God is light
Astronomers spend much time speculating on the future of the universe. Untold amounts of money have been thrown at research efforts designed to discover every possible piece of data that might shed some light on what will occur billions of years from now. Though the very remoteness of the inevitable event makes it seem irrelevant to us mortals with only decades of life left, the fact nevertheless remains: this awesome universe will one day cease to be (Heb. 1:11-12). (God will create new heavens and a new earth to replace them, but that's another story.) Jesus reveals a breathtaking truth:
Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away (Matt. 24:35).
His words retain their power forever and ever. This magnificent material universe is small change compared with the thoughts and being of the One who created it. Decades after Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the apostle John summarizes Jesus' everlasting message:
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).
Believers are marked by their unquenchable thirst to understand God more and more fully. They will constantly investigate creation to endlessly refresh their grasp of His “power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:20). They will also take biblical propositions such as John's with deadly seriousness, not to mention with boundless joy. What is meant by the phrase “God is light”? Many writers and preachers take John's statement as a metaphor-cum-simile, and conclude that to understand what he meant we must take properties of physical light as indicative of God's nature. One famous preacher said this back in the 1960s:
That means that what light is, on a physical plane, God is on every level of human experience. If you want to understand the character of God, then observe what light is. What light does, God does. What light accomplishes, God can accomplish in your life.
Such well-intentioned approaches don't seem to accord with John's use of the terms “light” and “darkness”. A contextual study shows John uses light as virtually interchangeable with love:
He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him (2:10).
saying that God is light seems almost identical with saying that “God is love”, just as John says explicitly in 4:8. Why, then, didn't he just say “God is love” in 1:5? Perhaps because of familiarity — we human beings can grasp the concept of light, and its opposite, darkness, more readily than we can the more fuzzy, abstract concept of love and its opposite, hatred. As we often say, the difference between two things is as great as that “between light and darkness”. In an earlier editorial we focused on the infinite scope of God's love. Here I want to dwell briefly on its symmetrical opposite, expressed in John's words, “… in Him is no darkness at all”. That darkness corresponds to hatred in this epistle is made clear in 2:9:
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now.
You could spend many, many profitable hours meditating on the awesome truth that not a skerrick, not a stitch, not a glimmer of hatred darkens the character of God. In all of eternity He has never harbored a grudge or felt the slightest resentment towards a single human being. He has never been the slightest bit tempted to spitefully hurt a single soul — not even Satan and his minions. Let us not misunderstand. In His impeccable justice God has meted out, and will do in the day of judgment, perfect justice. Vengeance belongs to Him. Some — the impenitent — He will mercifully consign to oblivion for all eternity. Though God “hates” those who hate Him (Ps. 139:22), sighing and crying within Himself at their folly, He gets not the slightest bit of pleasure from administering condign punishment upon them. Jesus wept over the just consequences Jerusalem's inhabitants would suffer because of their perfidy (Luke 19:41). Perhaps the best illustration of the complete absence of darkness in God's character is found in 2 Peter 3:9:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise… but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
“Longsuffering” is a word that refers to the capacity to put up with human folly, stupidity, and sin. Though God is angry with the wicked every day (Ps. 7:11), He gets no pleasure at the prospect of their punishment or destruction (Ezek. 18:23). That is not to say He doesn't delight at the prospect of righting all wrongs and administering universal justice. But even His judgment is motivated by the desire to see the wicked “come to repentance”. What a God! He is as different from us as, well… light is from darkness.