Old Covenant scriptures: “But for you who revere My name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its [literally, Her] wings.” (Malachi 4:2) Ask yourself: whose name are we to revere? Yahweh’s—only Yahweh’s. Through what agency does Yahweh heal us, whether spiritually or physically? That would be through His Holy Spirit, which explains why the feminine possessive pronoun was used—Ruach (Spirit) is a feminine noun in Hebrew. She is the “sun of righteousness” of which Malachi speaks. And when in Yahweh’s grand plan was this healing to be accomplished? When was the Spirit’s power to heal shown among men? It was when Yahshua the Messiah walked the earth as God clothed in flesh, empowered only by the Spirit indwelling Him (the same Spirit who empowers us today, if only we’ll let Her). One final question: when within Yahweh’s seven-thousand-year plan did this take place? Do the math: it was at the very end of the fourth millennium of fallen man—the fourth day.
Putting it all together then, we have learned that in God’s metaphor, the “sun” did indeed appear on the fourth day, just as the creation account had prophesied. Paul explained it like this: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Corinthians 4:6)Yahshua, empowered by God’s Spirit, made the knowledge of His glory a living reality in the life of everyone who chooses to trust in Him. This is the “healing” that follows the “rising of the sun of righteousness,” the only possible cure for our fatal malady—sin.
Not all of us are healed, however, but only those who revere, honor, and respect the name of Yahweh. We alone “see the light” that God has provided for our salvation—the sun of righteousness. That is why Isaiah writes, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of Yahweh has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but Yahweh will arise upon you, and His glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:1-3) Isaiah was speaking to Israel, the nation through whom the Messiah would come into the world, the people upon whom Yahweh would arise in glory. The nations—the gentiles who lived in darkness—were naturally attracted to the light. How sad and ironic it is that Israel, as a whole, was not. But things change. Later in the same passage, Isaiah reports, “The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but Yahweh will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for Yahweh will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.” (Isaiah 60:19-20) There will come a day when the sun and moon—mere metaphors for God’s true light—will give way to the awesome reality of His presence in our lives. Yahweh Himself will be our everlasting light.
In the creation account of the fourth day, we saw that the function of the sun was “to separate the light from the darkness.” This same goal had been stated earlier: “And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.” (Genesis 1:4-5) If we correlate this to the concept that Yahweh is our “everlasting light,” we can begin to see God’s purpose in presenting Himself this way. It’s a picture of what it means to be “holy.” As I’ve stated before (and will again, no doubt) holiness has nothing to do with good behavior per se. Rather, it means being set apart, and specifically, set apart from the world, for God’s purpose. Yahweh Himself is said to be “holy,” that is, separate and distinct from the universe He created for us. Isaiah experienced a vision in which the seraphim—a special class of angelic spirit messengers—described Yahweh:“Holy, holy, holy is Yahweh of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3) So we who are looking for it can perceive His glory, even though Yahweh is actually separate, detached from, beyond our physical world.
As Yahweh is distinct from His creation, we are to be set apart from it as well, even though we’re living within it. God told Israel through Moses, “You shall be holy, for I, Yahweh your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) But He immediately explained this imprecation by recounting dozens of instructions He had previously given, seemingly gleaned at random from the Torah as it had been revealed at that point. God wasn’t suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder; He was merely explaining what it meant to “be holy as Yahweh your God is holy.” Fourteen times in this one chapter, the phrase “I am Yahweh” or “I am Yahweh your God” punctuates the instructions, as if to say “Do this because I am Yahweh your God: this is what it means to be set apart to Me.” But a careful analysis of the list of “rules” used to define “holiness” here reveals that they’re all symbolic of Yahweh’s character: together they define goodness, justice, mercy, purity, loyalty, relationship, discernment, and love—all the attributes of God that can define us as “godly.”
