From my point of view, God is the light that illuminates the darkness, even if it does not dissolve it, and a spark of divine light is within each of us. ~ Pope Francis
“In the beginning,” the author of Genesis tells
us, “the universe was completely empty and without form.” Into this
primordial darkness, God spoke existence into being by imparting himself into
the empty void. “Let there be light.” All things in the universe
emanate from the energy that is the issue of God. And so this vast space made
up of countless galaxies, stars, and planets was born. And God said, “It
God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. ~ St. John the Divine (1 John 1:5)
This creation epic, which found its way into our Bible,
stands in sharp contrast with all other creation stories on two key counts.
First, the Biblical narrative proposes that nothing existed
before the universe except God. “You
precede all times that are past, and survive all future times.” ~ St.
Augustine (Confessions Book 11,
Chapter 11) What we now think of as the pre-creation singularity
existing in “no-time and no-space” is referred to in Scripture as “the
primordial darkness and void.” We might consider this void to be as
absolute emptiness. God spoke light into existence, and its radiation expanded
creating space and all that exists in the material world.
Pagan mythologies all presume the universe existed before it
was created. The earth diver plunged into the eternal sea and returned with
primordial mud from which the world was created. The giant beast was slain from
whose entrails the world was created. In every case, the world was created from
something that was already there.
Second, the Biblical creation narrative demonstrates that
time has a beginning, which implies it will eventually have an end. The pagan
understanding of time is that it is eternally cyclical. Everything is always
repeating itself in the ever-turning wheel of time.
As long ago as 1225, the first attempt to explain the origin
of the universe as an explosion that crystallized matter into stars and planets
appeared in Catholic theologian Robert Grosseteste’s book De Luce (On Light). That theory was expanded in 1927 by Catholic
priest, Monsignor Georges Lemaitre, to describe an expanding universe from what
he termed “a primordial atom.” Two years later, astronomer Edwin
Hubble provided astronomical observations that supported Fr. Lemaitre’s theory
of the expansion of the universe and formulated what would be known as Hubble’s
Law. The Catholic understanding of the Biblical account of creation became
generally accepted by science.
Currently, science unanimously sides with a Biblical
understanding of creation and time. Ever since Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson of
Bell Labs accidentally discovered universal cosmic background radiation, the
big bang theory has been the prevailing explanation of the origin of the
universe. The theory has been through several modifications over the last 50
years, but four key elements are well established.
- Space was non-existent before the big bang
(“primordial darkness and void”)
- The universe and time began together at a single point
transforming no-place and no-time into time and space. (“Let there be
- The universe is expanding.
- The universe and time will dissipate and end in icy
So the universe has its beginning in God, exists in the
sight of God, will fulfill God’s purpose for it, and, then, die. While the
immensity and duration of the universe is beyond human comprehension, this is
the natural order of all things. The universe is not eternal. It was born, and
is moving towards its destiny and its end. And so we clearly understand that
the universe is not God. The universe is the issue of God, and God is revealed
in and through it.
Another common misconception in virtually all religions is
that the world consists of two opposing forces. Good battles evil. Right
battles wrong. Spirit battles flesh. The world to come battles this present
age. While you can certainly find elements of this attitude in Scripture,
Christianity by definition is not dualistic.
In fact, an early form of this dualism, called Gnosticism,
was one of the first heresies the Christian Church had to deal with.
Immediately following the life of Jesus, the Christian Church was firmly rooted
in the Hebrew Scripture and tradition. However, as Christianity spread into the
Greek world, Greek philosophies began to influence Christian thought.
Gnosticism, a heresy that portrayed the spirit as good and the flesh as evil
began to have an impact. Among other errors, the Gnostics taught that Jesus was
a spirit being. God was too holy to defame himself with flesh. Hence, St. John
in his letters to all Christians warns of the presence of
“antichrists” and states “There
are many deceivers in this world. They do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ
came in the flesh. This is the lie of the antichrist.” (2 John 1:7)
God created the world and declared it “good.” God
loved the world so much that he gave us his son. Jesus is God incarnate. God
made flesh. The eternal dignified the temporal. Spirit dignified flesh. The
world to come is among you in this present age.
When we become Christians, we do not cease to be creatures
of flesh and become creatures of spirit. However, we are called to transfer our
affections from darkness and the works of darkness into light and the works of
God. But we should not think of darkness as some evil power that is out to
devour us. Darkness is simply the void that was dissipated with God spoke light
in to existence.
There is no substance in darkness. It is only the illusion
created by the shadow you cast when you turn your back on the light. By the
Word of God, the universe moved from non-existence into full existence – and so
do we. To put it another way, there is only God. Whatever is not God is void,
destruction, and darkness. “But,” you ask, “What about the devil? Doesn’t the
devil have power to destroy us? ” The devil is a liar and the father of lies.
The liar has no power. But you have power. You were created in the image of
God. However, you can give your power to the liar if you believe his lie.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Imagine you awaken in a dark room. There is a light switch
near you, but you choose not to turn it on for whatever reason. Perhaps you are
afraid the light will hurt your eyes. So you stumble in the darkness and stub
your toe. It hurts. Darkness, though it has no substance, can have a real and
detrimental effect on you. But it is not in control. You are in control. You
can choose to turn on the light.
