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!”
We do have this tendency to forget that it is the world (the darkness) that is afraid of us (the light) & it should not be the other way around. But so much of what we Christians (& our churches) do seems to be motivated by fear – the fear of decline, irrelevance, ostracization, confrontation, hostility, discomfort, obsolescence, etc. We have re-shaped ourselves and our churches, particularly over the last few decades, primarily because of these fears. As a result our Christian music, language, interactions, traditions, liturgy, dress, behaviour, expectations, emphases, etc, have imbibed secular characteristics in order to soften the distinction between ourselves & the world around us. Our worship services are often little more that motivational rock concerts; our denominations are called “movements” not churches (although I do think the “bowel” analogy is often supremely appropriate!); our sermons are now feel-good “talks” or extended stories; our evangelism consists of community service programs, our fellowship is merely opportunity for occasional social get-togethers with our peers; our pastors/ministers are professional, career-minded leaders/directors/managers/change-agents or groovy, best-buddy hipsters (confusingly some-times both!!). We argue that we are simply trying to contemporize the church & bring it out of the medieval & into the 21st century. However, this is no more than a comforting delusion as we are really just reacting to our fears. The truth is that we have transformed ourselves in these ways in order to convince the world that we are no different to them & represent no threat to their way of life. We are scared stiff of standing apart, exposing ourselves as targets, and inviting opposition or even persecution. We are so afraid of offending the world that we would rather offend God. The really sad part is that in attempting to convince the world that we are the same as them, we have removed those things that should make us distinctive – Godliness, Christ-likeness, the seal of the Spirit, the joy of salvation, the hope of heaven, the power of the Gospel. Instead of championing the Word as the people of God and declaring His excellencies, we have become an insipid, vacuous, middle-class organisation of people who desperately want everyone to like them. Instead of proclaiming salvation in Jesus Christ and begging those stumbling in the darkness to come into His marvellous light, we encourage people to find their true selves in joining us on a journey of personal enlightenment in relationship with whoever they conceive god to be and living in a way that satisfies their own sense of positive fulfillment. Instead of denouncing the godlessness of this age, exposing the evil hypocrisy of this world, & charging it to repent and be baptised for the forgiveness of sins, we promote social inclusion, religious tolerance, individual freedom, good citizenship & general niceness. In short, we no longer preach Christ and Him crucified but another gospel entirely – “O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” I can’t help thinking that Jesus would dismiss us as irrelevant!
A newcomer here, very appreciative of the way you think and of your meaningful expression of thought.
A few cautionary replies: first, although darkness is not a “thing”, God reckons it such a significant non-thing that He gave it a name (Gen. 1:5). Second, given light and darkness (thing and non-thing), there is a definite human propensity to be unable to recognize, identify and distinguish the two (Luke 11:34-36). Third, to temper the notion that darkness can never overcome light, we have to respect the warning about keeping the two apart from shared fellowship (2 Cor. 6:14). And, while we dare not hide our light “under a bushel” (Matt. 5:14-16), and as you noted since light both attracts and repels, the words of James Michener have a Scripture-like quality: “An age is called Dark not because the light fails to shine, but because people refuse to see it.” Finally, in the context of the great conflict in which light and darkness strive to overcome one another, the Cross is the place where darkness and light meet.
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