The problem is that a casual glance at this list may lead us to conclude that holiness is “being good,” or “keeping the Torah.” But good behavior (as defined by Leviticus 19) is only a byproduct of being set apart to Yahweh—it’s not a method for attaining this state. The more we’re set apart to Yahweh, the more our character will parallel His. One example among many (from verse 18): you won’t become godly by refraining from taking vengeance (as Gandhi heroically tried to do, for example) or by not bearing grudges. Rather, by separating yourself from the world and becoming set apart to Yahweh, you will find yourself naturally loving your neighbor, not harboring ill-will toward him, and relying instead on God to set right the evil we see about us, all in His own good time.
Isaiah explains how this “set-apartness,” resulting in Torah observance, relates to the separation of light from darkness: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20) If we’re walking in God’s light, a path that is sweet and good, we won’t leave bitterness, darkness, or evil in our wake. The world will find itself better off for our having been here because we’ve allowed Yahweh to light our path. All the world can do is redefine the terminology: black and white are shades of gray; bad is good and good is bad; men and women aren’t so much equal as they are interchangeable. Islam is said to be a “religion of peace,” which might be a good thing if it were true. But to get to that definition, they have to redefine what “peace” is. In Muslim theology, it’s a state in which everyone alive has been forced to surrender to Allah and his messenger, submitting and paying taxes to them. “Peace,” to the Islamic apologist, is merely the absence of one type of war—a jihad or holy war he is required by his religion to fight until the whole world either surrenders or perishes. In other words, “peace” to the serious Muslim is virtually the opposite of what a Jew would call shalom.
Who (or what) do we allow to influence us? Is it the darkness of the world, or the light of God’s truth? If we choose to live in the dark, we’re going to trip over obstacles, fall down, and hurt ourselves. If our roadmap through life is a lie, we’re going to remain lost, no matter how far we go. As the Psalmist said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) Just as the sun is used by Yahweh as a metaphor for His light—a comprehensive force that provides life and warmth to the whole world—He enlists other kinds of light sources to instruct us as well. A lamp is an intimate, personal source of light that can keep us—as individuals—from stumbling in the darkness. But it’s our choice as to whether or not to use it, and where to go once the path is illuminated. As Solomon says, “The light of the righteous rejoices, but the lamp of the wicked will be put out.” (Proverbs 13:9) How could this happen? Is not the light of a lamp a metaphor for Yahweh’s truth and guidance? Yes, but remember, a lamp requires fuel—in the culture of the Bible’s time and place, lamps were fueled with olive oil, symbolic of Yahweh’s Spirit. The metaphor is explained by Zechariah: “Behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left. And I said to the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord?’ ...Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of Yahweh to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says Yahweh of hosts.’” (Zechariah 4:2-6) The “lamp of the wicked” cannot remain lit, for He has no “oil.” That is, the Spirit of God does not abide within him.
This illuminates the imagery that’s so carefully crafted in God’s design for the Tabernacle furnishings: “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold…. You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it. Its tongs and their trays shall be of pure gold. It shall be made, with all these utensils, out of a talent of pure gold. And see that you make them after the pattern for them, which is being shown you on the mountain.” (Exodus 25:31, 39-40) The golden lampstand stood in the Holy Place, which one could not enter without first encountering the altar of sacrifice and the laver of cleansing. These point toward the atonement provided by the Messiah’s sacrifice and the subsequent purification of one’s works and walk (the washing of the hands and feet)—the removal of our sin. As you entered from the east, the lampstand stood against the south (or left) interior “wall” of the Tabernacle, focusing all of its light toward the north (on your right side). And what was there? What were the seven lamps designed to illuminate? It was the table of showbread, which symbolized Yahweh’s provision of our salvation. The twelve loaves of bread (two rows of six each representing Israel and the church, the focus of God’s sustenance) were unleavened (symbolizing sinlessness) and were to be sprinkled separately with frankincense (indicating purity through sacrifice). One had to encounter all of this before he could approach the heart of the Tabernacle—the Most Holy Place, where Yahweh’s Shekinah dwelt between the cherubim above the mercy seat. Standing in front of the curtain separating the two rooms was the altar of incense, symbolic of the offering of prayer to God.
