Can You See the Light?
What comes to your mind when I say the word light?
Perhaps it’s the image of a lamp being turned on in a dark room. Maybe you’re thinking about the sun and the soft heat that our closest star gives off. For many, this word light encapsulates the image of God, someone who is indescribable, except through the ways in which God’s light shines through the darkness.
When I was very little, I was that child they warned you about. I was the one who wanted to look at the sun just a little too long. I didn’t do this out of any ignorance to the damage that it was going to do to my eyes, but I was simply fascinated at how such a tiny ball in the sky could possibly create enough light and warmth and life for the entire Earth. Later, of course, I learned that this tiny sun is in fact a much larger star and it was simply my perspective that needed to be changed.
We’ve all probably heard the history about how not too long ago our society once believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. And this made sense to a lot of people at the time, of course God would put God’s finest creation at the center of everything. Of course all the stars and planets revolved around US. We know today that that is simply not true. We are not the center of the universe, or the center of our galaxy, we are not in fact even the center of our solar system. Our perspective had to change.
This change of perspective wasn’t without conflict. Copernicus and Galileo had a difficult time convincing everyone of this fact. Galileo, being a sixteenth century astronomer, was one of the early proponents of the heliocentric model. And for suggesting that the earth in fact revolved around the sun and not the other way around, the church convicted him of heresy and of attempting to reinterpret the Bible and Galileo was forced under house arrest for refusing to recant his theories. He was not the first however, as this theory had been floating around since ancient times. People were quite literally killed for believing this and, needless to say, it took the church a long time to catch up.
I think about these changes of perspective; how often slow they are comparable to our scripture reading today. You see, shortly after Christ’s death, Jesus’ followers began to spread the news of the Gospel and the hope that was offered in the resurrection. This was not good news, however, to the Roman Empire, who had hoped to squash any uprising of this new religious movement by the crucifixion of Jesus. When that did not work, the Empire hired men to capture these religious heretics. We meet one of these Christian hunters in chapter nine of Acts, the story of Saul and his miraculous conversion.
What I think moves me the most about this story is not necessarily Saul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus or his embracing of the faith he so desperately sought to destroy, but it is in Ananias’ response, his faithfulness to go to Saul, to go to the man who once sought nothing else than to kill him. I am moved more not by Saul’s change of perspective on Christians as I am by Ananias’ change of perspective of Saul, a change of perspective that allowed Ananias’ to heal Saul of his blindness.
Christians often have a misconception with this story. They often believe that Saul’s name change to Paul happened on the road to Damascus but that isn’t actually the case. We don’t hear mention of this alternate name until Acts 13, where it is Luke, not Jesus, who calls the man by both names. And I think that says something about how we perceive change. We often expect or desire changes to happen immediately, in a sort of revelatory event. There is a power in dramatic, life-altering, instant change. The problem is that churches and Christians in general, don’t do this change thing very well. In how many church buildings has the phrase been heard, “well we’ve never done it this way before.”
The truth is, we like where we are at and we like our perspectives on life—it’s comfortable, it’s familiar, and it’s what we know. It’s why no one has ever one an argument over Facebook and it’s why we often struggle to come together with people of differing opinions and viewpoints. We don’t want to change our perspectives, we don’t want to reorder our lives, in many ways we’d rather live in the darkness of the unknown, rather than open our eyes to a light that exposes the fear in our hearts. But it is that fear, that misunderstanding, that causes us to miss revelation in the first place. It is the fear of the unknown that causes us to have scales over our eyes and to reject any perspective that we aren’t comfortable with. It took the Catholic Church 350 years to officially recognize and apologize being wrong about Galileo’s understanding of the universe. That’s a long time to take to change your perspective.
Sometimes we get so caught up in tradition and order that we forget about the powerful, dramatic change of perspectives in the Bible. God’s light often exposes our own shortcomings. This is because not only must God live in truth, but God must also live with the least of these—with those whose voices have been silenced into darkness by our society. God’s light shines to make us more understanding of our LGBT+ siblings. God’s light illuminates our own prejudices and challenges us to seek a change in perspective as we seek to welcome all people into God’s kingdom. God’s light does not shine only when we choose to uncover our lampshades. It is a beacon of hope for the hopeless, rest for the restless, courage for those who fear, and comfort for those who are hurting.
In what areas of your life can you allow God’s light to shine forth more brilliantly? How can we do better in creating a space that welcomes perspectives from all walks of life? God’s not going to wait 350 years, and neither should we. How can you let God’s light shine?