I found an interesting juxtaposition of ideas this past week as I worked on an Advent sermon on the first chapter of John’s Gospel and received an email from my old friend Jeff containing a paper that he read at the AAR convention.
In his paper, he kindly chides religious leaders for using imagery such as light vs. dark (i.e., “followers of Jesus are in the light, and everyone else is in the dark”), which has disastrous outcomes, especially when propounded in the public square. True, dat.
At the same time, with my other little project on the desktop, I need to say, ‘well, we come by it rightly!’. John, and Jesus certainly aren’t shy about such language and imagery—John even raises the stakes to call followers of Jesus “children of God”! But are we?
I realize that I’m probably bumping into the limitations of John’s metaphor here, but this seems like a sticky wicket. (I’m not comfortable saying that I wish that John’s writing wasn’t so black-and-white, so I’ll just say that I’m wary of the misuse of his ideas.) True, John is probably just using a great literary device by putting forth such stark dualism as darkness/light and death/life (though the notorious DA Carson points out that it is not true dualism, for the pairs are not matched opposites: light overcomes darkness, and life overcomes death). But I think we might misuse it (or overuse it), and betray some of Jesus’ other teachings (about kindness, forgiveness, judging ourselves more harshly than others, and oh, say, loving our neighbors) in the process.
Because when we accept such stark dualism without caution, we too easily see ourselves in simplistic terms: in our identification with Jesus and in our attempts to follow his teachings, we find ourselves on this side of John’s balance sheet. But if we switch lenses, we see that things are not so neat-and-tidy. Jesus is the “true light,” and the world is in darkness, ‘made by Jesus, but not knowing him’. And from this perspective, we are not Jesus, we are the world. We can’t point fingers at anyone, because we are not on Jesus’ side, none of us. Jesus has brought a lot of light, but there are still dark corners. Including and especially the dark corners in our own lives.