v5. Now John tells his readers just what it is that they heard, “the message” that they are passing on, that will fulfill the church’s joy: “God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” I encourage you to spend some time meditating on two aspects of that message. The first is the message itself. Just think about God as pure light with not a hint of shadow (which reminds me of Jas. 1:17). A philosopher named Etienne Gilson, thinking about God as light, wrote this:
- We do not know what God is, but only what He is not, so that we know Him the better as we more clearly see that He is infinitely different from everything else. This principle, however, can be used in two different ways. We can, with St. Thomas, posit it at the beginning and at the end of our theology; it will then act as both a general qualification applying to all theological statements, and as an invitation to transcend theology, once we are through with it, by entering the depth of the mystical life. Yet between his initial statement that God is, strictly speaking, unknowable, and his ultimate endeavor to experience by love that which surpasses human understanding, St. Thomas Aquinas never forgets, that if we do not know God, the reason is not that God is obscure, but rather that He is blinding light. The whole theology of St. Thomas points to the supreme intelligibility of what lies hidden in the mystery of God. Now, if God is intelligible in Himself, what little we know about Him may be almost nothing, but it is not nothing, and it is infinitely more important than all the rest. In short, even when St. Thomas Aquinas uses reason as a means to a mystical end, he does not use it in a mystical way. Reason is made to throw light everywhere it shines; where darkness becomes invincible, reason gives way to love, and there is the beginning of the mystical life. (Etienne Gilson,
The Unity of Philosophical Experience
- (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1964), 86)
The second aspect I’d like you to think about is the fact that John–indeed, the apostolic community–somehow saw this as the essential way to distill all of what Christ had said and done during His three years of public ministry. Remember that John 1:18 says that Jesus has “made [the Father] known.” In seeing Jesus, what the disciples saw was light. And why not? Jesus is the light of the world. It’s easy to ask the same things about ourselves. If we were to ask people what our lives said about God, would they be able to say anything like, “He is light”?