Scott on April 7, 2009 at 8:26 pm
To me, one of the most striking juxtapositions in the Christian faith is the contrast between Light and Darkness.
Isaiah 9:2 – The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
John 1:5 – The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
Not that the contrast of Light and Darkness is of such a complex nature that it takes theologians and philosophers to make the comparison. On the contrary, it is one of the most fundamental and obvious contrasts in the natural world. But in the spiritual and metaphysical economy of things, Light and Darkness take on monumental and eternal significance.
Non-Christian have at times objected to the idea that they are walking in darkness. They frequently equate darkness with evil, so when they hear someone claiming that they are living/walking in darkness, they take offense. However, the intent of using the term darkness is not to equate it with evil, but to instead equate it with a lack of awareness and/or understanding,
In other words, if someone was born in a cave in complete darkness and this person lived their entire life in that darkness, they would have no idea what darkness was because living in the dark cave, they would have never seen the thing called light. Thus they would have nothing with which to compare their darkness. No amount of explaining what darkness is would make a difference until someone showed them light. It is only in the presence of light that darkness is revealed and understood.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave brings these ideas into play in some respects, adding the nuance of shadows as well. However, I like a different story involving darkness, light, and people in a cave:
THE CAVE PEOPLE (Adapted from a story by Max Lucado)
LONG AGO, or maybe not so long ago, there was a tribe who lived in a dark, cold cavern. The cave dwellers would huddle together and cry against the chill. Loud and long they wailed. It was all they did because it was all they knew to do. The sounds in the cave were mournful but the people didn’t know it, for they had never known the joy of life.
But then, one day, they heard a different voice rise above their pitiful wailing. “I have heard your cries,” it announced, the words echoing through the cave. “I have felt your chill and seen your darkness. I have come to help.”
The cave people grew quiet. They had never heard this voice. The message of hope sounded strange to their ears.
“How can we know you have come to help?” asked one of the tribe.
Out from the shadows stepped a figure they had never seen before. “Trust me,” he answered. “I have what you need.”
The cave people peered through the darkness at the stranger. He was stacking something, then stooping and stacking more.
“What are you doing?” one cried, nervous. The stranger didn’t answer.
“What are you making?” one shouted even louder. Still no response.
“Tell us!” demanded a third.
The visitor stood and spoke in the direction of the voices. “I have what you need.” With that he turned to the pile at his feet and lit it. Wood ignited, flames erupted, and light filled the cavern.
The cave people turned away in fear. “Put it out!” they cried. “It hurts to see it.”
“Light always hurts before it helps,” he answered. “Step closer. The pain will soon pass.”
“Not I,” declared a voice.
“Nor I,” agreed a second.
“Only a fool would risk exposing his eyes to such light,” declared a third.
The stranger stood next to the fire. “Would you prefer the darkness? Would you prefer the cold? Don’t rely on your fears. Look to the light and take a step of faith.”
For a long time no one spoke. The people hovered in groups covering their eyes. The stranger stood next to the fire. “It’s warm here. Come, join me.” he invited.
“He’s right,” one from behind him announced. “It is warmer.”
The stranger turned and saw a figure slowly stepping toward the fire. “I can open my eyes now,” she proclaimed. “I can see.”
“Come closer,” invited the fire builder.
She did. She stepped into the ring of light. “It’s so warm!” She extended her hands and sighed as her chill began to pass.
“Come, everyone! Feel the warmth,” she invited.
“Silence, woman!” cried one of the cave dwellers. “Dare you lead us into your folly? Leave us and take your light with you.”
She turned to the stranger. “Why won’t they come?”
‘They choose the chill, for though it’s cold, it’s what they know. They’d rather be cold than have to change.” The stranger looked sad.
“And they would rather live in the dark?” she asked in disbelief.
“Yes, they would rather live in the dark,” said the stranger.
The now-warm woman stood silent, looking first into the darkness and then at the man in the light.
“Will you leave the fire?” he asked.
She paused, and then answered, “I cannot. I cannot bear the cold.” Then she spoke again. “But nor can I bear the thought of my people in darkness.”
“You don’t have to,” he responded, reaching into the fire and removing a stick. “Carry this to your people. Tell them the light is here, and the light is warm. Tell them the light is for all who desire it.”
And so she took the small flame and stepped into the shadows.
Two Easters ago, I worked with my good friend (who was also the worship pastor of the church we were attending at the time) to put together an Easter service that would provide, not just the traditional Easter story (which is perfect all on its own), but that would also provide some additional opportunities and some other forms to convey the truths of Easter to the unchurched. I knew this Max Lucado story and had always felt that it needed a little more fleshing out, thus I adapted it and tweaked it a bit into the form that you see above. I am not sure if Lucado wrote it with Plato’s Cave Allegory in mind or if it was just coincidence. What I find fascinating is that Plato, almost 2500 years ago, seized upon the ideas of darkness, light and shadow and saw within them analogies to life and human existence.
For those times in my life when darkness has arrived in some form and has dimmed my view of my faith and has obstructed my view of Christ, it is only the undimmed and unwavering light of Truth and Grace that clears away the darkness and the shadows that accompany it. Sometimes I am unaware of the darkness. It comes gradually, like the loss of light with the setting sun. Then I am immersed in my own unique brand of dark, shaded by pride or anger or arrogance or judgmentalism.
Until…BAM! The Light breaks through the darkness and reveals the room of shadows in which I had been living. And then I am again reminded of the quote from John Newton that I mentioned in Part I:
My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour.
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