OUT OF THE DARK
If you’ve ever been in a cave before—a real cave without lights for tourists—then you know what total darkness is like. When you turn off your flashlight, you can’t see anything, not even the hand you hold two inches in front of your face. You know your hand is there, but you can’t see it at all. It’s a very eerie feeling, and quite scary too. I mean, imagine spelunking (cave exploring) by yourself. What if your flashlight broke? What if the batteries died? The pitch-black labyrinthine caverns would all but seal your fate before you could feel your way back to the exit. Pretty grim.
You realize in places like caves just how hopeless things would be without light. We’d be lost, helpless, and unsure of where to go or what to do. And then it hits you: without “light” from God we would be in the dark about everything in life. Who am I? What does it mean to be human? What is the point of life? What is wrong with the world? How can what is wrong be made right?
Questions like those (and many, many others) would be hopeless quests for answers among differing points of view, with no one really able to say for sure what is right or wrong about anything, including whether there even are such things as right or wrong in the first place.
But what if Whoever was responsible for making the universe—including all the little particles that must have been present before any kind of big bang could happen—what if that Being revealed himself to the universe he made? It would be reasonable to conclude that we might find traces of what he is like through what he has made. This is even more true if our Maker specifically intended to reveal himself to us. We could not only know him, therefore, but we could also know ourselves in the light of his revelation.
Thankfully, that’s exactly how it is in our world. God hasn’t left us to ourselves, alone in the dark, trying blindly to feel out our way in our life. He has revealed himself in several ways.
How Vast the Heavens Above
To start with, creation itself tells us something about its Maker. Just as a painting reveals the style and skill of the artist, so too the universe reveals the majesty and power of the one who made it. There are an estimated 300 sextillion stars in our universe (that’s a “1” with twenty-one zeroes behind it), and most of them are so far away from each other that if you were traveling at the speed of light (186,282 miles per second), it would take you years to go from one star to the other. And there are 300 sextillion of them! All this means, simply, is that Whoever can bring something massive like the universe into existence, is obviously a pretty big deal. God is a big deal, in other words.
We might also discern God’s eternal nature from all of this, too. In order for the universe to get here, Somebody (or something) had to set things in motion. There had to be what the ancient Greeks called the “Unmoved Mover.” There had to be Somebody who could set things in motion that didn’t need to be set in motion himself. We call that Somebody “God.”
Writers of Christian Scripture reflecting on creation came to the same conclusions: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). “What can be known about God is plain to [us], because God has shown it to [us]. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:19-20).
Why You Long for Eternity
Knowing that the Maker of the universe is powerful and eternal is still a long way from knowing about his character or his desires. So God also placed a deep longing in our hearts to be with him. “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11a). Germans philosophers call this Sehnsucht (pronounced “ZANE-zookt”). It’s very hard to translate what it means with only one word, but basically it describes that “inconsolable longing” in our hearts. It’s a profound yearning for something that we can’t seem to find. It’s like the desire for joy and peace and satisfaction without knowing how to get them.
What Your Conscience Tells You
Another trace of God’s character seen in his handiwork can be found in what we call the conscience. What we mean by “conscience” is our sense of right and wrong. Everyone has some idea of moral rights and wrongs. Even when people disagree over which actions should be considered right and which should be considered wrong, they still agree that right and wrong actually exist. That is the human conscience, and everyone has one, even people who try very hard to deny the fact that morally right and wrong actions really do exist.
A well-known Christian philosopher tells the story of having a friend over for tea one evening. They began discussing ethics (a branch of philosophy that deals with right and wrong actions). The man’s friend made it clear that he believed “right” and “wrong” were just socially defined constructs. “There are no such thing as morally right or wrong actions” he persisted. “There are just actions which are called right or wrong depending upon your personal beliefs.” “I see,” the host said. He moved slowly to the stove where the kettle was singing loudly and he walked back over to where his friend was sitting. “So would it be morally right or wrong for me to pour the contents of this kettle over your head?” Frustrated and embarrassed, his friend stormed off into the night, for his conscience knew the answer, but his pride prevented him from admitting that he was wrong.
Paul said that the human conscience is like having an invisible law written on our hearts. Sometimes we listen to it, other times we ignore it, but it’s always there. “They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Rom. 2:15).
Missing the Maker of the Forest for the Trees
“This is all well and good,” you may be thinking. “But how much help is it if all we have are a conscience and a longing for something we can’t identity, coupled with a belief that Somebody powerful and eternal must have made the universe? We still don’t know anything about him.”
This is a fair objection. After all, even though scriptural authors point out that God has placed eternity in our hearts, the very same author also reminds us that “no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Eccl. 3:11b).
That means that we’d still be very lost if God hadn’t given us anything more than creation. Of course, it’s not a problem with God’s creation; it’s a problem with our ability to see God accurately (thanks to our sin). We can’t reason our way to a complete picture of God, in other words. We’d need him to tell us about himself, and that’s exactly what he did.
The Mouthpiece of God
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in many ways, but at the end of these days he has spoken to us by his Son. He appointed this Son to be heir of all things, and through him he created the universe. He is the shining reflection of God’s own glory, the precise expression of his very own being” (Heb. 1:1-3).
As the author mentions, God most often revealed himself through prophets. Sometimes this happened in written form (the Scriptures), and sometimes this happened through public teaching and preaching. In both instances God was making himself known to us through the use of human language so that we might come to trust him, love him, and find life in him.
But to speak even more powerfully than he could through human words alone, God spoke through the entire life of Jesus, “the shining reflection of God’s own glory and the precise expression of his very own being.”This is why John said that Jesus is the “Word of God” who “dwelt among us” and has “made the Father known” (John 1:1, 14, 18). You can’t get any more clear than that.
John the apostle understood Jesus’ role in revealing God to us. That’s why he calls Jesus “the light [that] shines in the darkness” (John 1:5). Indeed, Jesus brings light for the whole world, as he himself said: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
What this means is that if we want to know what God’s like or what he’s doing in the world, we must look to Jesus. He is the light of the world and the exact representation of God’s nature and redeeming purposes. This is why Jesus said we must ‘follow him’ if we do not want to walk in darkness. But he wasn’t just talking about “showing us the way,” Jesus himself is the way to life in God: “And if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:9). For if you follow Jesus, you are redeemed and claimed as part of “a people for his own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
Have you seen the light? Or are you still walking in darkness?
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.