You are hereFather of Lights
Father of Lights
by Jeff Carter
Close your eyes. Tight. Tighter. Using your knuckles, press against your eyelids. If you’re like me you’ll see something there in the darkness behind your eyelids. These flashing lights and colors and shifting patterns are part of an impressive occurrence known as Entopic PhenomenaClose your eyes. Tight. Tighter. Using your knuckles, press against your eyelids. If you’re like me you’ll see something there in the darkness behind your eyelids. These flashing lights and colors and shifting patterns are part of an impressive occurrence known as Entopic PhenomenaUnder certain conditions (the mechanical, electrical, or magnetic stimulation of the retina or visual cortex) the eye can actually see into itself. Scientists who study these optical phenomenon have given these shifting colors and patterns wonderfully poetic names like: “Blue Field Entopic Phenomenon,” “Floaters,” and “Haidinger’s Brush.” In our everyday vernacular we sometimes call it “seeing stars” when we see these lights after a particularly heavy sneeze, or a blow to the head, or after standing up too quickly with low blood-pressure.
These Entopic Phenomena have always intrigued me. No one else will ever see the patterns that I see. They are completely individual to me; they are the result of the imperfections of my eye fluid and the white blood cells moving in the capillaries in front of my retinas. Like fingerprints, no one else in the world has eyes exactly like mine, and so no one else will ever see the same light show that I see behind my eyes.
Now this is amazing to me; that there is a marvelous display of light for me to see while my eyes are closed – while my eyes are cut off from any source of light. The Father of lights has given me something very wonderful in these beautiful phenomena.
The letter written by James, the brother (1/2 brother) of Jesus to Jewish Christians living throughout the Greco-Roman world during the first century has so much brilliant material and instruction that it was difficult to begin this sermon. There is so much that I have come to appreciate about this particular letter (even if Martin Luther considered it to be only a “book of straw”) that I hardly knew where to begin. But as I read the selected chapters for today I repeatedly was stopped by the phrase “Father of Lights.” For whatever reason that particular combination of words affected me. I wondered what James meant, what I might learn about the Father of Lights.
Light speeds through the universe at an astonishing 186,000 miles per second. (Yet, even at such astounding speed it takes light from the sun 8 minutes to reach the earth.) Light is a strange and wonderful thing. It operates as both a wave of energy and as a mass-less charge-less particle known as a photon – from the Greek word for light. (God is the patros ton photon) What we see as visible light is really just a very, very small part of light. Light is electromagnetic radiation moving as waves (and particles) and includes everything from the invisible long and short wave radio frequencies, microwave radiation, infra-red, ultra-violet rays, and even x-rays…. In any room the majority of available light – the electromagnetic radiation – is actually invisible to us. It is “dark light,” if I may be allowed a slightly paradoxical turn of phrase.
Other creatures can see different parts of this electromagnetic spectrum. Pit Vipers, for example can see infra-red light, while bees can see into the ultra-violet range.
Contrary to popular belief, pure or total darkness does not exist, because some small amount of light particles, in the form of radiation, permeate every corner of the universe, even if undetectable to the human eye at times. So, darkness is best described as "less amounts of light," rather than "the absence of light." True darkness is only theoretically possible in conditions of absolute zero. Just as there can be no “absolute darkness” there can be no God-forsaken place or person. Just as light – in some electromagnetic form – permeates every part of the universe, the Father of Lights permeates and influences all hearts, even if it is undetectable by human senses.
Curiously, even the light visible to us contains “darkness.” “Light is a vibration in the electromagnetic field, and this field is itself inherently polar because electricity is polar, with both positive and negative poles, and magnetism is polar, with north and south poles. Electromagnetic radiation involves an oscillation between positive and negative, north and south, which is expressed in the alternating pattern of light and dark that shows up when light is diffracted.”
Again… I am amazed to find darkness inside light – as I am amazed to find the light show inside my darkened eyes. Light and darkness. Darkness and light. The two polar opposites. Light and Darkness. Darkness and Light.
It is common for us to think of God in terms of light. The very language of the bible impresses this upon us. “God is light,” 1 John 1:5 tells us. “God is light and in him there is no darkness.” 1 Timothy 6:16 tells us that God lives in “unapproachable light.” 1 Peter 2:9 tells us that God has called us out of darkness “into his wonderful light.”
Light, in our collective repository of symbols, represents all things good. Light is good and Dark is bad. We walk confidently in the light, but stumble and crack our shins in the dark. Daylight is safe, while monsters come out in the dark of night. God has called us out of the darkness of sin into the glory of his light…
But if all light contains darkness, how then do we begin to think of the “darkness of God”? What might that mean? How is God the Father of Light – even that seemingly paradoxical “dark light”?
