4: Fallen into Shadow (John 1:5)
4: Fallen into Shadow (John1:5)
Genesis 1: “And the earth was formless and void and darkness was over the face of the deep and the Spirit of God was brooding over the waters. And God said “let there be light,” and there was light.”
Before the first days of creation, the Bible paints a picture of a world in deep shadow. Before the recreation that began with Jesus coming to earth, the picture wasn’t very different. John says it was “darkness”.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)
The answer to darkness and shadow is the same in creation and recreation. In creation it begins with “and God said”. Out of God’s heart comes His words: Light for those living in darkness. John expands our understanding of what happened there. The Word of God is a Person, the Logos and in that Person “was life”.
Life doesn’t come from the hand of God, as if it is a gift apart from Him. Life comes from the heart of God; it is in Him. A Canadian campaign for blood donors states: “It’s in you to give”. We can say that about God. Life is in Him to give. He is the source of all life. Life does not exist apart from Him. This life is in the Logos.
The life that comes from the Logos is light.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4)
God Himself is light.
“God is light; in Him is no darkness at all.” (1John 1:5)
When God spoke the light into being in Genesis 1, “and there was light”, it was not the switching on of a cosmic electrical switch. It was His life being released into the darkness. It came from Himself and it was Himself.
He could equally have said to the pre-created chaos and desolation; “Let there be Me!” Because that is what happened when said “let there be light”. God is light and He revealed and released Himself into the darkness.
This is what gave light to the process of creation before the fourth day when the sun, moon and stars appeared. Not just land, but vegetation, appeared before there was a sun. Flowers bloomed and fruit ripened without a sun. They did so because they were brought into being under the light of the life of Almighty God. This is a crucial piece of information in the creation account. We cannot look to the sun for our source of light and life. We must look to God. In particular, John points us to God’s Son, the Logos, because life and light is “in Him”. He is the true light.
The life that comes from the Logos is what pierces the darkness. John the Baptist came to “testify concerning the light” (John 1:7) because “the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” This was good news – it was great news.
Isaiah the prophet had spoken of the light of the world hundreds of years before He was born: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9: 2)
Jesus Himself reiterated that He was the light in John 8:12; 9:5 and 12:46. He confirmed that the light was life and that He could bring us out of darkness:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
“As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5)
“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12: 46)
All the way through John’s gospel, Jesus, the life, is switching the light on for those he came across and for those of us with ears to hear Him.
Darkness and shadow speak of terrible things; fear, threat, evil, death. This darkness is not just brooding and menacing but it is actively seeking to lay hold of and totally extinguish the light. The verb John uses in John 1:5 is “katalambano” which means to forcefully and even violently grab hold of something. It can be a wrestling term. This is a warrior enemy intent on death and destruction.
All of us experience this darkness at some point in our lives. Some of us seem to battle with it constantly. Sometimes the experiences of our life lead us into greater darkness than we have ever known before. Gandalf “fell into darkness and shadow” in J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings after his battle with the Balrog and almost died. At times darkness can feel that it has overtaken and overwhelmed us to the point of no return to normal life.
John wrote His gospel for people like that; people who are walking in darkness. His words are both encouraging and uplifting. They will give hope to all who really hear them and life to those who receive them.
We have already seen that “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1John 1:5). Darkness and shadow do not come from God. He is only light and life. But He sees the darkness that we live in and John 1:4-5 tells us two important things:
1. God sees us in the darkness and wants to do something about it. He cares.
2. God comes into our darkness in the shape of His Son, the Logos, Jesus Christ.
Notice the difference between what happens to light and darkness in the Genesis 1 account and then in this account in John 1. In Genesis 1 the light comes and there is a separation between the light and the darkness.
Here in John 1 there is no separation. The Light pierces the darkness and there is no immediate separation. He comes to live in the middle of the darkness and because of that there is a struggle that happens as the darkness fights back to defeat the light. He invades our darkness and it precipitates a violent response from that darkness against His light, life and truth. His intent is not to push darkness off to one side and set up His own kingdom of light; His goal is to overcome all darkness by coming to live right in the middle of it.
To look at our world is sometimes to despair that any light and life can prosper in such an atmosphere. At times in our own lives, even if we embrace His light, we might feel as if the darkness is winning and will overwhelm and overtake us. But these verses end in a great hope: “The light shines in darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Look at the tense of the verb. The light is still shining in the darkness, present tense, here and now. That is because the darkness hasn’t been able to put it out.
John is writing having personally watched the darkness try to extinguish the light. In the end it seemed to all be lost. At first, the Light had shone brightly in the darkness. Jesus came and did some wonderful things and spoke some amazing words but in the end the darkness caught up with Him. He was crucified, a beaten, bruised and broken body nailed to a cross, without the human strength to physically fight and defend Himself, even if He wanted to. He died there in terrible suffering and shame. John had watched it happen. That’s what the darkness wanted to do to the light. Kill it.
But the Light would not be put out.
It’s impossible to extinguish God.