Walking in the Light
“Christ is the true light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world.” ~ St. John the Divine (John 1:9)
There is one true light and one enlightenment. There is one
true spirituality that all people instinctively know. Over time, that inner
knowledge became clouded by man-made externals such as philosophies, concepts,
rituals, and disciplines. These externals seek to capture and express some
aspect of the inner truth that lies within each of us. Unfortunately, most
people tend to live in the external, not the internal, so they confuse an
external (philosophy, concept, ritual, or discipline) with the truth. An
external is really meant to be a signpost to the truth. The tendency to confuse
external signs with truth has caused divisions and animosities among the people
of God. Those divisions deny that essence of God, which is unity. To break free
from that trap, we do necessarily need to abandon all externals that give
understanding and comfort to so many. However, we do need recognize the
externals for what they are.
Imagine someone is taking a journey from Chicago to New York
City. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, they see a sign that reads “New York City
– 348 miles.” They are excited to see the sign and pull over to stop. They
pitch a small tent and say to themselves, “I have arrived.” Passersby
find this curious and ask them, “What are you doing here on the side of the
road?” The camper replies, “I was searching for New York City and saw
the sign. Join me and we can enjoy New York City together.” Soon dozens of
tents are pitched around the sign. The people sing, dance, and enjoy great
fellowship. Eventually one traveler comes by who says, “This isn’t New
York City. It is just a sign.” But they say, “No. Read the
words.” The wise traveler tells them, “They are just words. Words are
not the reality. They are meant to direct you to the reality. You must continue
on your journey.” Soon the angry campers brand him as a heretic and
denounce him. “You are not a true believer.”
When the Church first began, the earliest Christians
practiced the “daily breaking of bread, fellowship, the apostolic
teaching, and the liturgy.” (Acts 2:42) That liturgy
was recited in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and the apostles. Later, when St.
Paul ministered among Greek communities in Greece and Asia Minor, he introduced
a liturgy in Greek. In Rome, few early Christians spoke either Greek or
Aramaic, so the liturgy was translated into Latin. When the Bible was
translated into Latin, it was referred to as the Vulgate, or Vulgar Bible,
vulgar meaning the language of the household slave. As time went on, Latin
became viewed as the privileged language of Western Christianity.
In the fifteenth century Portuguese missionaries came across
a group of Christians in India, whose community had been founded by St. Thomas
the Apostle. They were confused by the strange language these Indian Christians
used in their liturgy. Actually, they were speaking a form of Aramaic referred
to as Syro-Chaldean. In other words, they were celebrating the liturgy handed
down to them by St. Thomas the Apostle. Sadly, the Portuguese considered them
heretics because they would not celebrate the mass in Latin. The external was
more important to them than the rich tradition handed down by the apostle. It
took almost 500 years for the Roman Catholic Church to accept the Indian
Christians as full members of the Catholic Church and not require them to
change their liturgical language to Latin.
Personally, I am a Catholic. I love the Catholic Church. To
me, there is no substitute for its beauty, its historicity, and its
spirituality. However, as a Catholic I must be careful not to pitch my tent
under the beautiful Catholic road sign and mistake its wonderful tradition as a
relationship with God. I know many Protestants who love God with all their
heart and enjoy his daily presence. I also know Protestants who have
substituted a Bible road sign for a relationship with God. And, I know both
Protestants and Catholics who delude themselves by giving homage to a
self-generated image of God for their own self-validation. One of the reasons I
love being Catholic is that the Catholic Church recognizes the validity of
faith of all people of good will, even “those whose faith is known to God
alone.” (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer IV)
I know people who have rejected all forms of institutional
religion in favor of a purely private spirituality. I understand the profound
and well-deserved disappointment with organized religion. I appreciate the urge
to renounce and separate from it. However, we should not forget that it was
these very religious institutions, Catholic and Protestant, which have led the
way in education, health care, and humanitarian aid for centuries. What would
the world look like without the Red Cross, Catholic Charities, World Vision,
and so many others? Who would lead us without such luminaries as Saint Francis
and Mother Teresa?
There is no substitute for a personal spirituality. We all
must grow in our own personal relationship with God. Yet, if we want our
personal faith to have an impact beyond that of our own lives, we must also
embrace a corporate element in our spirituality.
The darkness is passing away. The true light is already shining. ~ St. John the Divine (1 John 2:8)
The world is divided into so many religions and each
religion is divided into so many factions because people have mistaken signs
designed to lead us to God with the true reality of God. All people have
certain spiritual instincts. Deep inside we know the truth. But most ignore the
still small voice deep down inside and listen to the loud shouts of selfish
materialism all around us. This usually raises the question, “Do all roads
lead to heaven?” Unfortunately, the easiest roads lead us into our own
personal hell of unsatisfied desires and self-doubt. Still, God is knowable by
all who truly seek him. For us to know God, we need to ignore the shouts and
listen instead to the still small voice. For us to continue on our journey to
God, we need to listen to the Word that lives in each of us.
“The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that ark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.”” Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 845
Our spirits instinctively know God for they are the breath
of God. God breathed spirit into Adam and into each of us. Our joy is to
develop the ability to listen to the spiritual instinct that God breathed into
each of us in order to lead us to him.