Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The light of life (sync but not only sync)

Last night, I began working on the next installment in my notes on the Fourth Gospel, starting from John 8:12:

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."

I spent quite a lot of time ruminating over this verse, noting the ambiguity of "the light of life" -- the light produced by life, or the light that illuminates life? -- and also various passages elsewhere in the Gospel where Jesus suggests that this "light of the world" will be a temporary thing -- e.g. "As long as I am in the word, I am the light of the world" (John 9:5), but "the night cometh" (v. 4).

After nearly an hour of chewing on this one verse, I put my Bible down and picked up something else I have been reading: Open That Door! (1916) by Robert Sturgis Ingersoll, a book about the meaning and value of reading. The very first sentences I read -- mere minutes after leaving John 8:12 -- were these:

Without disparaging those with whom I sit before the fire, and chat, and smoke, I must confess that I value equally with them the friends of eternal character that exist there in the book-case. They lighten the path of life; they are ready for converse when my spirit calls.

Go to the greatest books for your most enduring friends, but upon having formed their friendship do not leave them in the study, but carry them within your spirit to your business and the marts of men, and in holding their confidences burning in your heart you will find yourself a more thorough human being.

Ingersoll's "friends of eternal character" are actually mortals (Whitman, Tolstoy, Burns, Villon, Byron, Lamb, Carlyle, and Emerson), called "eternal" only because they live on in their books, but one would more naturally associate such an expression with Jesus, and "lighten the path of life" is remarkably similar to Jesus' statement about how his followers "shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." This is followed by a reference to "burning in your heart," which also suggests Jesus: "Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:32). The scriptures are, of course, "the greatest books."

The chapter of Open That Door! from which the above quotation comes begins with the observation that "the most potent inheritance, that books vouchsafe, is the personalities of the great authors who have inscribed their souls within them. Personal character affects our lives as does nothing else." Whitman is quoted: "This is not book; / Who touches this, touches a man." This of course suggests the Johannine "Word made flesh," but isn't it also a succinct expression of the value of the Gospels, and of scripture more generally? Isn't that what keeps us coming back to the Bible again and again and again? Not for "doctrine," but to spend time in the presence of such gigantic personalities as Moses, David, and above all Jesus Christ.

Did "the night come" when Jesus left this world? Perhaps, to a degree. But the midnight Sun of the Holy Ghost still shines for those whose hearts are open to it, and even the light of Christ's mortal life still shines as reflected moonlight, the pale fire of the Holy Bible -- dim and uncertain at times, but still invaluable to those who would not walk in darkness.

Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God.

Behold, all ye that kindle a fire, that compass yourselves about with sparks: walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that ye have kindled. This shall ye have of mine hand; ye shall lie down in sorrow (Isa. 50:10-11).

1 comment:

HomeStadter said...

This made me think of the phrase, "Those who believe on me will never die" or similar.

Maybe that was literally true, if they believed before Jesus ascended to heaven and was glorified, and were ready to be resurrected - i.e. did not need a further day of repentance. The witnesses we have say many were resurrected at around Jesus resurrection, but it's pretty uncommon after that.

My expectation is that even if I live right and repent as I should, I'm still going to be waiting in spirit world until judgement day and come forth in the first resurrection.

I assume the scripture - this life is the time for men to prepare to meet god, holds true until the next life, that is the resurrection, and so includes the spirit world. But while Jesus was here, there was a chance to get out of the spirit world (night).

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