John saw the Light die on a cross and He saw Him resurrected back to life three days later. All the hoards of hell and death, the worst that man and demon could do, was vented on Jesus the Light of the World. But they couldn’t put Him out. Now he has seen Jesus risen and ascended like the sun in the morning into the highest place in the heavens and he says with absolute confidence: “the light still shines”. This is the hope of all who want to find their way out of darkness and the land of shadow.
Again in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Galadriel gives Frodo the light of the Evenstar (an eternal light) and says to him “May it be a light for you when all other lights go out.”
That is the gospel.
Falling into Shadow: A Personal Story
In my mid forties I “fell into shadow”. Not into the terrible depths of despair and hopelessness that many other courageous people face daily, but definitely a falling into shadow. I had something of a break down. Unable to face work, or even most of my responsibilities as a husband and father, I lay on my bed or shuffled around the house waiting for the darkness to lift. I had wonderful support from work, insurance and the healthcare system. They listened and cared and gave advice and guidance. I made up my mind to receive whatever they told me (within reason) as from the Lord and do it, because I didn’t know what else to do.
Family and friends were great and my wife and children were amazing. They loved and served and spoke hope. I tried to receive it as much as I could and it all helped. But nothing could touch the dread of darkness that was going on inside. My thoughts spiraled out of control for much of the time and mostly went to pretty dark places. I did many, many crosswords and puzzles to try and keep my mind busy, so that I wouldn’t have to live in the places that my brain took me to. The exhaustion seemed relentless and no amount of sleep seemed to lift it. I could hardly pray and I struggled to read.
When I was able to open my Bible, I would read a verse or two at a time.
I started in John 1.
I often re-read the same verse the next day and then the next, hoping that it would sink in, that something would click into place. Then I read this verse:
“The light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not put it out.”
As I read it I had a picture in my mind. I could see deep inside of me a little flickering light, no more than a very weak and small birthday candle sized light. It was way deep down inside of me surrounded by acres of darkness. The darkness wasn’t neutral, it was trying to overwhelm and extinguish the light. At first I felt the light represented me, the last evidence of life trying to hang on in the midst of oppressive darkness. I felt bleak, but only for a moment.
“The light shone in the darkness and the darkness could not put it out.”
I suddenly realised that I was seeing the picture wrongly. The light wasn’t me and my life. The light was Jesus and His life. There, deep inside of me, at the heart of all my troubles. The darkness could oppress that light and rage against that light and threaten to overwhelm that light. But that light was Jesus, and the darkness could not extinguish it. It was never going to go out because it is impossible to put that light out.
Jesus’ light can not be switched on and off, like every other light. There has never been a time, in all of eternity, where it has been permanently switched off because He is light. The transfiguration of Jesus on the mount where He met with Moses and Elijah, was the breaking out of who He always was and always will be.
“ And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” (Matthew 17:1-2)
It was always underneath, even when clothed in human flesh. That is, except for the day when darkness overwhelmed the earth at the cross and appeared to snuff out that light once and for all.
The victory didn’t last long. Three days later the inextinguishable flame burst into glorious life-changing light again and now continues to burn in heaven and in the hearts of all who have received Him as saviour and Lord.
I had asked Jesus to be my Lord and saviour as a young boy and reaffirmed that faith in life changing ways at seven and then again at eighteen years of age. He had taken that invitation seriously.
Thirty years later, when darkness threatened to engulf my life, He was still there, right at the centre of who I am. The Light of the World. The Light of Life. He appeared to me as but a flickering whisper of a flame. The darkness appeared as a great cosmic black blanket come to cover and extinguish Him.
But that day I realised that The Light was shining in my darkness and the darkness would never be able to put Him out.
That revelation was the turning point of my illness. It settled into me like a rock of hope and from that point on I could not deny the truth of it, even in my worst times.
That is why I started writing this book. By the light of that revelation, the gospel of John became alive to me in a whole new way and became a pathway for me out of where I was. Some of the main chapters here were written during that journey.
I started writing so that this may help others in their journey too, because we all have seasons of darkness and trouble.
I had tremendous help and support throughout my illness, but ultimately it was the Word of God who healed me. The Logos. The One who is life. The life that is light. The light that stands beside and inside us against the worst times of darkness and can never be defeated by them.
Isaiah prophesied that “the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of the shadow of death (deep darkness) on them has the light shone…. For unto us a child is born unto us a Son is given.” (Isaiah 9:2 & 6)
Do you know Him? Do you know Jesus? Do you know The Light? Have you asked Him to wash away the darkness of your own sin and separation from God? Have you asked Him to come into your life as saviour and have you turned your life over to Him as your Lord? If you haven’t you can do so right now by asking Him to do those things. He always listens when you pray to Him.
If you have received Jesus as saviour and Lord then rest assured that whatever darkness may be prevailing against your life right now, however threatening it may appear, you have a light in you, which doesn’t come from you and it cannot be removed from you. He is the light of life and no darkness can ever put Him out.Posted on: February 1, 2017Peter Todd