I Saw The Light
I've been thinking a lot this week about good and evil, and how we tell the difference between the two.
You are probably thinking, "Dude...that's not so hard. Why would it take you all week?" It would seem like a pretty pointless exercise, I will admit. Still, despite the fact that it seems simple, it's a lot more complicated to explain. I mean, how do you know that something is good or evil... really know?
I remember reading about this town in Germany during the Nazi regime. This town was full of ordinary people who lived ordinary lives. The town was made up of farmers, postmen, housewives, shop owners, teachers and bankers. Some of them happened to be Jewish. When the persecution of Jews in Germany began in earnest, the people in the town who weren't Jewish not only encouraged it, they participated in it. Neighbors turned on neighbors. Property was seized. Families were destroyed and people were sent to concentration camps.
We all can agree that the Holocaust was evil.
But were these people evil...these ordinary people?
Maybe we can determine whether something is evil by the way it affects everyone involved?
Or maybe something is evil because it feels evil?
See what I mean?
Without any really good reasons we know that evil exists and we seem to know when we encounter it. And more often than not, the only thing that we can rely on with anything close to certainty are feelings and those are subjective at best.
I once encountered two children, who I believed to be evil. At least it felt that way. A few years ago when I was working as a youth director, I was approached by a woman who wanted to volunteer to be a small group leader. I was short on volunteers for our junior high girls small group, so I bit. She asked to come to my office to talk with me about the whole thing, and I agreed. When she showed up with her two kids in tow I was nonplussed because I was used to volunteers and their kids.
But I had never met these two kids.
As soon as they walked into my office the older child, a boy of about 6 years old, immediately lay on the floor and began to say over and over again, "I wanna go!" He literally did this the entire time that we met, which probably was no longer than about 15 minutes, but seemed like a year. The little girl came into my office, surveyed the lay of the land, and then began to climb on to my office chair, then on top of my desk. She took markers from the white board above my desk and began scribbling violently with it on the board, obliterating what I had written there. She stepped from the top of my desk to the top of my computer desk and then from there she began climbing my book shelves like a ladder, pulling books off as she went.
Her mother said nothing. She said nothing about the kid on the floor and said nothing about the kid destroying my office. When I mentioned to the little girl that she might want to step down from the bookshelf so she didn't fall and hurt herself, she hissed at me like a cornered cat with a feral look in her eyes. Meanwhile the boy on the floor kept groaning over and over again, "I wanna go."
Evil, I tell you. I felt it. I couldn't put my finger on it. But it was there, man.
Still... as a rule, we pretty much know beyond a shadow of a doubt what is good and what is evil. The Why of it is the mystery.
I think the reason why we can determine the difference between what is evil and what is good has to do with light. More specifically, I think it has to do with the light that we see explained by Jesus in John chapter 3 during his conversation with a man named Nicodemus.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the most powerful Jewish religious council in Jerusalem. He was a fine religious person who believed that the best way to bring about the kingdom of God was to keep all of the laws of Moses and a few others. He was part of a group that desperately desired to see the coming of the Messiah. While Nicodemus was not quite ready to buy into the idea that Jesus might be the Messiah, he knew (as well as many other Pharisees and religious leaders) that none of the things that Jesus was doing could be done unless Jesus was, as he described him, "a teacher come from God." He came to see Jesus by night so as not to embarrass himself or to let any of his peers know that he was giving credence to Jesus and his claims. Jesus tells him some amazing stuff. He explains the plan for God's saving the world. He tells him what he needs to do to be part of that plan. And then he tells him:
I started thinking about what Jesus says here and even further about how light functions. I'm not a scientist, but I feel like light does three basic things: light reveals, light contrasts and light guides.This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
First, light reveals...
I love spending the night in hotel rooms. They have these sick curtains that are like 6 layers deep. When you pull those bad boys together and put a towel under the door that leads into the hallway, you can sleep for a year in that pitch blackness. But God help you if you have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. If you aren't careful, you might end up relieving yourself in the closet. So in those moments I have to make a choice... either drench my dress shoes or turn on the light and possibly wake my wife up... Hmmm
The point is, light reveals the truth about the darkness...
The first creative act of God was to speak light into existence. Light then becomes inextricably connected with God, revealing God's majesty, power and God's creation. Because of God, the unknowable mysteries of the darkness are illuminated and their power is dashed.
Oh, and some people would rather not have their lives illumined for fear of the truth that might be revealed. That's part of what Jesus tells Nicodemus, isn't it?
And further, in this little vignette, we see that Nicodemus comes to Jesus, who has been called the Light of the World, by NIGHT. He comes from the darkness to the light and is given the opportunity to evaluate himself and what he believes.
Second, light contrasts...
Because of light we can see depth, the difference between one color and another, shades of gray...
Jesus' words to Nicodemus reveal that not only does the light reveal the truth about a person, the way they act when they come in contact with the light is the defining mark of a person's identity. He asserts that there are people who love the darkness in an altogether unhealthy way--with a steadfast love, a love that is deep and abiding and sacrificial.
Some people will do whatever it takes to embrace the darkness rather than the light.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that the person who reacts negatively to the advent of the light is the kind of person who makes evil "his lifestyle."
Some people know what is evil, and they prefer it over what is good.
Third, light guides...
The Hebrew word for light is or which is used by the Old Testament authors to describe a quality of life that is pleasing to God. In the first epistle of John we hear these words, "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..."
Jesus told Nicodemus something profound that speaks right into the heart of this last point. He said, "But those who do what is true, come to the light..." The phrase, "does what is true" is a typical Jewish sentiment that means "acts faithfully." He was sending the Pharisee a message. "You came from the darkness to see the Light," Jesus is not-so-subtly telling him. "Now live in the Light."
Some people encounter the light of Jesus and their entire lives are turned around. They discover who they really are, and they allow themselves to be guided by the light. Others, see who they really are, and turn away, unaffected and unrepentant.
I think that we can tell the difference between good and evil because of the way that it looks in the Light. You see, the Light is all around us... Revealing what is true about the world and about us; Contrasting what is good and what is evil, what is wrong and what is right; And Guiding us into perfect love and nearer and nearer home.