Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The light and the darkness

In John's gospel today, he writes "The light came into the world but the people preferred darkness." This is of course a metaphor and a bit of hyperbole on the part of John, because no one really prefers darkness. We now know of the physical and mental positive effects of light on human beings and the detrimental effects of light deprivation. We may a moments be attracted to the darkness, the forbidden, the unknown, but no one really wants to live in a dark place.

What John describes as a preference for darkness is really shame, shame "because their deeds were evil." The word shame seems to have fallen on hard times in the 20th century. In the latter half of the last century, it was as if we wanted to create a world of shameless people. That would be a good thing if what we meant by that was that we wanted a world in which no one ever did anything they should be shamed of. But that wasn't what was meant.

Thankfully in the 21st century we seem to have recovered our understanding that shame is a natural and healthy response. Even my dog knows when he has done wrong and feels ashamed, he wants to hide.

What God does not want is that any of us stay in that dark place. We should remember where the reading starts, "For God so loved the world..."

Science has now caught up with theology; we know that what the church calls natural law is real. There is a basic moral code built into the human person; we are drawn to the light. We know when we have sinned and like the dog, we sometimes want to go and hide in the darkness. But if we do, we will surely die. We have to trust in God's love, walk out into the light, face our sin, and receive God's forgiveness.