Light, God and grace

172 light god graceAs a young teenager, I sat in a movie theater when the power went out. In the darkness, the murmur of the audience grew louder every second. I noticed how I tried suspiciously to look for an exit as soon as someone opened a door to the outside. Light streamed into the movie theater and the murmuring and my suspicious search were quickly over.

Until we are confronted with darkness, most of us consider light as something we take for granted. However, there is nothing to see without light. We only see something when light illuminates a room. Where this something reaches our eyes, it stimulates our optic nerves and produces a signal that allows our brain to be recognized as an object in space with a certain appearance, position and movement. Understanding the nature of light was a challenge. Earlier theories indispensably accepted light as a particle, then as a wave. Today, most physicists understand light as a wave particle. Notice what Einstein wrote: It seems that sometimes we have to use one and sometimes the other theory, while at times we can use both. We face a new kind of incomprehension. We have two contradictory images of reality. Individually, none of them can fully explain the appearance of light, but together they do.

An interesting aspect about the nature of light is why darkness has no power over it. Conversely, while light dispels darkness, it is not true. In Scripture, this phenomenon, in terms of the nature of God (light) and evil (darkness or darkness), plays a prominent role. Notice what the apostle John is in 1. John 1,5-7 (HFA) wrote: This is the message that we have heard from Christ and that we pass on to you: God is light. There is no darkness with him. So if we say that we belong to God and still live in the darkness of sin, then we are lying and contradicting our lives of truth. But if we live in the light of God, then we are also connected. And the blood that his son Jesus Christ shed for us frees us from all guilt.

As Thomas F. Torrance noted in his book Trinitarian Faith, the early church leader Athanasius, following the teachings of John and other apostles, used the metaphor of light and its charisma to speak of God's nature as they do revealed to us through Jesus Christ: Just as light is never without its radiance, so the father is never without his son or without his word. Moreover, as light and splendor are one and are not alien to each other, neither father nor son are one and the same, but of one and the same nature. Just as God is eternal light, so the Son of God, as an eternal charisma, is God in himself eternal light, without beginning and without end (page 121).

Athanasius formulated an important point that he and other church leaders in the Creed of Nicea rightfully stated: Jesus Christ shares with the Father the one being (Greek = ousia) of God. If that were not so, it would not have made sense when Jesus proclaimed, "He who saw me also saw the Father" (John 14,9). Just as Torrance states, if Jesus were not the same (one ousia) with the Father (and therefore totally God), we would not have the full revelation of God in Jesus. But when Jesus proclaimed, he truly is this revelation to see him, to see the Father, to hear him, to hear the Father as he is. Jesus Christ is by his very nature the Son of the Father that means, from his essential reality and nature. Torrance comments in "Trinitarian Faith" on page 119: The Father-Son relationship is one in which God's perfect and perfect intermingling is eternal, inherent in the Father and the Son. God is Father just as He is eternally the Father of the Son, and so is the Son God of God, as He is everlasting Son of the Father. There is perfect and eternal confidentiality between the Father and the Son, without any "distance" in being, time or knowledge.

Because the Father and the Son are essentially one, they are also one in action. Notice what Torrance wrote in the Christian Doctrine of God: There is an uninterrupted relationship between being and action between the Son and the Father, and in Jesus Christ this relationship has been embodied once and for all in our human existence. So there is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ, but only this God whose face we see in the face of the Lord Jesus. There is no dark unfathomable God, no deity of any kind, of whom we know nothing, but of whom we can only tremble, while our guilty conscience paints hard stripes upon his dignity.

This understanding of the nature of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ played a crucial role in the process of official determination of the New Testament canon. No book was considered for inclusion in the New Testament if it did not maintain the perfect unity of the Father and the Son. Thus, this truth and reality served as the key of expounding (ie, hermeneutic) basic truth that defined the content of the New Testament for the church. Understanding that the Father and the Son (including the Spirit) are one in essence and action helps us to understand the nature of grace. Grace is not a substance created by God to stand between God and man, but as Torrance describes it is "God's self-giving to us in his incarnate Son, in whom the gift and the giver are inseparably a God." The greatness of God's saving grace is one person, Jesus Christ, for in, through and from, salvation comes.

The Triune God, the Eternal Light, is the source of all "enlightenment," both physical and spiritual. The Father, who called light into existence, has sent his Son to be the light of the world, and the Father and the Son send the Spirit to bring enlightenment to all people. Although God "lives in an inaccessible light" (1, Tim 6,16), He revealed Himself to us through His Spirit, in the "Face" of His Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ (see 2, Corinthians 4,6). Even if we initially have to look suspiciously to "see" this overwhelming light, those who absorb it soon realize that the darkness has been driven far and wide.

In the warmth of the light,

Joseph Tkach

pdfThe nature of light, God and grace