the truth about us

I know what self-justification and self-protection looks like, because like all of us, I do it far too often.  Into a world of self-justifiers (like me) where we defend ourselves from any responsibility for any specific wrongdoing, the words of Jesus by the hand of John’s gospel cut through to the basic motivations behind such self-protection:

19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:19-21)

My simple observation here (which I don’t want to clutter up the sermon for this Sunday night) is that Jesus is not contrasting ‘evil’ people with ‘good’ people, as if life were so simple.  Instead, the one who “knew what was in humans” (John 2:25) contrasts those who do “evil” and those who live “by the truth”.  The words used to describe their actions are also contrasted.  Those who do evil stay in the darkness not wanting their “deeds” to be exposed, while those who life by the truth can cope with “what they have done” being in the light of day, as well as the sight of God.

So the point of difference Jesus is making between these two kinds of people seems not to be that some have been naughty and others have been nice.  Some seem to see God as a God who is out to condemn the world, while others seem to trust that God, as Jesus says a few verses earlier (3:17), did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Fear drives some to hide their sin, while faith/trust (Greek: pistis) enables others to confess it. Johannine material elsewhere in the New Testament agrees.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)

night

I’m probably the only worship song leaders who, during a Christmas day worship service, introduced the song “O Holy Night” by way of a reference to the book “Night” by Elie Wiesel, which recounts his experiences in the death camps Auschwitz (which I’ve visited and will never forget) and Buchenwald.

The juxtaposition is too profound to ignore.  On the one hand, one of the best (if not the best) Christmas carols, singing about that great night when the Light of the World entered our world through the womb of a young woman.  On the other, one of the most hideously horrific glimpses into one of the worst (if not the worst) seasons in human history, when darkness in its blackest hue was manifest through human indifference, racism and genocidal hatred.  Two very different nights indeed.

For me, this serves as a necessary and unnerving reminder of yet another aspect of the doctrine (and more so the Event!) of the Incarnation.  Divinity did not only ‘come near’ to our world, it entered and united to it.  God did not unite to the best and most beautiful bits of creation, but to all of it, warts and all.  The Light of the World descended into the darkest pitch.  For the Early Church Fathers who debated vigorously how to understand the dual nature of Christ, he must be fully divine in order to save us, and fully human in order to effect the salvation.  The slogan they developed was, “What is not assumed cannot be saved.”  Thus, Christ fully descended into humanity.

It occurs to me that there is no place on earth, no hospice, no church, no home, no garden, that is so pure and righteous that evil does not touch it with its corrupting finger at least in part.  And conversely, there is no place on earth, no brothel, no wall street, no hard drive, and yes, no death camp, that is so stained and putrid that good does not scatter at least some small dots of light within it.

Reading “Night” was hard going, to be sure.  One cannot have a beating heart and not grimace at times.  But I was struck by the faint glimmers of light within such darkness.  The SS soldier who was kinder than the rest.  The fellow prisoners who sacrificed their own food, safety and lives for the sake of others.  The boy who played his violin for all he was worth in a room full of frozen, dying bodies.

There are few more faith-challenging realities than suffering on this scale.  For Elie Wiesel, this Night murdered his God and his faith forever.  One must not glibly respond with easy theological justifications, however sound they may be.  But suffice to say, for me, among other things, these little dots of light are whispers of hope, audible for those who listen for them among the cacophony of white (and yet black) noise which can be so loud at times.  In Christ, God is with us, crying with us, praying with us, shivering with us, sweating, bleeding, and yes, dying with us.