Tuesday 24 July 2018

Life & Light: In him was life; and the life was the light of men

The above is the fourth verse of the Fourth Gospel ('John' - in the divinely-inspired 'King James' version of the Bible); and this is the first definition of what-Jesus-was.

Jesus had Life in him... and this Life in Jesus was the Light of Men...

When striving to understand the key terms of Life and Light we moderns are up against the fact that people used to think in a different way from ourselves. Through its history language has become less 'poetic'; more precise, narrow, materialist. To recover the meaning we need to recover the thought-world, the way of thinking - and we can understand these terms only in such a context.

The Life that was in Jesus, implicitly to a high degree, comes up repeatedly through the Fourth Gospel. This Life of Jesus seems to be like a solidification and concentration of creation. Verse 4 follows a statement that Jesus (the Word) was creator of this world ('All things were made by him...'). So, Life is (partly) creation.

I think we are being told that Jesus offers Man the possibility of an eternal participation in the work of creation. Through this Gospel, the Life that Jesus offers is contrasted with normal life, the mortal life that ends in death; whereas the creative Life is 'eternal', 'everlasting' - and to reach it fully we need to go-through death, be born-again.

The Light is, mostly, a name for Jesus himself (like the Word); but simultaneously contains other meanings of light such as brightness, goodness, and something we can follow in the dark (darkness being the opposite of Light, and the world regarded as generally dark)...

So we could say that the Light is an aspect of Jesus's nature, and also some of the qualities that Jesus embodies: qualities at the heart of his message and work: him having made us able to become 'sons of God', that is to become like Jesus himself, a creator of worlds.

And that Jesus is Light is also what guides us, and enables us to follow Jesus through death.


Nigel Worthington said...

The Quakers believe in the inner light. Perhaps it isn't that we follow Jesus after death, but follow him in this life.

Andrew said...

I think of God as having imagined the universe (thus the instant it became real, aligning with your thinking that disciplining and training and sanctifying imagination is perhaps the key to theosis and become a mature 'Son of God') and then literally spoke it into existence. That is, the Word, Jesus, came out of His mouth and created the universe. In this sense, Jesus is the Word. God the Father imagines, speaks the Word, and Jesus creates as the Father wills.

I think of Light as an actual substance. How things are made and done in Heaven. It is what our spirit or spirit man is made of and it takes on the characteristics that we imbue with it. So making the conscious choice to repent and accept Christ as our Lord and Savior perhaps deposits a seed of his Light in us which gives our own Light the capacity to grow and mature into fully mature Sons of God if we work at it and struggle towards it and seek to sanctify ourselves. Or perhaps the seed is always there within us and conversion to Christ merely activates all the potentialities therein if we choose to works towards them. In any case, the Light being a substance can be used, when in accordance with the Father's will, to do great signs and wonders and bring people into the Kingdom of God.

-Andrew E.

Bruce Charlton said...

@NW - Modern Quakers aren't Christian - don't believe that Jesus was divine. Most of them are far more serious about their left wing politics than about their religion. Of course George Fox - the founder - was a *very* different kind of man.

Andrew - For me, this kind of metaphysics is unsatisfacory partly because Jesus seems uneccessary, redundant. I also find that physics-based explanations of metaphysics all break down in places I consider to be important - too abstract...

Chiu ChunLing said...

I prefer to say that light is truth, and life is freedom.

What makes truth is not mere factuality but having a relation to defining the actions possible to bring about a desirable outcome. So to say whether there are nine or eight (or nine again) planets in the solar system can be a matter of facts, but it is not an important truth so long as we have no actions available to us which would hinge on that fact.

Freedom is having not only a choice of various actions we can take, but also a knowledge of which actions lead to which outcomes, and a meaningful preference among the possible outcomes. Having actions that produce actions is agency, or being an effective cause of the future. Having knowledge which allows us to see which consequence results from our possible actions is truth. Having a desire for one possible result above others is the real meaning of moral volition, or free will.

To have all of these is freedom, which is the importance of life, the reason that being alive is better than death.

Jesus made the only really important choice possible to us, the choice between salvation and damnation. He also taught and demonstrated the actions which allow us to have one rather than the other. Thus He is the Life and the Light, the essential freedom and the truth that really matter.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - In this passage, and the rest of the Gospel, I don't think that the idea Light = Truth works well. Remember, I'm restricting the analysis pretty much to the Fourth Gospel.

Chiu ChunLing said...

There's a hint of irony in the suggestion that seeing Christ's perfect life (which was the means of offering men Life) as the essential truth which men need would not 'work well' with the Fourth Gospel, which is being lauded as especially true in the sense of helping us understand what about Christ's life offers men Life.

But it may be more that I simply don't see how you think it doesn't work well in that context.