The point I want to make is that one cannot petition God if he has not first seen the light and tasted of His mercy, and he cannot do this if he hasn’t first received God’s atonement and cleansing. Yahweh sacrifices, purifies, and provides life. We perceive, receive, and offer thanks. That’s the order of things.
Another form of light Yahweh employs to teach us about His nature is lightning—swift, awesomely powerful discharges of static electricity in the atmosphere that light up the sky and speak in thunderous eloquence. Like a man’s children (see Psalm 127:4), lightning is described as the “arrows” of Yahweh: “The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; Your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; Your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook.” (Psalm 77:17-18) And as if to confirm the picture of a man’s arrow-children “speaking with their enemies in the gate” (Psalm 127:5) Yahshua described His own impending return as being as sudden and brilliant (and obvious) as a bolt of lightning: “For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:27)
Although it’s not fully understood, it appears that lightning is a phenomenon caused by the forcible separation of charged particles in the atmosphere. If this is true, it’s one more in a long string of natural examples demonstrating Yahweh’s signature characteristic: that of being set apart—in common parlance, “holiness.” Think of it this way: within a thundercloud (the world), positively charged particles (Yahweh and His children) are constantly being separated from negatively charged particles (Satan’s kingdom). That’s a picture of the holiness, the “set-apartness,” to which we’re being called. The greater the imbalance, the more potential there is for a bolt of lightning to “announce” that this imbalance, this separation, has taken place. Maybe I’m extrapolating (or hallucinating), but it seems to me that every lightning strike is therefore a picture of the coming day when the dichotomy between good and evil, between Yahweh’s kingdom and our adversary’s, will be shown for what it is—with all of the appropriate sound and fury that goes with it. What we see in today’s world, a growing imbalance between positive and negative, between good and evil, will someday (soon, in point of fact) explode in a paroxysm of white-hot total separation. If I’m right about any of this, the fact that the world experiences something on the order of sixteen million lightning storms per year (the number of actual strikes is in the neighborhood of a thousand times a second, worldwide—upwards of 300 billion strikes) should tell us something about Yahweh’s willingness to warn us of the coming spiritual storm far beyond what is reasonable or “fair.”
Lightning does more than announce Yahweh’s holiness, however. It also protects us. Here’s how: the intense heat of a lightning strike—as much as three or four times the temperature of the surface of the sun—doesn’t leave the surrounding air unaffected. Rather, it is heated by the electrical discharge to about 50,000 degrees F. The expansion of this suddenly heated air is heard as thunder. But beyond making rumbly noises and shaking windows, this intense burst of energy is precisely what’s needed to produce ozone, the substance in the stratosphere that shields us from 93% to 99% of the ultraviolet radiation that bombards the earth. A healthy ozone layer is essential for life as we know it. Ozone (O3) is an allotrope of oxygen that’s formed when a free oxygen atom (O) is bonded to a stable O2 molecule. But ozone is a relatively unstable molecule—it breaks down naturally over time, and in recent decades, the breakdown rate has been accelerated somewhat by pollutants we’ve introduced into the atmosphere. It’s a little known fact that even if the ozone layer were to magically disappear overnight, it would be replaced through a normal level thunderstorm activity—lightning strikes—in four or five years. But here’s the scary part: during the last half of the coming seven-year Tribulation, a worldwide drought is prophesied. Because of the high degree of correlation between thunderstorms and rainfall, it is likely that by the end of the Tribulation, the earth’s protective ozone shield will be in tatters. No rain usually means no lightning, which means no replenishment of the ozone layer, which means don’t go outdoors without your SPF-777 sun block on. Bottom line: the light God provides when demonstrating His holiness is ultimately what protects us from harm.