When the Israelites fled from the slavery of Egypt they followed a pillar of fire. The brightly burning pillar of light was the visible presence of God. When they camped in the wilderness, the presence of God was present in the camp as the Shekinah - the bright light of the glory of God. When Moses came down from the mountain after talking with God the skin of his face was so radiant that they were afraid to approach him. While Moses was in conversation with Yahweh God on the top of Mt. Sinai, the mountain top was covered in dark clouds. To the watching Israelites the glory of Yahweh looked like a devouring fire. But when the people of Israel came to Mt. Sinai they were afraid of the darkness of God. They could sense his awesome presence in the thunder and lightning and in the darkness of the clouds that surrounded the mountain. He dwells in deep dangerous darkness.
Psalm 18:9 – 12 describes the presence of God as both darkness and light:
He parted the heavens and came down
A storm-cloud beneath his feet
Riding one of the winged creatures, he flew
Soaring on the wings of the wind
His covering he made the darkness
His pavilion, dark waters and dense cloud
A brightness lit up before him
Hail and blazing fire.
When King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, the glory of Yahweh filled the temple; both the darkness and the light of God’s glory. “Yahweh has chosen to dwell in thick cloud,” said King Solomon. At the same time, when the presence of the Lord entered into the temple, fire fell from the sky and all the people saw the glory of God resting on the temple. (2 Chronicles 6:1/ 7:1 – 3)
The Holy of Holies, the innermost portion of the Temple, had no windows, the room was absolute dark (or near enough to seem so to the human eye). It was there in the darkness of that innermost room that God made his throne. It was a symbol of the divine power in both its danger and its blessing. We might even consider that the New Jerusalem –where there is no sun- is illuminated by the “darkness” of God (Revelation 21:22)… Darkness in the light. Light in the darkness.
One part says he dwells in light inaccessible, the other says he dwells in deep dangerous darkness. Is there a contradiction? How can it be both light and dark?
It may seem paradoxical that God is both in the light and in the darkness – but that is the strange nature of light – that it contains both light and darkness. The bible itself seems to recognize this paradox; the prophet Isaiah recorded God as saying:
I am the Lord, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,
so that from the rising of the sun
to the place of its setting
men may know there is none besides me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things.
“I said to my soul, be still and let the dark come upon you, which shall be the darkness of God.”
God, the Father of Lights is also the God who creates and dwells in darkness. He is both revealed in the light, and hidden in the dark. He speaks in the crash of thunder and in the stifling silence. He brings prosperity and creates disaster. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the light and the darkness.
But in him, there is no change, no alteration, no variation, no shadow of change.
“You are unchanging, yet you change everything. You are never new, never old yet you make all things new. You are always active, always resting, gathering yet needing nothing… seeking what you do not need. You love without getting involved in passion. You are jealous yet you remain unconcerned. You repent without being sorry. You become angry yet you stay serene. You change your operations, but never your plans. You pay debts when you owe nothing and when you forgive debts you lose nothing.” St. Augustine.
The Father of Lights is the giver of all good and perfect gifts. What comes from God is meant for our good. The goodness of light is in all of his gifts. But what about the “dark light” –the darkness of God’s gifts?
He brings to us ‘dark gifts’ that we don’t always recognize as good and perfect gifts. The challenging, the distressing, the painful experiences that we go through – these, too, are God’s good and perfect gifts. If he wounds us- it’s to make us well. If he hurts us, it’s to make us whole. If he seems silent, it’s to cause us to trust him. If he seems distant and removed, it’s to move us to seek him.
The greatest gift God could have ever given us, the gift of his son, came in a moment of darkness. As Jesus died on the hill of Golgotha there was darkness all over the land. The Father of Lights sometimes gives good gifts in the darkness of pain and suffering.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is: Infinite.” William Blake. We can’t always understand what God is doing. There are times when we are traveling along in the Light of God’s blessing. All is well; there is prosperity and joy. But there is also the ‘dark light’ of Gods’ blessing when all it not going well, there is pain and struggle and doubt. But these, too, are God’s good and perfect gifts to his children. Darkness in the light. Light in the Darkness.
Close your eyes with me. Close them tight. Tighter. Using your knuckles press against your eyelids and there, in the darkness behind your eyes, is the light; the beauty of God’s goodness. Every good and perfect gift comes from God – both the light and the dark.
“Every creature is a glittering, glistening mirror of divinity. Every creature is a ray of God.” Hildegard