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 is good.”
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 light.”)
- The universe is expanding.
- The universe and time will dissipate and end in icy coldness.
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.