“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
What does faith – especially Christian faith – mean? It’s something I’ve been pondering for a while now, particularly as so many aspects of Christian theology and practice, of the Bible, and of Church history and tradition have felt increasingly alienating to me. For some time I’ve found it increasingly hard to know whether to call myself a Christian – whether I even legitimately can, and whether I actually want to. I look at Christianity and I’m not sure it’s what I want to be part of.
So perhaps the key question for me right now, the test on which my faith stands or falls, is this –
Is Christ’s power, ability and will to create greater than the darkness’s power to destroy? Is Christ’s power to redeem and restore greater than the darkness’s power to corrupt, spoil, ruin and mess up? Is Christ’s power and desire to free, to liberate, greater than the darkness’s power to enslave and imprison?
That for me, right now, is the cornerstone of my faith; its meaning if it has any. And I think I am still willing to believe in – maybe even to stake everything on – the power of Christ’s Light ultimately and finally to overcome darkness.
And when I talk of darkness, I don’t just mean Satan and the spiritual or demonic forces of evil in classic Christian theology. I don’t know whether such beings exist – they may, or as I increasingly suspect they may simply represent aspects of reality we can only speak of in symbol and metaphor. But I do definitely mean the real darkness in the world, and crucially in us, in our own hearts and minds; our propensity to mess things up, to hurt and spoil what’s good. I don’t know where this darkness comes from, or its precise nature, but I am sure of its reality because I see it at work in me and in the world every day.
Can God really overcome that darkness? If not, I have no meaningful faith. Sometimes it seems unlikely that Light can really win over dark – the dark is so strong, so present, so real; the light so apparently weak, insubstantial, even absent. But this is still my faith – and this is why it’s faith, precisely because the victory of light isn’t self-evident, isn’t what our experience and evidence obviously point to.
Vanquishing or redeeming darkness?
When I first drafted this post last Christmas, I think darkness felt too dangerous to me for me to wish anything but its complete vanquishing and banishment. But gradually I’ve been changing my view on darkness.
Obviously darkness is a fairly vague symbol, and can be used to mean all sorts of things. But I’m no longer convinced that darkness is only or always just a bad thing that needs banishing. I wonder if it can sometimes be a difficult but necessary thing that needs owning and accommodating, even in a sense welcoming and befriending. Our own darkness, our shadow, the part of us we’re afraid of and wish to hide, is not always the hideous monstrosity we’ve imagined. With love and grace, perhaps it can be transformed into something good and beautiful. Perhaps this is part of what it means for light to overcome darkness.
Christmas versus Easter?
Christmas or Easter – which is more important? Many Christians would say Easter and view Christmas as just a sideshow, but I think it’s a false dilemma. You can’t have the Resurrection without the Incarnation; and I’d argue you equally can’t have the Incarnation without it leading to the Resurrection, its culmination. They are two sides of the same coin; the one is needed for the other, and the other fulfils and completes the one.
Light overcomes or transforms darkness – for me that is the message both of Christmas and of Easter, both of the Incarnation and the Resurrection. At Christmas, light enters darkness; at Easter, the light is first extinguished by darkness and then blazes back, never to be put out again. And that is my faith – Love wins, if you like. Life is stronger than death. Light overcomes darkness.
Light overcomes darkness… in the end, anyway. But the trouble is that here in the middle, where we are, we can’t see that end. We have no proof that things are going to end that way; it seems far more likely that light will be swallowed up in eternal dark as the laws of Physics and entropy suggest.
But perhaps in Jesus, if we believe it, we have seen the end. The resurrection, the rebirth of light that can never again die, that will one day swallow up and transform all darkness in us and in the world, has already happened, once at least. I don’t know for sure if my faith in this is not just a tiny guttering candle held against a howling, overwhelming dark, as it often feels. But it is still my faith; it’s what I hold on to and what still holds me.
Happy Christmas! May the light shine on you and in you.