Recently, I went on a retreat on which the speaker focused all of his talks around 1 John 1, which makes the claim that “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all” (v. 5). The concept of God as Light has always been intriguing to me, but I came to understand it in four new ways that weekend.
Firstly, 1 John 1 focuses on the problem of sin by comparing it to darkness, saying “If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true” (vv. 6-7). John says that the reality of being human is that we will sin, and if we do not confess it, our sin will keep us in a place of darkness where God seems absent. We cannot, on our own power, attempt to become free from sin and wholly pure. However, if we “walk in the light, as he himself is in the light”, and “we confess our sins,” then “he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (vv. 7a, 9). “Confess” as it is used in 1 John, is the Greek homologeo meaning to say the same word, or to assent. Thus, to confess our sins is to must with God that our wrongdoings are sinful, and calling them what they are. When sin is brought to the light in confession, we experience forgiveness of our sins because “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (v. 7b). By His mercy, God who is light cleanses us from our wrongdoing, and brings us out of darkness into freedom.
Secondly, the fact that God is light brings healing to our brokenness through fellowship. In addition to the darkness of sin, we experience darkness in the form of loneliness, brokenness in our families and in our world. In the fourth gospel, which likely came out of the same community as 1 John, it says “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5). In relationship with Jesus, we experience hope and love such that we are not overcome by the burdens of our lives. Sometimes, this comes through fellowship directly with God, but often it comes through “fellowship with one another” (1 Jn. 1:7). When we are known fully by our brothers and sisters, we bring our brokenness into light, so that we may receive prayer and healing in community. Though it may still be painful, as soon as we allow another into our pain, it cannot be completely dark, because Christ’s light shines through human acts of love.
Third, as I sat contemplating the meaning of light and darkness, I started to feel weighed down by the heaviness of the topic. While of course it is true that God wants us not to sin, and to be free of our brokenness, I don’t believe he wants us to spend all of our time in anguish over how to accomplish these two things—He also wants us to experience joy. The Lord wants us to feel light in the unburdened sense as well. God’s lightness allows more than enough room for celebration, and offers a constant invitation to joy. That God is Light, means that He is the source and provider of abundant joy.
Fourth, God’s light allows us to see clearly. As we drove away from the retreat center through the Berkshires on Sunday morning, I realized the road was lined with bright yellow, orange and red trees that we had not noticed coming in on Friday night in the dark. Furthermore, signs dotted the road away from the retreat center, offering tidbits of scripture like “blessed are the pure in heart.” When we entered in darkness, we had not seen the true beauty along the road, nor the little signs. Only in the light were we able to appreciate the fullness of creation and see the words of wisdom dotted among the trees.