So for my money, it’s more than mere coincidence that Yahweh made lightning a big part of His spectacular Shekinah manifestation at Mount Sinai. “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because Yahweh had descended on it in fire.” (Exodus 19:16-18) Here lighting and fire are seen in the same context as sources of light. Whereas lightning (Hebrew: baraq) emphasized the flash of light, and is thus often used metaphorically to indicate sharp, swift weapons, such as glittering arrows (invariably in Yahweh’s hand), fire (esh) indicates combustion, flame, or the light of a torch.
There is at least one instance, however, where lightning is apparently described as esh: “Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, on man and beast and every plant of the field, in the land of Egypt.’ Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and Yahweh sent thunder and hail, and fire (esh) ran down to the earth. And Yahweh rained hail upon the land of Egypt. There was hail and fire (esh) flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.” (Exodus 9:22-24) It is possible, however, that the “hail” here was not the icy variety, but a meteor shower or volcanic fallout. It’s hard to be dogmatic, nor does it really matter (or at least it didn’t to the hapless Egyptians).
Fire, of course, was the most common source of manufactured light known to men of this age. The light of the “burning bush” through which Moses was introduced to Yahweh is described with three different words: (1) esh, the ordinary word for fire; (2) lehabah, a flame or blaze (also used to describe the business end of a weapon or a flash of lightning); and (3) ba’ah, a verb meaning to burn, consume, or be kindled. Thus we aren’t surprised to see the “pillar of cloud and fire” that led the Israelites in the wilderness described as a form of combustion with which they were familiar: “And Yahweh went before them by day in a pillar of cloud [anan: either water vapor or smoke] to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire [esh] to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.” (Exodus 13:21-22) The purpose, as always, was to enable God’s people to perceive the path He had set before them. (The shape of the phenomenon—a pillar or column—is significant, but I’d like to defer our discussion of that factor to the final chapter of this section.) It’s clear that in this case, the light Yahweh provided was intended to be an agent of guidance. Even in the darkest hour, God wants us to be able to see what we’re doing, where we’re going, and Who it is that’s leading us.
But as we noted in Malachi 4:2 above, the light of guidance isn’t for everyone—it’s only for Yahweh’s children. The story of the Red Sea adventure is telling: “Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night.” (Exodus 14:19-20) To this day this same counterintuitive phenomenon holds true: though the light of God’s word is readily available to the whole world, only those who choose to see it actually benefit. Everyone else stumbles about in the “cloud and the darkness” of spiritual ignorance. Once again, we see the principle of holiness here: the light is separated—set-apart—from the darkness, and only those who choose to walk in the light can perceive where they really are. As David wrote, “With You is the fountain of life; in Your light do we see light.” (Psalm 36:9)
On a related note, we see that as the light of Yahweh guides us, so does His law. In other words, the Torah’s precepts, the instructions of Yahweh, are another permutation of the light He provides. Solomon explains: “The commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.” (Proverbs 6:23) Isaiah too sees the parallel: “Many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths….’ O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of Yahweh.” (Isaiah 2:3-5) Christians (and Jews) who willfully ignore the lessons of the Torah are walking about with their eyes shut, wondering why they keep tripping over things that lurk in the dark. We need to open our eyes: that which was entrusted to Israel—the Torah—is the very light of Yahweh.
Perhaps the most enigmatic reference to God’s light is part of the wardrobe of the High Priest: the urim, along with its companion, the thummim. We don’t really know what these were, but they were to be placed “in the breastplate (or ephod) of judgment…over Aaron’s heart.” (Exodus 28:30) It’s the meanings of these two words that are significant: thummim means “perfections,” and urim is the plural form of the ordinary Hebrew word for “light”—owr: it means “lights.” These were somehow to be consulted (though precisely how is a matter lost to us) in cases where specific instructions were not provided by the Torah. Interestingly, we aren’t told of a single instance in which a solution was provided by this means. But I’m willing to take a guess at what Yahweh might have meant—in terms germane to us today. “Lights” and “perfections” seem to be a reference to taking the “whole counsel of God”—considering what the totality of scripture had to say about a matter (that’s the perfections part)—and then applying insight provided by the Holy Spirit (that’s the lights component) to come to a decision. You don’t have to be the High Priest of Israel to find value in such an approach.
