There’s a great Hagar The Horrible cartoon in which our hero, the loveable bumbling Viking, opens the door of the hovel he shares with his long-suffering wife, Helga. As he does so, a shaft of darkness cuts into the lighted room, spreading across the floor and snuffing out the light. “Now that’s what I call dark!” is Hagar’s astounded comment.
What’s (obviously) funny about that, and I hope it’s obvious, is that that is not the way light and dark work. Darkness is not a “thing”. You cannot open a lighted room on a dark night and the darkness spread into the light. It’s always the other way around. Darkness is simply the absence of light. Darkness does not dispel the light: light dispels the darkness. Always has. Always will.
And it’s not only a physical reality, it’s a spiritual reality. Remember the words of John1:5 “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Verse 9 goes on to say that the true light (Jesus) has come into the world and this light gives light to everyone. Dark never dispels light, light only ever expels dark.
Yet I think that all too often many of us in churches think like Hagar The Horrible. We are too worried that if we open the door the darkness “out there” is going to invade the light “in here”. Now, granted, the turning culture has put increasing pressure on Christians to behave in a more domesticated, less Jesus-like manner. And yes, there are many things about the world that the church must resist. But we need to have the confidence to believe that darkness NEVER dispels light. It can’t. Remember Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians – who themselves were living in a dark place and had all sorts of matters to resolve:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants[c] for Jesus’ sake. For 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. (2Corinthians4:3-6).
See what this is saying? The god of this world cannot make light dark. He can only stop people from seeing the light. Our role as God’s community of light is therefore not a reactive “afraid of the dark” project, in which we try to stop shafts of dark finding their way into the light. No, our role is to throw the shutters of the gospel community wide open, open the blinds and doors and let the light scatter the darkness.
The light will both attract and repel people. We know this because John 3:19 states that people LOVE darkness rather than light because of their evil deeds. And that love of darkness leads to a hatred of light as the next verse says. However hatred of the light does not give the darkness power over it. The dark can rail agains the light, the dark can call itself the light and call the light the dark, but that does not make it so.
The implication is that as things tighten up in our culture, we should not go into shut-down mode. Of course there will be a need to be very clear about our stance on many ethical matters, and there need to be a bravery to resist attempts to domesticate or silence the church as the culture turns, but this has always been the case. The darkness has ALWAYS hated the light, but NEVER overcome it.
When we open the shutters of our Christians communities and share the gospel news in word, and share gospel deeds in our actions, then the response – negative or positive – will always be the opposite of Hagar The Horrible; “Wow, now that’s what I call light!”