I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. C.S. Lewis
I once had an old dog that was so blind that she kept bumping into the furniture. It wasn’t that there wasn’t enough light, but she just didn’t see well. I wonder if we alleged believers keep running into things – some of the same old things – because we don’t see very well.
Jesus was fond of metaphors, some of which he was so fond that he repeatedly recycled them in his teaching and preaching. One of his favorites was the “lamp on a stand.” He employed it in three different contexts and in two different senses. I was a little confused by them so I put the passages next to each other and did a little comparing. To summarize my findings: He wants us to catch the light that he emits and then cast that same light so others can catch it. We can only cast as much light as we catch.
CATCHING THE LIGHT…
33 “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.” Luke 11:33-36
In this passage (a parallel is found in Matthew 6) Jesus rebuked what he called his wicked generation because they asked for a “sign” from heaven. Each generation asks for its own kind of sign in order to believe and follow God. The Jews in Jesus’ day looked for miracles – more like magic tricks – which, when they saw them, most of them didn’t believe anyway.
Sign seekers… Jesus responded to their demand for a sign with, “the only sign you’ll get is the sign of Jonah.” Jonah, he reminded them, was three days in the belly of the fish, as will be the Son of Man confined to a tomb for three days. And then, like Jonah, he will rise from his dark grave. He wouldn’t do tricks for them to prove he was authentic, but he would die – which, if you think about it, is sort of an anti-miracle. He will intentionally be defeated and be MIA for what seemed to his friends like an eternity. Then he’d come back and be visible to anyone with an open heart. That’s his version of a sign.
Skipping over the centuries to our time where most modern people (I say, “modern” in the sociological sense) also want signs. The signs we Baby Boomers (and older) tend to want are not so much magic tricks, because with our medicine we can heal people, with our technology we can transport people across the globe in a few hours and connect people with sound and sight over the Internet in seconds. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but the main sign we want in the modern western world is for everything to make sense. That’s our version of the first century Jewish mindset. We want a world that’s reducible to explanatory bullet points. We expect God to act like a science professor and the Bible to read like his textbook.
On the other hand, the “postmodern” person (those under 35 in the West) has obstacles to belief that are different than ours, and therefore require different signs from God. While we Boomers need for everything to make sense, they – with exceptions, of course – tend to care less about a rational and reasonable world. It doesn’t so much have to make sense to them as it has to work. They are more interested in the world operating for their benefit than it operating in a rational way. They don’t tend to ask, “Does it make sense?” – but – “Does it work (for me)?” It’s not a better or worse question. It’s just a different one. Each generation asks for different signs than previous generations, but it’s signs that we require for us to believe and behave as we should.
Jesus made it clear that to require a sign is an evidence of bad eyesight. People who need a sign in order to believe have eye problems. They don’t see the things that God has put in front of them in order to lead them to a friendship with him. They’re looking for something to capture their attention, while God tends to be subtler, stealthier in the ways he reveals himself. When people miss his indirect light it’s not because it isn’t shining, it’s because they don’t see well.
The passage above is a little tough to sort out, but let’s see if we can unpack it a little.
33 “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body.
Light catchers… He’s talking about how God puts his light on a stand so that it’s clear to everyone within eyeshot. He’s the Light Caster. He doesn’t do tricks, but he does make his life and love known in other ways (through Creation, Conscience, Culture, Creeds, and Christians). He’s not trying to hide anything; he’s actually working quite hard to unhide it. He shines his light and puts it on a stand, but the reason we don’t see it is that we keep slamming the door closed and locking it so we don’t have to see it. Then we have the audacity to demand that if he’s really out there that he kicks down the door and point his light directly in our face so we can’t escape it. That we fail to see is not due to a dark world deprived of light, but to our dark hearts bereft of faith.
34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. 36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”
This is where his metaphor gets a little perplexing.*
It seems to me that Jesus is saying that some people are blind to the light that God clearly broadcasts. If they walk in darkness it’s because they refuse to see. They want God to conform to their ideas of him and do things that amaze them before they’ll believe. This means their spiritual eyes are diseased, leaving their whole life in the dark. It’s not God’s fault for not making himself knowable, but theirs for refusing to know him as he is. “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
I think his enigmatic statement, “See to it that the light in you is not darkness,” means that we should make sure that our spiritual vision is healthy and what we think they see is what is actually there and no mirage. He implies that spiritual blindness is more of a choice than a predisposition. If we’re blind to spiritual realities it’s because of our stubborn refusal to believe and not merely an inherited trait. If there’s darkness in our lives, it’s not the fault of the light, but of our perception. The tragedy is that so many live in darkness while the light shines in full force.
36 Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be just as full of light as when a lamp shines its light on you.”
Like a person with good eyes in a well-lit space, someone with healthy spiritual perception can see the light of God’s revelation and can live life in its fullness. He knows how to act. If his spiritual sight is good he won’t need God to do magic tricks in order to prove himself to him, he sees what God is doing and where he’s going clearly enough.
Murky spiritual perception affects not only the unbeliever, but also the unbelieving believer. As I suggested, the sign that us moderns tend to demand is for the world to make sense, for it to be rational and fair. If something isn’t fair, even we want a reason for its unfairness. Our modern person’s predilection is to ask “Why?” a lot. The world has to fit into a reasonable construct if we’re going to continue believing. If we’re honest, it doesn’t take long for us to notice that the world in which we live, even with God in the middle of it, does anything but “make sense.” Thus many sign seekers in my generation have abandoned their faith.
The younger post-moderns don’t so much expect the universe to make sense, but they just want it to work for them. If it works to make their life better, they tend to be relatively content. The problem is – the world neither makes sense nor does it work just the way we want it to. It neither fits perfectly together like a puzzle nor function like a fine tuned machine. The modernist who demands reasonability is always going to struggle with the mystery of God’s management of his world. The postmodernist who requires things to go his way and make him happy is going to wrestle with the mystery of God allowing sorrow, inconvenience, and pain in his life.
These Western culture predispositions impair our spiritual eyesight, and I refer not only to pre-christian eyes. We believers can have bad eyes too, sight which obscures God’s light and darkens the soul. Our dim spirituality with its demand for signs harms our ability to see what God is like and what he’s doing in and around us. We want him to do the magic of making the world into a sensible, if not a favorable place. These ultimatums blind us to the way he is and the way he does things.
The point that Jesus was trying to convey was that rather than wait till the light comes on our terms, rather than demand clearer explanations and better circumstances, we have to simply let his light in.
*I didn’t want to get bogged down earlier, but in case you wanted a little more detailed explanation of this paragraph, I offer this as food for thought: As God is the Light Caster, it’s our job to be light catchers. “The light of the body is the eye,” means the eye is the organ by which light is caught. It processes whatever light that it catches and passes it on to the mind. Then it lights the path before us so we don’t run into stuff. Our body benefits from the eye’s good sight. Like a good lamp that sheds light into a room, the eye is the instrument that catches light for the sake of the body. The eye doesn’t provide the light; it just receives it from a source outside of it. The eye enables us to make use of the light that God gives, so we can see where we are and where we’re going. But if something is wrong with our eyes, even in the most brightly lit room, we sit in the dark and our whole world is darkness.
In Part 2 we’ll talk about us as light casters…
- What kind of signs do you require from God in order to trust him?
- Is your predisposition toward a modern or post-modern mind as much of a factor as I’ve indicated?
- For self-diagnosis purposes, you might be able to answer the above by doing a spiritual eye test. How well do you see God’s light? None of us has 20-20 vision, but how would you assess your own ability to see?