God’s light is personified in the Messiah. It is no coincidence that kings and priests were anointed (which is what the title “Messiah” means) with olive oil—both the consistent scriptural metaphor for the Set-Apart Spirit of Yahweh, and the fuel that provided light in every home. So the prophet writes: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2) Yahshua was the fulfillment of this prophecy. “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
It’s one thing, of course, to quote vague prophecies and proclaim equally nonspecific fulfillments. But Yahweh’s requirements also had blatantly literal ramifications. God said, “I am Yahweh; I have called You [i.e., Yahshua, the Messiah] in righteousness; I will take You by the hand and keep You; I will give You as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:6-7) And Yahshua responded to the prophecy. First He said, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5) But He didn’t stop there. Without further ado, He proceeded to cure the lifelong blindness of a man about whom His disciples had been enquiring. (Yahshua spat on the ground, made some mud, and rubbed it in the guy’s eyeballs, as if to say, “Pay attention, guys. The miracle you’re about to see is no coincidence: I meant to do it.”)
Healing the man’s eyes was only half the battle, though. The real miracle was releasing him from the prison of spiritual darkness. This act would make the man “holy.” That is, it would set him apart to Yahweh, and set him apart from the religious elite. These Pharisees were so put out that Yahshua had healed the man on the Sabbath (in violation of their traditions—gasp!), they couldn’t comprehend the obvious fact that only Yahweh Himself could give sight to the blind; only God could provide light within a man’s soul. In the end, it was the Pharisees who were proved to be blind, even though they claimed to have 20-20 spiritual vision. As Yahshua told the formerly blind man, “For judgment [krima, a legal decision or verdict that separates the innocent from the guilty] I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39) There are none quite so blind as those who refuse to see.
Yahshua had previously explained this “judgment”—this function of separating right from wrong—that light performs: “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21) Every time we turn around, it seems, light is being employed in scripture to demonstrate the concept of division, of separation, of being set apart, of being holy. In this case, what’s being brought to light is our works, or more properly, how we honestly feel about them. As long as our consciences are functioning, we naturally try to keep our evil deeds hidden, out of the light. And conversely, if our deeds are pure and good, we don’t mind letting them be displayed in the open light of day. The problem is, the time is fast approaching when people whose consciences no longer function will be calling the shots: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared.” (I Timothy 4:1-2) Their natural sense of right and wrong has become calloused and insensitive: they have become blind to the truth.
What’s the proper response to these proponents of compromise, shades-of-gray morality, and spiritual apostasy? It’s to shine the light of God’s truth on them: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” (Ephesians 5:11-14) The point here is not to force the heathen to behave themselves so religious people can lead nice, lukewarm suburban lives without being confronted with the dark, ugly underbelly of sinful society. No, we should expose sin, corruption, and evil for what they are because there are people out there who are in danger of becoming convinced that sin is normal—and thus obligatory. It is neither. But it’s hard to turn toward the light if you can’t see it. Sometimes it seems as if “everybody’s doing it,” though this is never really the case. The exercise of free will is our birthright. Though it may be costly to choose to walk God’s path, we always have that choice. We can’t, however, make choices on behalf of others. Following Yahweh (or not) is an individual decision. Your country or culture can’t select your eternal destiny for you, whether good or bad. Nor can we force our convictions on those around us. We are never told to reform Babylon; we’re only told—time after time—to flee from it.
