Tom Gilson

Contrasts and Choices

Here’s a passage some readers may recognize more readily than others. I’ll come to its more familiar context in a moment.

Whoever believes in [Jesus Christ] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

I am struck by the contrasts in it:

There is condemned, and there is not-condemned.

There is darkness and there is light.

There are wicked deeds—works of evil—and there are deeds of truth.

There is hiding and there is openness.

There is hate, and there is this (which precedes what I quoted above):

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

There is death, and there is life.

There is condemnation here, too, and there is being saved through Jesus Christ.

Hardly anything disturbs nonbelievers more than contrasts like these. The message of Jesus Christ means we must make a choice. Some hate the light and choose not to come to the light; and why not? They dread their works being exposed.

Some come to the light so that the works of God may be seen in them. Now it is the case that everyone who has come to the light had to come to it for the first time once, and in that coming had to expose their works of evil before the sun-radiant light of God. In fact to be a Christian is to continue doing that (see 1 John 1:7-9), for we all hide corners of our lives, and there is always more to be brought into light.

We start out condemned, it says. We start out loving the darkness, the hiding. The first of these assertions shocks the sensitive modern soul, leading to the indignant cry,”How can you say I’m condemned?” Actually more often it’s, “Who are you to say I’m condemned?” Frankly I don’t know who I am to say that. Maybe you should ask yourself: for the second assertion here proves the first. Do you hide something? Is there something you cherish in the dark that would virtually make you perish if it came into the light? Do you harbor an evil attitude towards your spouse or your parents, some dishonesty at school or at work, a snide feeling of superiority, or even a self-focused, love-limiting sense of worthlessness? (For even our tragic weaknesses, if they are nursed in the dark, cannot avoid the tinge of evil.)

Our love for the dark is a sure sign that our ways are wicked.

These are opposites, not antitheses in the Hegelian sense. They are not paradoxes meant to be synthesized into a solution, contrasts meant to be combined to produce new truth. It is one way or the other. This too bothers those of us who want to find some third way, some creative new human option. But there is no such thing as half-hiding before God.

Yet the darkness is not an eternal inevitable. In this passage it is set in contrast to the light of life. These two stand before us as a choice to be made. Step into the light, acknowledge your ways before God, own up to your need of him, and you will not perish, but have everlasting life—and rescue, and light, and openness, and especially the forever infinite love of God through Jesus Christ.

And (how can I say this adequately?) there is more here than metaphor. The light is good. The light is a great place to be! It is uplifting, encouraging, enjoyable, freeing, adventurous, personal, and in so many other ways just right. I love being in the light. I would wish it for everyone in the world!

There are choices to make all through life. This is the most defining choice of all. There is one good way to choose. I urge you to step that direction, see God’s light in Christ, and walk into it to find his love and his life there.

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