Lighten our darkness

by Tom Greggs

As the seasons turn and the clocks go back, I want to meditate for a moment on a theme which has occupied my prayers spiritually: ‘Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, O Lord’, as the Book of Common Prayer aides us to pray each evening.

Martin Luther famously decried theologies of glory, reminding us at the Reformation (something we celebrate today, 31st October) of the centrality of the cross. But do we necessarily need to contrast theologies of glory and theologies of the cross so sharply (indeed, Luther himself did not do so in an un-nuanced way)? After all, Paul teaches us: ‘For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

In times of darkness, we do well to remember that, come what may, the God who calls us His children is perfectly glorious. God is the glorious God whose radiance cannot but reach out towards creation. When creatures give glory to God, we do not add anything to the divine life which God lacked before: we do not make God more glorious. How could we? God is the King of Glory (Ps. 24:7-8). He is the source of all light in whom there is no darkness (1 Jn. 1:5). God’s glory does not enhance itself through the glorification offered by the creature: God’s is a glory already perfect in itself in the eternal Trinitarian relations of the divine life in which glory is given and received (Jn. 17). The plenitude of God’s glorious life is infinite, and its constancy can be a source of comfort even when the world seems dark: whatever the world presents us with, God remains glorious – sovereign over all creation. And, what is more, this glory shines.

Glory shines because the God who is complete in God’s own glory is glorious with an end point in that which is not God. God’s glory has, for the creature, the logic of grace (cf. Eph. 1:6). Glory is the perfection of the divine life in which the outwards movement of the perfectly complete eternal triune life is known. That life which is complete and perfect shines forth: it has no need of another to shine forth, but simply does shine because that is its nature. Complete in itself, divine glory is known because it is glorious – because it radiates the plenitude pf its infinite excess beyond itself, and thereby glory’s radiance is known in creation.[1]

Glory at once implies the free sovereign and perfect completeness of the divine life in which we have a firm foundation, and the loving and gracious movement of the divine life to that which is not Godself – the rays of the glory of God known in the terminus of the theatre of creation as the radiance of divine glory’s efflugence;[2] the light which shines from the Light of God and enlightens our darkness; the movement of the divine life towards all that is not God in the economy of creation, reconciliation and redemption.

Glory is that perfection of God which speaks of God’s self-determining love to be the God who is eternally for the other as much as it bespeaks the God who is perfectly complete in Godself – to be for that which is not God, for the creation. That is why the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God is seen in the face of Jesus Christ: that we know who God is because God’s glory comes, shines forth, and because in this coming, this shining forth, God has made Godself known. God’s glory is known in the locus in which the foundation for the eternal covenant of God with creation is to be seen – in Jesus Christ and in Him crucified. The glory of God is a cruciform glory – a glory which enlightens even the darkest human moments.

This glory enlightens our darkness because God is the illuminating light which enables us to see the glory which exists in creation – the creation God has made, is reconciling, and will redeem. God’s glory is one which shines in the darkness and enlightens the world, and as people of the light we are called to see the world anew as the theatre of God’s illuminating glory. Habakkuk puts it thus: ‘[God’s] radiance is like the sunlight’ (Hab. 3:4a). In the light of God’s glory, we do not simply see a kind of glory comparable to anything in creation; but we see the glory of the Creator which illuminates the creation with its radiance.

 

[1] The relation of glory to light in Scripture can be found in Ex. 34 (in the Septuagint’s rendering doxa); Jer. 13:16 in the contrast of light to darkness; Lk. 2:9 (in the shining of glory); and 2 Cor. 4:6; as well as the relation of glory and fire in the Old Testament.

[2] Speaking of the radiance of the effulgence of glory is an attempt at preserving the perfection of glory as that which belongs perfectly to God apart from the economy. It is a way of attempting to preserve something of the distance of the glory of God from the creaturely sphere, as is seen in Ez. 1 (especially v. 28). The term is borrowed from Origen, De Princ. 1.1.1-3 & 1.2.9; and Comm.Jn. 32.353.

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2 thoughts on “Lighten our darkness”

  1. I don’t disagree with what’s written here, but as someone who suffers from depression, and who at times certainly “dwells in darkness”, I struggle at times with the Church’s insistence, most profoundly found through John’s Gospel (my favourite, as it happens), that light is a helpful metaphor for God. Actually, I find that when I am in darkness it is not that God is light in that darkness but that God is with me in the darkness. I once saw an image on social media that effectively said that friends are those who, when we’re in the dark, come and help us find the light – I argued that actually, friends are those who come and sit in the dark with us, keeping us company despite their own fears until we are ready to re-enter the light. Such is how I think of God. As I say, I don’t disagree with the piece, but it does give me an opportunity to flag up the difficulties of using light as a theological metaphor.

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    1. I too have suffered with depression and preferred total darkness when it happened. I found it comforting. Fortunately, probably due to careful medication plus prayer, meditation and relaxation , I have been ‘free’ for 9 years for which I thank God and an excellent GP
      I found that I could not grasp the full meaning of the final paragraph of the article and would appreciate someone explaining its meaning in ‘idiot’ language. AK

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