John points out that self-deception is no substitute for truth: merely saying you’re walking in the light doesn’t prove you are. “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:5-7) So how are we to know? What criteria has Yahweh given us to measure the success of our walk? Is it piety? Penance? Prosperity? Is it impeccable orthodoxy, a spotless reputation, a theological vocabulary free of pagan influence, the respect of one’s peers? No. The litmus test is love. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (I John 2:9-11)
This, of course, begs the question: how does God define love for one’s brother? It used to be obvious what love meant. It was personal involvement in somebody’s life that left him or her somehow better off than it was before. But these days, prevalent political theory has conspired to muddy the waters a bit. It is suggested in some circles that “love” can (and should) be packaged and administered as a byproduct of government’s power. Are people hungry? Then people who aren’t should be taxed to raise money to feed them. Do some people hold unconventional moral viewpoints? Then everyone else should be forced—by law—to tolerate, or even support, their unnatural proclivities. Has health care grown too expensive for most people to afford? Then the burden of caring for the ill must be borne by the healthy (or at least the wealthy), whether they want to or not. Has a minority (whether of race, gender, cultural heritage, or spiritual opinion) been unfairly discriminated against by the majority sometime in the past? (This, by the way, is the very definition of the democratic process.) Then reparations must be made. Does someone have more than I do? Then what they have must be taken away from them and given to me! All wealth must be redistributed—spread evenly between those who are productive and industrious (or merely blessed) and those who are not.
Is any of this really love? No. Even if some of these socialist/progressive goals do end up helping some of the people they were intended to assist (a proposition that is by no means guaranteed), the fact that others were forced to fund the solutions negates the concept of love. A loving act is, by definition, some good thing we choose to do, not something we’re compelled to do. If your idea of “loving your neighbor” is to steal from me and give the booty to him, then your view is incorrect. After all, when Yahweh said, “You shall not steal,” He didn’t go on to say, …unless you plan to give the plunder away. “Social justice” is anything but just. How is it supposed to work? A couple of decades back, my wife and I adopted nine children (out of our eleven). Four of these nine were physically handicapped, and all of them were disadvantaged in some way. The financial burden was heavy, but Yahweh provided all our needs. Would this have been possible today? God’s arm is not shortened, of course, but let’s just say that what took constant providence back then would have required nothing short of an ongoing miracle today. My point is that as government seizes more and more power and resources, the average individual’s ability to tangibly show his love is curtailed. You can’t choose to give someone a thousand dollars if all you’ve got left is a hundred.
And yet, if someone expresses his opinion that the government should not take his hard-earned money—even if he would rather spend it, like the “good Samaritan,” in alleviating the suffering he personally sees about him—he is accused of being “greedy.” Who is walking in darkness here, and who’s in the light? None of us gets it totally right, of course, but Yahweh knows where our allegiances rest; He knows who we trust: “Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise. When I sit in darkness, Yahweh will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of Yahweh because I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon His vindication.” (Micah 7:8-9) Or as David put it, “Commit your way to Yahweh; trust in Him, and He will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.” (Psalm 37:5-6) There it is again: Yahweh is presented as light—as righteousness personified, vindication brought to fruition.
Nowhere is the concept of “God as light” seen in more splendor than in the Book of Revelation. The operative word in Greek is the adjective leukos, usually translated “white,” though it’s clear that something far more spectacular is meant: light—bright, radiant, gleaming, brilliant, the most dazzling white one can imagine. Leukos is used in Revelation to describe the head and hair of the glorified Son of God; the “white stone” of judicial vindication given to the overcomers of the ekklesia; the garments of light that clothe the redeemed; the white horse upon which the Messiah triumphantly proceeds (not to mention the horses the saints will ride as we accompany Him); and finally, the great throne of light from which the final judgment is pronounced. But perhaps the most stunning revelation of Yahweh as light in our future experience is this: “And the city [New Jerusalem] has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.” (Revelation 20:23-25)
So what can I conclude about this first magnificent aspect of Yahweh’s self-portrait? I can only reiterate the words with which Yahweh Himself instructed Moses and Aaron to bless Israel: “Yahweh bless you and keep you; Yahweh make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; Yahweh lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26) May we all walk in Yahweh’s light.